How to Climb the Legal Career Ladder 

Question:

More often than not, the firm where I work brings in new hires for managerial and senior positions rather than promoting from within. How can I maximize my chances of being considered for such jobs in the future?  

Answer:

The market for legal jobs can be fierce, but that doesn’t mean you can’t compete with external candidates and get ahead. One reason current employees may not be advancing within your firm could be that partners want new blood for senior roles. There’s nothing wrong with that, yet it’s demoralizing to be passed over for jobs you feel you can do. 
 
To be considered for a future promotion, start by conducting a personal career audit. Here are some questions to ask as you go through this getting-to-know-yourself process. 

What have I achieved so far? 

Write down your proudest professional accomplishments to date, such as consistently crafting flawless briefs or cultivating solid relationships with clients. This is an excellent way to understand your strong points, which you should make the most of as you map your career trajectory. For example, if you excel at customer service and are energized by working with people, you may not want to aim for a legal job that deals mainly with data, even if it pays more. 

What are my shortcomings? 

When creating a career plan, it’s probably more important to take stock of your weaknesses than your strengths. After all, holes in your resume are likely what’s holding you back from landing that coveted promotion. Let’s say you come to the realization that your legal research skills are not as sharp as those of a newly hired paralegal. After completing your career audit, your next step should be to sign up for relevant continuing legal education (CLE) courses and training. 

Where do I want to be in X years? 

You need to have a better idea of where you want to take your legal career besides just some kind of promotion. Identify the positions you’d like to see yourself working at in five, 10 and 15 years. Although hierarchies and job titles change with time, it helps to have your firm’s organizational chart in front of you for this exercise. Then find out the qualifications for those roles, such as technical skills, practice area expertise, advanced degrees or certifications, and work toward them. If you need help with your career development plan, seek out a mentor. You could also talk to a professor, trusted colleague or your supervisor. 

Don’t get stuck in a dead-end job. When you’re unhappy, do something about it. The first step to a more satisfying legal career is to make a plan — then start moving down that path and up the ladder.