The Big Picture: You are responsible for your own career.

In “The Big Picture” posts, I discuss issues and ideas focused on your long-term career.

During the first few years of your career, a lot of your time is going to be focused on figuring out how to make it through the day. You’ll be in the weeds, so to speak. And it will probably take a couple of years for you to feel like you have a clue about what you’re doing and how to practice law.  Putting your head down and focusing on the day-to-day job is necessary, but make sure you act strategically when you can so that when you do pop you for air, you like where your career is headed.

And it is so easy to feel aimless at the start of your career.  For the first time in your life, you might not have a concrete goal.  You had been on a clear trajectory: (1) high school; (2) college; (3) law school; (4) bar exam; (5) get a job; (6) show up. And then…what?

You might not be able to answer that question, and that’s okay.  But don’t let the unpredictable schedule, crazy hours, and total newness of life as a young lawyer stop you from taking control where you can.  Because nobody cares about your career as much as you do. And it’s up to you to take it where you want to go.

So, even when you have little to no autonomy in your daily work life, here are a few things to try:

  • Take on new work strategically.
    • Keep an eye and ear out for opportunities. Talk to other young lawyers in your office, talk to formal and informal mentors, and talk to whomever is in charge of work assignments.
    • Want to work with a particular attorney? If you see a gap in your schedule coming up, reach out to them and ask if they have any opportunities.
    • Interested in a particular area of law? Figure out who in your office works on those matters and ask to get involved.
  • If you work in private practice, take on a pro bono case.
    • Pro bono work is awesome for all kinds of reasons. From a purely career-driven standpoint, it can:
      • Help you learn new skills before you would get a similar opportunity on a billable matter;
      • Provide leadership opportunities;
      • Provide experience in a different area of law, helping you figure out what you like and what you don’t; and
      • Help you make connections for the future.
  • Target your continuing legal education (CLE) credits to issues you care about.
    • This can also help you take on new work strategically. Let’s say you want to break into your firm’s antitrust group. If you attend a great CLE on emerging trends in antitrust law, write up a short blurb about it and reach out to an antitrust attorney you know (or one you don’t) and offer to circulate the course materials to your firm’s antitrust group.
  • Attend office events.
    • You will stay engaged in your company or firm, make connections, hear about new and interesting matters, or at the least, just enjoy a free glass of wine.
  • Take advantage of freebies.
    • Many bar associations offer free membership for at least your first year of practice.

Pic Credit: Jonathan Simcoe (via Unsplash)