October 01, 2016

Taking Your Own Best Advice

By Kathy M. Morris

What career advice would you give yourself if you were just starting in the profession or were midway through your career? What advice do you actually give your more junior colleagues?

Though some “mature” lawyers tell me they still don’t know what they want to be when they grow up, the mark of a real adult is to be able to take your own advice. So let’s address five career steps you likely advise others to take and see how seasoned lawyers can still benefit.

• Learn everything you can about the law and how to serve your clients. We tell new lawyers that their first job is to learn. So what have we done lately to keep learning?

Are there emerging areas of law or client bases that you might open your work up to, such as cybersecurity law or (gulp) elder law? Are there ways to stay caught up in the world of thought and enrich your practice, too?

As one example, the University of Chicago Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies has an offering, “From Madness to Mental Illness,” with course materials drawn from law, psychiatry, anthropology, and public health. Health law, criminal, and child law attorneys, for example, could use it to broaden their reach, meet multi-disciplinary professionals, and enjoy life-long learning to benefit themselves and their practices.

Fortunately, today, many classes are available online and across the country if these ideas whet your appetite.

• Lead a life beyond the law, too. We tell junior and mid-level lawyers, once their career foundations and skill sets are strongly laid, not only to do good work but to have a good life outside of work, as well. And as for us?

Do you find yourself immersed in hobbies you enjoy, interacting with friends and family you see regularly, engaged in community pursuits that expand your horizons and your reach? It’s not just a matter of balance. At our stage, it’s a matter of survival. Stay vital, stay curious, and keep contributing.

And don’t ever forget about having fun. Studies show that the more refreshed and energetic people are, the more productive and fulfilled they remain.

Take pride in the profession, and give back when the opportunity arises. The public perception of lawyers may be all over the lot. But we know we work hard to help others and make an impact, large or small. We advise our junior colleagues that it’s never too early to mentor someone, to lead, or to come up with fresh ideas.

And it’s never too late, either. Look for someone in your workplace who needs some collegial guidance or a pre-law student pondering the profession you could encourage; even your son or daughter in another field would benefit by hearing more about your pivotal work experiences. Wisdom, shared without judgment or lectures, can, indeed, go a long way.

And lots of pro bono opportunities are out there, along with boards that need seasoned advisors. As well, local, state, national, international, specialty, and affinity bar associations all need active members across the career spectrum.

• Make a good name, and make it matter. We advise fellow lawyers not to sit in their offices but, instead, to get out into the community to network, build a book of business, stay current on best practices, and have a professional persona people know. We, too, need to keep joining in, writing, and speaking in order to impart our knowledge and expertise and to be seen as a go-to professional.

These days, it’s not enough to have a brochure or a website or to place ads to advertise our capabilities. If you’re not on LinkedIn, you should be; it’s the first place many people look to find lawyers or research candidates for new roles. Post and share others’ posts, keep your profile (with a picture) updated, and build up your LinkedIn connections so that you’re accessible and a thought leader.

If you’re not coming up in search results when you Google yourself, it’s time to find out how to enhance your online presence through metadata, tagging, and other technological means; there are YouTube videos these days to show you how to do almost anything. If you can’t do it yourself, find a tech expert who can help. It’s not expensive, but it’s imperative.

Also, fill in an AVVO questionnaire to increase your rating, consider additional steps such as tweeting (now used 85-90 percent for business), and read all you can about staying prominent and visible. Younger lawyers are a great resource, too, for how to use social media to your advantage—as as are your sons and daughters, lawyers or not.

• If you’re not happy, do something about it. No one wants to remain in a rut, unsatisfied and unhappy. Yes, it’s easier to change jobs or careers before you reach senior status, but it’s important to take steps to make a move if your current situation no longer suits.

Think broadly about changing sectors, such as from a firm or inhouse role to a non-profit, or evolving your current role to include managerial aspects, such as lawyer training or strategic planning. Consider a geographic change to do legal work that doesn’t require bar membership, unless you can waive in, or in an alternate career, such as being an ombuds or a business advisor.

Analyze how much money you really need to make, and when feasible, think about finding or creating a less-than-full-time role so that you can pursue other interests such as golf or painting or writing that novel most lawyers think they have in them. The only thing you shouldn’t do is stagnate to the point that you lose your reputation, your professional and personal relationships, your bearings, or your health.

Access career and job search networks specifically for more advanced professionals, such as the Senior Job Bank, AARP, and Gray Hair Management. Network with other seasoned lawyers who recently changed roles. Consult with a legal or generalist career counselor. Just don’t do nothing; that wouldn’t be your best advice for others and, as we know, there’s no time like the present.

Kathy M. Morris is a lawyer and longtime career advisor for lawyers, law students, and law firms through her practice Under Advisement Ltd. (underadvisement.com). She was the inaugural board chair for the ABA Legal Career Central initiative, now in its second year, and remains an advisor to the LCC.