How to Climb the Legal Career Ladder

By Jamy J. Sullivan, JD, Robert Half



I’ve heard that many managers are more focused on promoting from within, given the existing shortage of skilled candidates for open positions. What can I do to get noticed and advance my career within my current firm?



You heard correctly! Legal talent is scarce in the current hiring market, so managers have every incentive to promote internal candidates into open roles. But before you start thinking about how to move into the corner office, you need to position yourself for advancement. Here’s how: 


1. Choose the right ladder

If you’re feeling stuck in your current role, switching to another practice area in your firm or legal department could get you noticed and put you on a faster track to promotion. Look for opportunities to get experience in a hot practice area like compliance or litigation, including shadowing a colleague who specializes in an in-demand area.

2. Build a case for yourself

Just because you consistently ace your performance reviews doesn’t mean your managers have all the information they need to recommend you for promotion. Have they seen the thank-you notes you received from happy clients? Do they know about the work you did to help coworkers collaborate during the pandemic? The more evidence you have that shows your value to the firm and its clients, the easier it will be to make your case for promotion.

3. Find a mentor — or turn a mentor into a sponsor

Mentors are experienced attorneys or senior managers who can provide you with valuable advice and coaching. Having already climbed the legal career ladder themselves, they know what it takes to catch the right person’s eye at the right time and can guide you accordingly. Once you’ve built a strong relationship with your mentor, you can ask them to be your sponsor — think of this as mentorship 2.0. Unlike a mentor, a sponsor is personally invested in your advancement and will take practical steps to open new doors for you and boost your visibility within the organization.

4. Continue your education

If your path to the top requires another degree or certification, ask your manager about tuition assistance or time off to attend courses. These are longer-term goals, of course, but it’s also a win-win strategy. Even if your new qualifications don’t lead to a promotion right away at your current firm, they will improve your chances of landing a more senior position, there or elsewhere.

Managers are increasingly focused on internal mobility, but they won’t promote you on a whim. Find concrete ways to demonstrate your ability, loyalty and potential, and you’ll soon be climbing that ladder.

Jamy J. Sullivan is executive director of the legal practice at Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized talent solutions firm. Robert Half offers contract, temporary and permanent placement solutions, and is the parent company of Protiviti®, a global consulting firm. Visit