Seeing Into
the Future

By Jason Zac Christman


What is a professional development plan? Don’t be put off or intimated by the thought of drafting a professional development plan. Unless it is part of work assignment, there are no set boundaries. The simple goal is craft a document that will help guide your career. A road map may be the best way to theorize the process. Not a roadmap from point A to point B, but more a general plan for a tour of the country.

The best way to begin is where you are. Tautologies aside, without some assessment of where you are professionally at the time you draft it, a professional development plan will be nothing but a list of goals. What type of practice are you in? What level have you reached in the firm or in your legal community? Are you actively involved in practice groups, bar associations or community groups? What contacts do you have already that may be instrumental in achieving your career goals, be they marketing and income or becoming a judge. An assessment of where you are is the first part of drafting the road map for your career.

Set a Schedule
The next step is to pick a point in the near future. Six months or a year seemed ideal to me, but any time frame that will give you an opportunity to achieve your first set of professional development goals will suffice.

Where do you want to be in x months? Because the professional development plan is a tool to help you market yourself, marketing should have some role in your x-month goals, even if it just a goal of acquiring a list of contacts within the firm that will help you become a partner. A more developed plan could have particular marketing goals, such as the goal to research the cost in time and money of a marketing plan, be it a newspaper ad for your particular practice or development of a television ad campaign.

Another laudable line of goals is literal professional development. Do you want to develop a new practice area, or enhance your knowledge of particular practice area that has potential to have an impact on your career? For those with more experience, the goal of teaching continuing legal education courses might be appropriate. Don’t forget that marketing and legal education are not mutually exclusive. For example, my own professional development plan calls for me to develop a greater knowledge of real estate law and practice, but at the same time develop a contact list of people I meet at continuing legal education courses so that once I start to market that area of my practice, I won’t be starting from scratch.

The next and last step is to take a look farther down the road. Whether you want to look out two years, four years, ten years, or all three (there is no reason not to have a three- or four-step professional development plan), reaching your long-term goals is what you want a professional development plan to assist you with. Do you want to qualify to sit for a certification as an expert in a practice area? Do you want to qualify to be a bankruptcy trustee? Do you want to have the contacts that will be necessary to have a chance at becoming a judge? Some of you may want to skip to this part, and there is no reason not to. Intuitively, most of us look at our long-term goals when trying to ascertain what our short-term goals should be.

Whether you start with a long-term goal based on what you want to do or with short-term goals based on what you like to do, the goal of developing a road map is the same. What’s the use of a road map? Refer to your professional development plan six months after you begin it. See if you are still on course. Use your professional development plan to focus your efforts on your long-term goals and stay the course over time. The best part is, if you are off course, you can choose between getting back on track or modifying your professional development plan to meet your new goals, or even to achieve the same long-term goals with different interim steps.

Jason Zac Christman is an associate with William G. Schwab & Associates, a general practice firm in Lehighton, Pennsylvania. Christman focuses on bankruptcy law but has a professional development plan to develop a more diverse consumer law practice, including real estate law.
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