YourABA: November 2013
YourABA November 2013 Masthead

Tailor your career to fit your strengths

Before you can tailor your legal career to match your personal strengths, you need to discover what those strengths are. Experts speaking during a recent American Bar Association webinar advised lawyers on how best to identify their strengths and then build on those areas.

Ask yourself some basic questions about your personality, what you are drawn to and the type of role you envision for yourself, said Courtney Goldstein, a partner in the Southern California office of Major, Lindsey & Africa who focuses on legal job placement and career development.

"Do you want to be the jack-of-all-trades and know a little bit about each practice area, or do you want to be a go‑to expert in a very defined discipline?" she asked. "It’s really important to find out from your personality perspective what you actually would enjoy doing."

Assessment tools such as StrengthsFinder, Myers-Briggs and Enneagram can also help you discover your strengths.

StrengthsFinder, an online assessment test, will identify your top five strengths out of 34 options. Tim Leishman, a principal at Firm Leader in Toronto who advises professional services firms on strategy and leadership development, said the tool identified one of his strengths as "individualization," a gift for figuring out how different people can work together productively. "I do think that that is a strength of mine in my consulting, training and coaching roles," he said. "So they seemed to nail it for me."

Leishman indicated that Myers-Briggs, which is often administered in law school, is a good assessment for understanding the normal differences in normal people. As for Enneagram, Leishman said he doesn’t tend to use this test in his practice with lawyers because he considers it "too revealing."

"From my perspective, looking over many years at a lot of different assessments, it’s the one that really shows your inner self in a way that can be frightening because it is so accurate about your inner drives," he said.

Moderator Kathy Morris, who founded Under Advisement Ltd. in 1988 to assist lawyers in their job searches and to help them manage their careers, suggested seeking out a mentor or coach who can provide feedback to help you determine and grow your strengths.

Goldstein recommended networking with role models outside your company. "Think outside the box," she said. "Look at individuals that are not even necessarily in the legal industry, that maybe you know from your involvement in the community … but you have some sort of relationship or association with that person and there are strengths that that person possesses that you admire."

Leishman noted that, in his experience, lawyers who move up the leadership ladder make that transition most successfully by relying on their strengths. "Stepping up the level of intensity in the area of your strengths is likely to pay more dividends than trying to shore up a weakness," he said. "Unless that weakness, of course, is causing you big problems."

Morris advised not to rush the process of finding your strengths and deciding on a career path. "Even if you then identify your strengths, you might find some surprises along the way," she said. "So we don’t want you to be steered away for all time necessarily by any of these tools or approaches, but to sort of take things in and do what lawyers and law students always should do: weigh in, sift, make some choices."

"Tailor Your Career to Fit Your Strengths" is part of ABA CareerAdvice LIVE!, a free webinar series that takes place on the second Friday of each month. For more career advice, check out the Related Resources section of the ABA CareerAdvice LIVE! page and participate in the November program, "Interviewing Wisely in a Challenging Market."

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