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Developing and managing your legal career

Today's work environment is challenging and pressure for increased productivity has never been greater for legal professionals. In these challenging times, development and career planning is essential to help you enjoy a rewarding and satisfying working life.

While most firms recognise the value of retaining good employees and offer opportunities to progress your career, ultimately you are responsible for your own success. What can legal professionals do to develop their careers as a corporate lawyer, legal counsel or legal secretary?

Define your career objectives 

This might sound obvious but many people don't do it, particularly high-performing lawyers who don't take the time to consciously and clearly articulate their goals. It's important to take charge of your career at an early stage and think about  where you want to be in the next three to five years.

You can then define your objectives for the next 12 months, your strategy for achieving those objectives and the tactics for getting there. Include in your plan what you want in terms of work/life balance, remuneration and the type of environment that you want to work in.

Make your career goals realistic 

It's important to take charge of your career at an early stage and think about  where you want to be in the next three to five years.


Once you have defined your career objectives, consider whether you can meet your goals in your current situation. You should be realistic however, career assessment is also about redefining yourself in the position you are in, actively looking for opportunities within that role and learning how to make the most of those opportunities.

You should also talk to your line manager and HR to get a clear picture of how they see your role evolving and whether promotion prospects are in line with your career plan.

Take advantage of training opportunities 

  • A legal professional should be taking advantage of training offered at every stage in their career. Legal professionals are commonly offered:
  • Technical workshops based on specialisation
  • Business development and marketing coaching
  • Professional development coaching such as managing workflow, team management and how to delegate
  • Mental health, well being and stress management seminars

Partner with a mentor 

Mentoring is a powerful personal development tool and is an effective way of helping legal professionals to progress in their careers. A mentor not only provides career guidance but can also guide you through day-to-day difficulties and challenges. The right mentor can:

  • Help you achieve your goals more quickly and effectively than working alone
  • Act as an impartial sounding board for ideas and projects
  • Enhance departmental / divisional performance
  • Improve personal effectiveness
  • Add to the overall success of your business
  • Offer advice about obtaining a work / life balance
  • Help you develop new skills
  • Contribute viewpoints, advice and information from their own knowledge, experience and expertise

To find a mentor, ask yourself what you want in a mentor. Is it an expert who can help with a specific business challenge? Do you want someone inside your workplace who has the inside track to be an advocate for your project or promotion, or someone who can act as a more general sounding board and big-picture guide? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you find the right person.

Check your employer’s human resources department to see if they have a mentoring program. Many big corporations offer sponsorship and mentoring programs, so take advantage if it's already available to you.

Look outside the office. Mentoring doesn’t have to be a 'business' relationship. 

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