How many lawyers do you know who truly planned their careers and then have fulfilled exactly what it was that they planned to set out and accomplish?  As a lawyer yourself, are you now doing exactly what it is that you expected to be doing when you envisioned your future at the end of law school? The answer, if we are being honest, is that very few practitioners end up in the role that they anticipated or with the career that they foresaw all of those years ago at university.

A significant portion of lawyers at the beginning of their careers will either roughly identify an area that they think will sustain their interests, or secure any role they can. We routinely meet junior practitioners who, when pressed, do not really know what it is that they want to do as lawyers.  They just hope to get the right role and then things will simply unfold before them, leading to a long and satisfying career.  The problem with hoping that your career will slowly reveal itself is that you have no real control over how your career will develop.  Instead of just trying to secure a role in an area that you “think” might be a good practice for you, take time to do some honest self-reflection.  This will likely provide more focus, to help narrow down the practices or routes that are likely to be more successful for you.  Longevity in legal practice (in either private practice or in-house) comes from engaging in law and work that continues to motivate and interest you.  One imagines that most lawyers would not be attracted to a monotonous repetitive nine to five job.  Rather than seeing your practice as a job simply to pay bills, plan ahead for a practice that will inspire you in the long-term.

Self-Reflection Exercise

As recruiters working with candidates, we commonly encourage lawyers to complete a self-reflection exercise and prepare a career plan to assist them in identifying their goals.

The self-reflection exercise falls into two parts, both of which follow the same format.  Take two pieces of paper (or use the modern equivalent) and draw a line down the middle of both sheets.  The first sheet can be titled “Likes/Dislikes”.  The second sheet can be titled “Strengths/Weaknesses”.

1. Likes & Dislikes Sheet

Starting with the Likes/Dislikes sheet, on the one side the participant should make a list of all of the things that they like and enjoy about practice.  The object, at this juncture, should be to be as broad as one can, to make sure that all the things that have piqued the individual’s interest are included, as well as all of the things that have been enjoyable and exciting experiences.  While we ask the individuals to focus on the practice areas and work environments they may find rewarding as a lawyer, we also ask them to think about their non-law considerations when completing the exercise to make sure that a position will be compatible with their lives as a whole. It is important to understand that a career in law is a very time consuming one. So, critically important factors from one’s personal life must be acknowledged and incorporated into an overall plan.  Obviously, on the other side of the Likes/Dislikes sheet, the individual should similarly list all of the things that they have disliked and not enjoyed about practice.

2. Strengths & Weaknesses Sheet

The second step of the exercise is to complete the Strengths/Weaknesses sheet. The Strengths/Weaknesses sheet should be a candid and accurate account, including feedback that the individual has received from employers, colleagues, friends and family.  The individual should not confuse and cross-populate the Strengths/Weaknesses sheet with like and dislike line items.  The point of this step is not to determine what the individual would like to think of themselves, but to be an honest reflection of what they know they have a competency in and what they struggle with in practice.  Honesty in this step is crucial.

The objective of both exercises is to determine what makes an individual happy in their practice and what makes them unhappy, as well as where their strengths lie. Lawyers that enjoy long, successful and content careers typically identify both the area of law that truly interests them and the style of practice that works for them early on in their career progression.   Having more positives in your practice, while minimizing the negatives is a critical step in wanting to get up each day and get into work, rather than dreading yet another day at the office.

Peer Review

Once both steps have been completed, we recommend that the individual then have at least one or two close confidants review the two lists. The point of this is that if those reviewers know the individual well, they can provide an outside perspective as to whether the individual is being honest with themselves or not.  Caution should be taken if using a close family member to conduct this review. They may be too close to the individual to provide an honest review. They may also inject their own preferences into the process.

Prepare A Career Plan

After completing the self-analysis, we then ask individuals to prepare a career plan based, in the most part, on their self-analysis.  One of the critical components of a career plan is the flexibility to adapt to unforeseen changes.  We strongly encourage candidates completing our process to do some substantive research in creation of their subsequent plan.  It is important not only to identify potential routes for career progression, but also to start to know who, what and where may be part of that plan.

You may, as a result of the exercises, be able to identify an area of practice that excites you, but you should also learn a little about the people and places that are in your region that will help you excel in that field.  Invest some time at this juncture to determine who the key practices and practitioners are, how those individuals and entities gained their reputations and what it is exactly that they do. Clearly identifying which practices most adhere to the path the individual wishes to set for themselves is a necessity.

In addition to identifying the firms and individuals that match the individual’s chosen path, we also encourage candidates to reach out to and try to understand the day-to-day life of lawyers in those practices. While we cannot completely eliminate all of the negatives from our careers (docketing is a necessary part of any private practice, for instance, and rare is the practitioner who relishes docketing), it is important to get an understanding of the day in and day out of lawyers in any given field.  If the individual seeking that specific path thinks that certain aspects of the chosen field would become an issue in the future, it is better to identify that before the individual is too fully invested.

Once the practices, individuals and types of work are identified, the last part of compiling the career plan is to determine the necessary steps and stages of the chosen career path.  What additional qualifications might one need?  What associations should an individual gain membership in to meet and mix with like-minded practitioners?  What experiences would foster a better and deeper understanding of that portion of the Bar?  And what legislation or case law governs the practice as it currently stands?  Identifying the necessary building blocks for the chosen career path allows one to craft the career plan step by step.

Accordingly, the career plan should illustrate the necessary steps, a timeline of progression and the goals that the individual wishes to achieve.  Typically, we suggest identifying six month, two year and five year timelines for the plan, so that the individual has an identifiable road map to refer back to.  Entwined within the career plan, beyond the practical objectives set out above, should be a self-awareness of who the individual is and what they bring to the table for any given opportunity or step.  The career plan then becomes a reference tool (amendable as circumstances change) when seeing how you have progressed from year to year.

Armed with the self-analysis and the career plan, the individual can then assess situations and opportunities as they arise to determine if they will help the individual accomplish their long-term goals and if those opportunities fit with their overall career trajectory.


Having a deeper understanding of who you are and what you want to achieve shines through when you discuss such things with potential employers.  A confident and focused individual is much more of an attractive proposition to any employer or partnership, than someone who appears to lack cohesive direction.

Get to know yourself.  Get to know what you want.  And get to understand what it is going to take to get you there.