Need a new legal career in the new year?
Not sure if you should be looking for a new job in the new year?
Maybe you’re content with your current job, but want to know if the grass is greener on the other side?
If these thoughts crossed your mind (even if you are a new attorney who just started practicing over the past few months) it’s worth walking through the factors you should consider to determine whether you should put energy into looking for new opportunities, or into improving your current situation.
- Determine whether you’re in the right place.
In addition to getting to know your colleagues, learn how decisions get made. A strong indicator of a firm’s commitment to its attorneys (especially its junior attorneys) is whether junior lawyers are represented on firm committees. See if there any non-partners on firm-wide committees. Have they been able to lead any of the firm’s initiatives?
While almost every law firm will say that it supports its associates, the inclusion of junior lawyers, including diverse attorneys, in firm decision-making processes and initiatives will confirm it. If your firm does not provide you with these opportunities, then you might consider another firm that will.
- Make sure you have the right tools.
You can have a great tweezer—but that tweezer is of no use if what you need to finish the job is a hammer. If you are considering a new job in the new year, make sure you have the right equipment for your experience and objective, and you’re not working with a hammer when you really need a tweezer. Keep in mind that you will need different tools at different stages of your career.
This is particularly tougher for fresh graduates and junior attorneys. There are hundreds of applicants exactly as qualified as you are (if not more).
It might seem obvious, but you want a killer resume and cover letter. Make sure it is properly organized and well-written. It should be targeted to the specific job you are applying for. Pay particularly close attention to the experience you highlight and the language you use so you do not get lost in the noise. Additionally, establish yourself on LinkedIn. Consider getting a few recommendations from friends and colleagues. Use LinkedIn as a research tool and create a shortlist of employers you want to work with and to build relationships with the right people
- Evaluate the strength and depth of your relationships.
People have an idea when they are being used (and even if they’re not being used, no one likes to feel used). If your only interest lies in establishing shallow, self-serving relationships, it won’t take long for a contact to figure it out. Focus on building connections for personal fulfillment rather than professional or selfish gain.
If you haven’t put time building contacts, make it an objective to meet people in the area you want to work, and invite them to lunch or coffee. If you have been meeting people, consider investing your time in strengthening existing relationships. When was the last time you contacted the attorney you met from that holiday party? How is your classmate from law school doing? Reach out, and reconnect.
- Are you able to harmonize your business with your passion?
Law firms are businesses. An understanding of the business world is essential because changing legislation, major acquisitions, and emerging technology affect your work. Succeeding in legal practice requires understanding the industry you’re working in and the industry your law firm services. If you work in IP law, for example, you’re probably going to want a solid background in technology.
You want to make sure that the business of your practice ignites genuine interest in your career. It should drive you to set goals beyond hitting your hours or advancing up the associate ladder. If you want to help people, is there a way to get involved in the community or take on pro-bono work? If you are passionate about driving the future of new industries or reshape legislation, are there organizations that can use your skills?
Ultimately, you want to identify a setting where the business of what you are doing is in harmony with the passion that enables you to weather the hardships of being an attorney.
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