REUTERS | Mike Blake

Strategies for progressing your legal career

The Centre for Legal Leadership’s latest webinar, hosted in conjunction with Thomson Reuters, focused on strategies for progressing your career. This post highlights the key talking points from the session.

Take control

Planning your career from the outset is difficult but it is possible to look ahead and plan every few years as your career progresses. One speaker said they didn’t have a career plan but were instead guided by their principles, values and interests.

Although it’s important to take advice, remember that it is your career, so focus on what interests you. Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses will help inform your career decisions. For example, are you happy being a technical, subject matter expert or are you interested in pursuing a broader leadership role?

Legal skills are transferable skills

Don’t limit yourself by being “just a lawyer”, instead keep adding new skills to your core legal knowledge. Lawyers often fail to recognise that their skills are transferable. Analytical thinking, problem solving, being details-focused and thinking strategically are all valuable, transferable skills. Moving outside a legal role helped one speaker broaden their skillset to include stakeholder management, media communications and project management. They also got greater exposure to the board and executive committees.

Look for new challenges

Don’t wait for opportunities to come along, instead be proactive and make things happen. Get involved in initiatives within your organisation, for example, transformation or integration projects. Although leading a project may be difficult and initially outside your comfort zone, you will learn a lot and the experience will make you more marketable. Also look to take on outside responsibilities to extend your skills. One speaker referred to their roles at the Office for Students and Thames Water’s Customer Challenge Group.

Build your relationships

Building relationships throughout your career is invaluable and a supportive manager can have a significant impact on your career progression. Sponsors, mentors and friends will all be important as you progress through different phases of your career. Your professional network will increase in importance as your career develops too. For example, if you are thinking about a career move, reach out to your network before you apply to see if anyone has any useful information on that organisation.

Develop relationships within your organisation, across your industry sector and outside it. Having a network in place means that you can rely on it when required and call-in favours, if necessary. People are more likely to help you if they already know you and you are more likely to get the benefit of the doubt if you have pre-existing relationships within your organisation.

Broaden your leadership skills

You don’t need to wait to become a GC to display leadership skills, you can be a leader at any point in your legal career. Interest and enthusiasm go a long way so, be curious, put your hand up and get involved in projects (for example, rolling out a knowledge management system). If leadership training is offered by your organisation, take it.

Senior in-house roles are more generalist in nature, and therefore you’ll need to become comfortable saying “I don’t know” or “I’ll get someone else involved”, as the combined knowledge within your team will always be greater than you own. Remember: you are the conductor of the orchestra; you shouldn’t be attempting to play the individual instruments.

Imposter syndrome

Both speakers mentioned that they sometimes experienced imposter syndrome. Although a small amount can be healthy as it keeps you on your toes, it’s vital to recognise your skills and strengths; nobody expects you to know everything.

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