Career Development For Lawyers


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Article advocating a structured approach to career planning for lawyers, as published in The Women Lawyers Journal, Summer 2005.

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Career Development For Lawyers

  1. 1. Career Planning for Lawyers: Why It Is Important, What It Looks Like, and Why Law Firms Should Invest in It Kathleen Bradley Choua , Esquire Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. -- Tao Te Ching Lawyers are far behind their corporate clients, end up proceeding through our careers in a and even professionals in other professional reactive mode, without a clear idea of what we service firms, in recognizing and appreciating need to do, and who we need to be, in order to the importance of taking control over their have a satisfying and fulfilling career. This careers. The reason for this may lie in the fact impacts not only our quality of life, but also that historically the career path of a lawyer the quality of our work and the environment in was clear – go to a good law school and get which we do that work. good grades, join a major firm to get practical It is because, as lawyers, we do not tend to training, “sink or swim” through the process, invest in clearly formulating our career (or, for and make partner. This traditional path has that matter, our life) objectives and because not, however, been available to most lawyers our failure to do so negatively impacts our for many years. Yet, the mindset that still work environments that this article suggests dominates in most law firms has not moved on and advocates that professional coaching substantially, and it continues to impact most should be incorporated as an integral part of a severely the careers of women and minorities. law firm’s professional development and So, given this mindset, what can individual diversity efforts. It articulates the benefits to lawyers do to develop their careers? law firms of having a focused career The most obvious answer is for each lawyer to development program for their lawyers, and it define, for herself, her individual career makes the business case for investing in this objectives and become her own ardent effort. It concludes that dedicating a advocate. Obvious, yes; but difficult to professional with executive coaching skill to implement in practice -- particularly for hard- support firm lawyers in one of the most charging, high-performing lawyers who do not important aspects of their lives – their careers take the time to consciously and clearly – not only makes good sense, it also generates articulate their goals and are not always skilled a return on the investment far in excess of the in the fine art of advocating for themselves. cost. The return on investment comes in the Nevertheless, despite these difficulties, form of better recruiting results, higher individual lawyers can take charge of their retention rights, shorter learning curves, careers if they make the time and space in their improved performance and capability, more lives to stop and pay attention to where they well-rounded lawyers, increased client are going. This is where professional satisfaction, enhanced reputation, and higher coaching, as so clearly illustrated by the other profits. authors in his Journal, can be of great Why Career Planning Is Important to assistance. Lawyers and Firms For most of us in the legal profession, Law firms generally invest heavily in the however, stopping and paying attention to our recruitment of star talent. In addition, they own lives runs contrary to our natures (that is a provide good support for the development of topic for another article!). Therefore, unless their lawyers’ substantive skills. Most do not, we ourselves take the initiative (and incur the however, provide their lawyers with the expense) to hire a personal coach to support us individual support they need in order to help in connection with our career goals, it just them identify their unique talents, round out does not happen. Yet, by failing to do so, we their skills and abilities, and align their talents As published in the Summer 2005 edition of The Women Lawyers Journal 1 © Kathleen Bradley Choua , June 2005 All Rights Reserved
  2. 2. with the firm’s overall strategy. In addition, membership, budgeting, bill collecting, and the inconsistency of development the like – and all this in addition to opportunities within the firm, office or practice maintaining her billable hours. A lawyer who group – for reasons ranging from partner has a clear sense of her self, her strengths and work-styles, to inefficient or inequitable work weaknesses, and her values and interests can assignment systems, to unconscious more easily negotiate this change by motivations relating to preferences, diversity identifying the types of responsibilities that and the like -- often leads to the dissatisfaction she can take on and by advocating for herself of those who perceive that the firm is in relation to the coaching and training she providing better opportunities to some than to may need to help her to fulfill these duties. others. By institutionalizing a program that supports By supplementing existing professional the development of lawyers’ career paths, development efforts with a program that firms not only encourage their lawyers to work provides lawyers with the opportunity to purposefully toward their goals, they also develop, and be coached in relation to, engender increased loyalty, satisfaction and customized, individual career development performance, which inevitably lead to plans, and by dedicating an in-house increased profitability. professional to facilitate the process of What a Comprehensive Career Planning ensuring that lawyers get the opportunities Program Looks Like they need to develop targeted skills, firms can fill in these gaps and enhance their The essence of career planning has been professional development efforts overall. understood by mankind for millennia. It can perhaps best be summarized by the motto that Developing a personal career plan is Socrates learned from the Oracle at Delphi in particularly important for associates and the 5th Century, B.C.: “Know Thyself.” It is partners working in large firms. From the only by knowing who we are – our strengths moment a young lawyer begins to work at a and weaknesses, our values, our passions, and large firm, he submits to client needs and the our purpose – that we have a chance to achieve shadow of the billable hour. In many cases, true success, happiness and personal absent an institutionalized program to support fulfillment. Yet, as poets and philosophers his development, he does not stop to think have known throughout the ages, knowing about the direction his career, or for that oneself is one of life’s most difficult and matter his personal life, is taking until he challenging tasks. wakes up one day, perhaps several years later, suddenly conscious of the fact that he is The other articles in this Journal give you an feeling overwhelmed, disillusioned and idea of what one-on-one career planning for dissatisfied. This is often the result of poor lawyers can look like. This article describes professional development and career how an internal coach (referred to here as a management planning. Had the lawyer Career Development Officer), working as an developed a sense of purpose by defining a integral member of a firm’s professional clear direction at the outset of his career, he development and diversity teams, can assist a would feel more confident about his career lawyer to develop her career plan. The steps path, more empowered to make the decisions that can be taken include: necessary to keep his career on track, and • identifying the lawyer’s strengths, more resilient when subject to the set-backs weaknesses, values and personal interests that he will inevitably experience along the through her own self-assessment, through way. 360° feedback, and/or with the use of Similarly, when a lawyer suddenly finds various assessments administered by the herself in the partnership ranks, she generally coach: finds that numerous additional demands are suddenly placed upon her, such as marketing, • assisting the lawyer to articulate her own client development, practice leadership, career (and life) goals over the next 1 training and mentoring, committee year, 3 years, 5 years, etc., and counseling As published in the Summer 2005 edition of The Women Lawyers Journal 2 © Kathleen Bradley Choua , June 2005 All Rights Reserved
  3. 3. the lawyer on the practicality of those Enhance Recruiting. Today’s law school goals; graduates are not well prepared for the practice of law and they know it. In choosing a firm, • determining how the lawyer’s strengths they are looking for an environment in which and interests can be leveraged for her whey will receive top-notch training and benefit and for the strategic benefit of the thereby develop marketable skills. By firm, and how weaknesses can be providing individualized attention to overcome or developed; associates and partners, a law firm with a • developing a plan that includes clearly defined career development program manageable and measurable stretch goals has an edge over its competitors who do not to be achieved by the lawyer within provide programs of this type, and therefore defined time periods (e.g., substantive and becomes a “firm of choice.” executive skills to be developed, work Strengthen Existing Professional Development assignments needed, exposure to partners Efforts. Training and development programs and clients to be obtained, gaps to be are extremely useful development tools, but filled, etc.); they only go so far. A Career Development • periodically monitoring and assessing the Officer, acting as a coach, can supplement lawyer’s progress in relation to her goals; these efforts by working with individual and lawyers to implement the learning they acquire in these programs and to assist them in the • coaching her with regard to essential development of executive skills. executive leadership skills she will need in order to succeed. Shorter Learning Curve. The reality of today’s marketplace is that there is no time to Although the lawyer will receive the support waste trying to “sink or swim” in the murky of the coach in terms of the continuous waters of the legal profession, trying to monitoring of her performance and adherence acquire skills in an ad hoc fashion. What’s to her plan, she will be required to herself take more, learning in such a manner is inefficient, ownership of the plan and responsibility for stressful, costly and likely to irritate clients. her own career development. Lawyers get up to speed much more quickly In addition to supporting the development of when they know where they are headed. By career plans, a Career Development Officer focusing attention and defining direction, can also support the firm by working with individual lawyers can much more efficiently senior lawyers to provide coaching at the go about the task of acquiring the skills that critical, and highly stressful, point of they need to get there, and avoid being subject partnership consideration and subsequent to the burden and stress of acquiring them integration, and to provide coaching and haphazardly along the way. consulting with regard to executive skills such Improved Attorney Performance and as management and supervision, client Capability. Focused attention on one’s career relationship and development, marketing, goals, knowledge of one’s strengths and communication, leadership, and mentoring. weaknesses, and a clear sense of one’s Why Law Firms Should Invest in Career professional identity lead to increased Planning performance, capability and confidence. When a lawyer is empowered with this Set out below are the reasons why firms awareness, both lawyer and firm can better should invest in implementing a career align themselves to achieve the firm’s strategic development program as part of their objectives. professional development efforts. The business case ranges from enhancing Satisfaction and Retention. Law firms make recruiting and retention efforts to improving large investments in the recruitment and the bottom line. Here’s how: training of their lawyers. When a young associate leaves her firm before the break-even point in her second or third year due to lack of As published in the Summer 2005 edition of The Women Lawyers Journal 3 © Kathleen Bradley Choua , June 2005 All Rights Reserved
  4. 4. professional development opportunities (which reputation in the marketplace. Law firms that is the most frequent reason cited for a ensure that their lawyers have a positive departure), her firm suffers a real financial loss experience overall while at the firm enjoy (i.e., loss of initial investment and replacement better reputations in the marketplace and are and outplacement costs). By having a Career more likely to receive referral business from Development Officer to support associate lawyers that leave. Even lawyers who depart professional development, firms can from a firm at the firm’s request can leave substantially improve the level of associate with a sense of loyalty if they understand and satisfaction and thereby recoup the cost of appreciate the efforts that the firm made in investing in this effort. connection with their development and they receive meaningful outplacement counseling Diversity. Underlying much of the prior to their departure from the firm’s Career dissatisfaction expressed by associates is the Development Officer. issue of diversity. Notwithstanding that most firms now understand the business case for Emotional Intelligence. Most firms do great diversity, for a variety of reasons, certain jobs at developing their lawyers’ substantive associates are consistently given better skills, but little to assist them in developing development opportunities than others. In my the executive leadership skills that they need experience, many of these reasons are not the to be good lawyers. We have all heard a story result of intentional discrimination, but rather of the brilliant Law Review editor who had arise from unconscious biases that we all such poor interpersonal skills that neither carry. It’s pretty simple. We naturally partners nor clients wanted to work with him. gravitate towards people who are like us (e.g., The good news is that these skills, now white men gravitate towards other white men). referred to as EQ or emotional intelligence, In order to effectively address the inequities can be developed with the sincere and that arise from these unconscious biases, law concerted effort of the individual. firms need someone to regulate and monitor Corporations have long recognized that the the work given to individual associates, and difference between executives who are these biases need to be surfaced in a safe way mediocre and those who progress to senior so that the impact that they have on the leadership positions are primarily attributable development of minorities and women can be to emotional intelligence factors rather than overcome. Professional coaches are generally cognitive abilities (i.e., nearly 90% of the skilled at surfacing these biases, when working difference in the profiles of the executives who one-on-one with their clients. rise to the top and those who remain in middle management is attributable to EQ, not IQ). Loyalty, Morale and Culture. In exchange for The lesson here: intelligence is important so their hard work and long hours, associates by all means go after the best and brightest; expect top-notch training; it is part of the but intelligence only goes so far; at the senior implicit contract that they make with their (partner) level EQ is equally, if not more, firm. The higher the quality of the training important. Assisting individuals to develop and development program, the more positively EQ is the primary province of the executive the associates view their firm’s commitment to coach. them. Lawyers who receive the benefit of customized development plans get the Business and Management Skills. Most law message more clearly than others that the firm firms do not teach their lawyers good business is investing in them because they are valued and management skills. However, in today’s assets. This perception engenders a sense of market, more and more clients are demanding loyalty and satisfaction in the associates, that their lawyers have these skills. By which has a direct impact on the culture of the identifying the skill set required by lawyers, firm and morale generally. and developing a comprehensive career development plan that includes the Alumni. Law firms are coming to appreciate development of these skills, clients are better the importance of their alumni. Not only are served, work overall becomes more efficient, they important sources of ongoing business, they also can have a direct impact on a firm’s As published in the Summer 2005 edition of The Women Lawyers Journal 4 © Kathleen Bradley Choua , June 2005 All Rights Reserved
  5. 5. and good business practices become the norm Kathleen Bradley Chouai of the firm. (“KC) was a practicing attorney for 18 years and Increased Client Satisfaction and Loyalty. has a broad range of Again, it’s simple. Better trained and more international, legal, well-rounded lawyers translate into increased consulting and coaching client satisfaction and loyalty, which in turn experience. She has translates into increased profitability. worked with several of the The investment that lawyers make in their largest law firms in the world: Clifford Chance in careers is one of the biggest investments that London, Bahrain, Moscow they will make in their lifetimes. In addition and Washington, D.C., and White & Case in the to making an investment of time and money in Middle East. She therefore has an intimate acquiring their education and progressing knowledge of the legal profession, together with through their careers, they also seek to define a solid management and business background their professional identities. In exchange for acquired through her representation of the hard work and grueling hours that lawyers international corporations, financial institutions, invest, they should be entitled to their firm’s multi-lateral agencies and governments support in helping them to shape this identity and achieve their goals. By helping lawyers to After having spent much of her career abroad, KC take charge of their careers, shape their returned to the U.S. in 2002 to “follow her bliss,” professional identities, maximize their which is to work with lawyers and firms in the area potential, and align their careers with their of career and professional development. In 2003 firm’s strategy, firms are also enhancing their she formed KC Bradley Associates, a company which offers coaching and consulting services to own performance by becoming more efficient lawyers and law firms in the areas of leadership, and therefore more profitable. career and professional development, strategic In conclusion, every lawyer should take charge alignment, diversity, cross-cultural of her career by dedicating the time and effort communication, recruitment and retention. In necessary to develop an individual career plan addition, she assists her Arab clients from time to that aligns with her own unique set of time in connection with their transactions in the strengths, weaknesses, values and interests. In U.S. so doing, the lawyer not only puts herself on a KC is certified as a leadership coach by path towards a successful and fulfilling career; Georgetown University’s prestigious Leadership her firm also gains substantial benefits by Coaching Program and will obtain an Executive having a high performing fee-earner aligned Masters in Leadership at Georgetown’s with their overall strategic objectives. Rather McDonough School of Business in 2006. In than leave it to lawyers to develop their career addition, she is qualified to administer a number of plans on an ad hoc basis, firms should support assessments, including the Myers-Briggs Type them in this effort. One of the ways that they Indicator, the Strong Interest Inventory and the can do this is to make meaningful career Leadership Spectrum Profile, which she uses to planning an integral part of their professional enhance her work with her clients. development and diversity efforts. KC can be reached at, tel: It just makes sense. 202.857.0047. As published in the Summer 2005 edition of The Women Lawyers Journal 5 © Kathleen Bradley Choua , June 2005 All Rights Reserved