Is Your Career On Track?
By Eldora L. Ellison and Theodore Wood
Eldora L. Ellison and Theodore Wood are, respectively, director in the biotechnology/chemical practice group and an associate in the electrical practice group at Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox PLLC, Washington, D.C. The authors can be reached at
If you have been wondering whether you are on track in your career, you’ve already taken an important first step for your future. But if you haven’t ever thought about this, there is a good chance you’re well on your way to being derailed. Even though your firm or organization probably provides you with an annual performance evaluation, you, as a professional, carry the primary burden to critically assess your own development. Too often, lawyers confuse continued employment with professional success. Don’t be fooled; the two terms are not synonymous.
To clarify your self-assessment, try becoming your own worst critic while simultaneously being your new best friend. Although there is no need to be hypercritical of yourself, it is important that you periodically take a step back and objectively ask yourself whether your career is heading in the right direction. Although those around you may sometimes sugarcoat your situation—or, conversely, may be overly critical of you—you will learn to become your best friend if you strive to view your situation and your career objectively. But don’t stop there: When you identify areas that need improvement, devise a strategy to either improve in those areas or cope with your shortcomings. The following suggestions may help you get on track in the new year.
• Be introspective and devote time to assessing your professional development. Don’t forget the soft skills that are critical to your success (e.g., leadership, networking, and management).

• Gain some perspective by looking at your situation from the standpoint of your supervisors. If your supervisors have not already told you what professional qualities are important to them, ask.

• Be proactive and seek the professional opportunities you desire and the constructive evaluations you need. Then heed the advice you get!

• Don’t make it hard for your supporters to support you. For example, if you have a billable-hour requirement, meet it, or you’ll make it hard for your would-be supporters to legitimately praise you.

• Find a trusted advisor who knows your firm or organization well—and who will call a spade a spade. Once this advisor gains your confidence, and vice versa, she may even share valuable inside information that will help you navigate within your organization.

• Don’t be a recluse; develop a social and professional network inside and outside your business. Remember, you are not alone. Similarly, learn about the structure of your organization and its process of decision making.

• Don’t underestimate the meaning of the word support in your support staff. Your staff can save your hide! Remember that good advice and information can come from a variety of sources, not just from the leaders in your organization.

• Recognize your strengths and play to them while working on your shortcomings. For example, if you’re not naturally very organized, seek help from your support staff to problem solve and maintain organization.

• If you truly are a square peg that stands no chance of becoming well rounded, don’t try to fit into the round hole. You’re more likely to find your niche and blossom professionally in a different organization—one that values square pegs.

• Making Partner: A Guide for Law Firm Associates. 2006. PC # 5110576. Law Practice Management Section.
• The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law. 2006. PC # 5310356. Section of Litigation.