Creating a personal career plan will allow you to set a course that matches your specific desires, values, skills and interests. It also can assist you in aligning your goals with those of your firm. It gives you a blueprint against which you can measure your progress and, with regular review, it can keep you from straying too far off course. Finally, it will allow you to focus your time, energy, and resources for optimum results.
The first step toward designing your career plan is to clearly define your mission — your ultimate career destination — which serves as the target for your specific goals and action steps. Your plan should include both personal and career goals so you can achieve the balance that’s right for you. Look at your ultimate desires. Do you want to get married and/or have children? Why did you choose to practice law? Did you want to help people, earn a good living, achieve status and respect, do sophisticated, important work, or change society? Do you want to make partner, start your own firm, become a judge, or attain the position of general counsel? If success were guaranteed, what else would you achieve? Do you dream of establishing a charitable foundation, being elected to public office, or writing a book? Let your imagination roam free. If money were no object, what would your lifestyle be like?
Distill this vision into a mission statement of just a few short sentences. If you find you’re having difficulty defining your goals, there are numerous books, online resources, and tests available. Moreover, there are career coaches and counselors who specialize in assisting lawyers in clarifying their goals, determining how to achieve satisfaction in their current positions, and deciding whether to seek a new legal job in another environment, or to leave the law altogether and parlay their skills into a new career.
Once you clarify what you ultimately want to achieve, work backwards to establish your plan of action. Determine what long-term goals you need to accomplish to reach your destination. For instance, if you want to advance in your current work environment, ascertain the standards for success at your firm and make it one of your long-term goals to exceed those expectations. If you want to be in a different environment or change careers completely, your long-term goals would include the benchmarks necessary for success in your desired position.
Next, break down each of your long-term goals into ten-year, five-year, and one-year objectives. Make them specific, measurable, and achievable. For example, if one of your long-term goals is to be a rainmaker, a ten-year plan might be to represent major institutional clients who provide you with repeat work generating over $5 million in annual billings. A five-year goal might be to develop a minimum of $1,000,000 in business from at least three major corporations. And, a one-year goal might be to get on the panel of preferred lawyers for at least one new major client and to cross-sell your services to at least two current clients of the firm for whom you haven’t previously worked.
Finally, to achieve each one of this year’s goals, delineate specific steps or short-term strategies you can begin immediately. Continuing with the rainmaking example above, you might renew your connections with referral sources, invite particular businesspeople out to lunch, speak before industry groups, write for trade magazines targeted to the industries you wish to serve, and set cross-selling lunches with current clients of the firm and the partners who now serve them. Set a date for each task to be accomplished, and stick to your schedule. Short-term strategies for a more junior attorney might include developing specific necessary skills such as taking depositions, managing a case, or supervising a team, or establishing relationships with particular people who can help you achieve your goals.
You also can use this planning strategy for job searches and career changes as well as for personal goals. For a job search, your long-term goal might be to become an equity partner in a global full-service law firm, while now you’re a junior associate in a litigation boutique. Your ten-year goal may to be to achieve at least nonequity partnership in such a firm and be on track for full-equity status. Your five-year goal might be to become a senior associate in such a firm, in strong contention for partnership consideration. A one-year plan would be to make a lateral move to the firm of your choice. Your short-term strategies, then, could include researching and creating a list of firms which meet your desired criteria, polishing your cover letter, résumé, and writing samples, meeting with a recruiter, and brushing up on your interviewing skills.
If you’re a more experienced lawyer, it’s not too late to create and implement a plan. Start from where you are now and look at where you want to go for the remainder of your career. Once you have undertaken an honest self-evaluation, clarified your personal and professional life vision, and established your long- and short-term goals and strategies, you’ll able to take your next step confidently in the direction of your dreams.
Regardless of your level of seniority, however, don’t lose sight of reality. You must keep abreast of developments within your work environment and trends in the legal profession because they may require proactive changes to your plan. Equally important, you must regularly refer to your personal career plan to assess your progress and redirect your efforts if you’ve wandered off target. Moreover, regularly re-evaluate your goals and desires because they may change over time. That way, you can make minor adjustments to your plan so it reflects current reality and enables you to ultimately arrive at your ideal destination.