The scope of responsibilities for law firm recruiting and development professionals varies widely from firm to firm. While some professionals are given more freedom and autonomy to take on new tasks, others might feel stuck in their silos and unable to advance as quickly as they would like. Obtaining career satisfaction and feeling valued does not always come from searching outside your current role or firm. Oftentimes, you can find it within your current organization by making a few adjustments that will bring you closer to where you want to be in your career. In Major, Lindsey & Africa’s May 2017 Law Firm Recruiting & Development Survey, the majority of respondents (95%) indicated that they were very or moderately satisfied in their current roles, and 41% said they would remain at their current firm with an increase in responsibility. To truly understand how to gain more responsibility and reach the ultimate goal of career satisfaction, the first step is to understand where you are starting.
Take an honest look at your current role and ask yourself this:
- Where do I excel?
- Where do I find satisfaction in my job?
- What are my greatest challenges?
- Where are my opportunities for growth?
Completing an honest self-assessment will help you focus and change your outlook on your current job. Sometimes it can be worthwhile to seek input from others who work closely with you. They can help you answer these questions, and their perspective will be beneficial to help you understand how your role is viewed within the firm. Through this feedback and self-reflection, you will begin to see areas where you can grow and where you can make a difference.
Next, you need to develop an action plan. By writing down the steps you are going to take to elevate your role within your law firm, you will have a physical list and plan that you can hold yourself accountable to following. It’s easy to think you will remember or just know what to do next, but a written plan will give you something against which you can measure your progress and actions and solidify your commitment to achieving your vision. This is also something you can share with others who are supportive of you and can act as cheerleaders in helping you reach your goals.
Your plan should involve steps and activities that will ultimately allow you to:
- Be visible. Who should you get to know?
- Collaborate. Where can you lend your talents and expand your reach?
- Be proactive. How can you make the process better?
- Invest in your professional development. What skills and knowledge will help you advance?
Before you can become more mobile in your firm, you need to build internal alliances to gain a more holistic understanding of the business of law so that you can appreciate how you fit into the bigger picture. Often the trains are running, but no one knows how they get to their destinations. Behind the scenes, finance, marketing, human resources and sales — to name a few — are orchestrating a much larger production than you may know. Start talking to people, introducing yourself and asking questions. Sit down with key stakeholders, such as other administrative staff and attorneys, and learn more about their work and get their perspective on your role within the firm. Talk to the department heads and suggest instituting periodic town hall meetings between all departments and the attorneys so everyone can become more familiar with what is going on throughout the firm. This will give you and the broader firm population the opportunity to gain a better perspective on how the trains run from an operational standpoint. It will also allow you to put yourself in front of others, tell them about the work you are doing and open the door to enhancing internal communications. Create a regular e-newsletter that talks about the projects you and your department are involved in as well as recent accomplishments. Share it with your contacts in other departments and encourage reciprocation on their parts. If key stakeholders know who you are and what value you add, chances are they will keep you in mind for future projects and possibilities.
As you begin to understand what other departments do, consider how you can partner with these other functions to create synergies or efficiencies. Would it make sense to involve internal staff in diversity and inclusion initiatives instead of leaving those for just the attorneys? If so, discuss opening the groups, programs and events more broadly or find out how you can help to promote a more inclusive culture. Can you assist with skills training for attorneys and business staff? Offer your expertise in performing assessments for other teams to help identify where they could benefit from additional training and partner with them to conduct relevant presentations. Are there tools or systems you are proficient in that you could teach someone else? If you are an attorney recruiter, for example, share best practices with the recruiters for the business professionals and discover ways to improve your processes. By working together, you will promote communication among departments and show your value. You will also expand your skill set and broaden your perspective, which will help position you for the next step. At one law firm where I worked, the associates felt disconnected because different practice groups were located on different floors. I initiated a monthly associate luncheon where associates from different practice groups and floors were paired up each month for a lunch date and we then assigned different pairings each month to foster collaboration. That approach could also work well across administrative departments.
If you are actively making yourself visible and collaborating, take that a step further and make the first move. Venture out of your box and propose new initiatives or solutions to problems you see in the work you are doing with others. Share your ideas that you have for improving a process or marketing the firm on a new platform. Pioneer a project that requires input across departments, such as recruiting, marketing and finance, or start an initiative in your office that can be expanded to other offices. Take an owner attitude and identify ways you can make your team’s jobs easier. Become indispensable and an asset to your teammates. For example, don’t just present current statistics to a committee; explain the trends you are seeing and solutions for how you can address those trends. Again, by showing the value you add and how you can take charge, you are positioning yourself for growth and opportunities.
As you develop yourself internally, look externally as well for ways to invest in yourself. Explore additional training that will build your skill set. Consider working with an executive coach. Many firms invest in various coaching and training programs for their professionals. Express your interest in growth and ask your supervisor if this is a possibility. Look into conferences within and outside your industry. Often going to an HR conference, for example, will provide you with a new perspective on your role as you can hear about best practices and tools other industries are using to make their work more efficient. In turn, you will be able to bring that knowledge back to your current role. Even if your firm won’t pay for these services, invest in yourself.
Moving ahead in your career starts with you taking the initiative and stepping up your game. If you make the effort and show your desire and interest in growing beyond your current role, you will be well positioned for new possibilities.
Reproduced with permission from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) ©2018
Amy Berenson Mallow is a Managing Director in the Law Firm Management Practice. As a Managing Director, she is responsible for leading executive-level searches in marketing, business development, technology, human resources, recruiting, diversity, professional development, finance and firm administration at AmLaw 100, AmLaw 200 and regional firms.
Amy is a co-author of several chapters in The Lawyer's Career Management Handbook: Your Bridge to a Satisfying Career (West Publishing, 2010).