Creating Your Five-Year Legal Career Plan

I just got my first job in the legal profession and enjoy what I do, but I need some career advice: I have no idea what I want to be doing five years from now! How do I go about figuring out my professional goals?

When you went through your legal training or degree program, you had built-in milestones and two clear goals: Graduate and get a good job. You’ve achieved these two objectives, but now what? Fortunately, figuring out yournext move won’t take as long as getting a degree. Here’s some career advice on how to draw your own road map.

  1. Brainstorm ideas. Not sure what you want your job title to be in five years? No problem. Focus instead on other elements: What fields of law are you most passionate about? What kind oflegal salary do you want to be earning? Do flextime or telecommuting options seem appealing? Include personal goals as well, such as when you’d like to have your student loans paid off or buy your own home. The key here is to be as comprehensive as possible.

  2. Find a mentor.To help you clarify your goals and reach your destination, look to someone who’s been there.Mentors can give you the career advice and guidance you need. Seek out a person whom you admire and whose personality meshes with yours. Most mentors are in house, but any experienced legal professional can serve in this capacity.

  3. Develop your list continuously.One of the most paralyzing things about mapping out your career is the notion that you’re setting everything in stone, but that’s not how goals work. Think of your road map as a living document: It should change and grow as you change and grow, both professionally and personally. Trends will also be a factor in your planning, so keep up with movements in legal hiring and management with theRobert Half Legal Salary Guide. Being flexible with your plan is good career advice no matter what type of job you hold.
  4. Take action.Consult your list regularly and actively pursue your goals. In other words, don’t wait for things to happen. If you want asalary increase next year, start preparing your case now by keeping lists of your accomplishments, kudos from colleagues and clients, and so forth. Want to become an expert in a particular field? Focus yourcontinuing legal education in that direction. As you achieve your goals, be sure to update your list and keep moving forward.

  5. Continue growing your network. Who you know is a big part of moving up in the legal profession. Grow your network by attending conferences and taking advantage of social media sites like LinkedIn, and, equally important, be sure to follow up with contacts. Make it a habit to regularly check in with your network — for example, by going out for lunch or coffee with local legal professionals or by congratulating your acquaintances on promotions and work anniversaries.

  6. Work with a specialized recruiter in the legal profession. Part of a recruiter’s job is to give career advice. Share your road map with your recruiter to get feedback on which goals are feasible and which ones might need adjusting. He or she will then let you know of opportunities that match your interests, priorities and expertise.

There are many possible paths in the legal profession, and the start of your career is the ideal time to figure out what you want to do and how to get there. When you take the time to plan your road map, you’ll spend less time “in the weeds” and more time moving toward your goals.