If you’re like most people, you made New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, eat healthier, and exercise more. But did you make some resolutions to shape up your professional life, as well? January is a good time to take stock and plot some moves to advance your career.
Here are ten resolutions for getting ahead in the New Year:
1. Maximize your hours worked – While most attorneys log long hours, not all hours are created equal. To get the most out of the hours you put in, you need to work not just hard, but smart. Look at your firm’s culture and Return to Office policies to determine when to put in the face time and when it’s OK to work remotely. Note also which practices, clients, and partners count the most. You have only so much time and energy, so you need to spend it when and where it counts.
2. Create a niche – Developing a specialization and excelling at it is one way to differentiate yourself from the pack. The narrower your niche, the easier it is to streamline your work, stay current with the law and relevant technologies, and establish yourself as an authority. You also can market more effectively to your target audience so that prospects and referral sources will remember exactly what you do. Beware, however, of putting all your eggs in one basket. If your target industry takes a dive, or laws change, then so may your practice.
3. Promote yourself – The need to network broadly is obvious to the job seeker but networking within your organization is just as important for the gainfully employed. Excellent performance is not enough; you need to distinguish yourself in the office to earn promotions and recognition or, in some cases, avoid layoff. Don’t wait for others to notice what you do well. Proactively market yourself and your skills to demonstrate and articulate why you are a value-added and indispensable team member. Harness the power of social media to stay top of mind and build your personal brand both within the firm and externally.
4. Manage perceptions – Your reputation, or professional image, is based on perceptions of your competence and character as judged by your clients, superiors, subordinates, and colleagues. Just as you proactively develop the technical expertise and interpersonal skills you need for success, you must take responsibility for shaping the positive perceptions you want others to have about you.
5. Boost your business acumen and tech savvy– Law school teaches you to think like a lawyer but, to succeed in today’s legal marketplace, you must also think like a businessperson. As the profession becomes increasingly bottom-line-oriented, business and management skills are becoming essential to advancement within your organization and for optimally servicing your clients’ needs. Don’t neglect your skills with the newest technology, either. Lawyers who ignore the latest advancements, including the use of artificial intelligence in law practice, will be left behind.
6. Fine tune your people skills – Personal qualities such as leadership, listening, and communication also are required for a successful law career. Clients are looking for service and responsiveness. All the legal knowledge in the world will do you and your clients no good if you cannot relate to one another. Moreover, you must be able to get along within your firm and communicate with superiors, colleagues, more junior attorneys, paralegals, and professional staff in order to get your work done efficiently.
7. Build a mentor network – When it comes to mentoring, more is better. Where one powerful mentor can provide many benefits, a network of mentors can provide even more. Having a number of mentors, with a variety of backgrounds and strengths, increases your chances of being able to call upon the right person in the right place at the right time to help you move ahead in your career.
8. Create a “me file” – To survive slow economic times or thrive in good ones, you must demonstrate your value to your organization’s bottom line. It is your responsibility to document your work; you can’t expect others to remember and recognize all that you do.
An essential career development tool, therefore, is the personal portfolio, or “Me File,” into which you continuously drop material evidencing your accomplishments, contributions, and capabilities. Use this information to keep your deal sheet or list of representative cases constantly updated, as well. You will need this at your fingertips should you decide to explore new opportunities, prepare for a performance review, or need material for a client pitch.
9. Create a personal development plan – Set specific goals and steps to achieve them by year’s end. Write them down and seek the tools, training, and support you need to accomplish them. You want to demonstrate your commitment to developing further as a lawyer and contributing to the future success of your firm.
10. Get started now! Just as the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago but the second best time to plant a tree is now, get those seeds planted ASAP so that your career will flourish and grow.