Career (or personal) development in law firms gets scant attention.
You join, having endured a contrived process of elimination, with high expectations.
Your head is full of principled ideas of how the law is to be applied, the need to buckle down and learn your technical craft, and focus on getting up the corporate ladder as quickly as possible (the gold at the end of the Rainbow and all that stuff).
In the early days, you attend some mandatory courses and, if you are lucky, you might get taken under the wing of an obliging senior. Watch, listen and learn.
But then the realisation dawns.
Developing your career is largely a matter of billing and making sure you don’t screw up.
You think you are getting better – another slew of cases and case analysis under your belt – but, truth be told, your career, or more likely, your learning has stagnated.
Should you really be that surprised?
Unless the firm is set up for Excellence, you will find that the purse strings close very quickly and even the common-place CLT courses have now gone out the window, and you are expected to find your own time.
In my view, this is misguided, stupid and missing one almighty trick.
Your firm are your people.
You can invest all you like in the systems, infrastructure and business development programmes but if your people are not being challenged every day to be the most of anything then how do you expect the firm to progress?
Just imagine each partner being told that the firm was now going to hold back 5% of their profit for training across the whole firm!
Or every lawyer was given an annual budget of £2,500 to spend without having to jump through every conceivable business case hoop known to man.
Or there was a bond offered so that you could dip into a central or team pot – first come first serve possibly – where you had to repay said monies upon leaving the firm within 3 years of completing the course.
Or for all partners it was mandatory that they completed a LL.M or MBA before being considered for partnership.
Or all partners had to take part in or lead a NFP project, domestically or internationally, and report to the board on the skills learned before they could be considered for partnership.
And so the list goes on.
My thing: To become the most of anything. That means stepping outside of your comfort zone and being tested. You learn most when you are exposed not when you are doing something for the 10,000th time. Yes, you might master your craft but the firm of the future will need more leaders – those that inspire and make a difference – and not a bushel of technicians.
I was often challenged to become more in practice and for a while I couldn’t see the point. More than that it took me away from fee earning where all the action was focused.
But I made a mistake. I should have focused on my learning without waiting for someone to give me the green light. I realise now, in my expansive reading, how little I really did learn.
Don’t let things slip.
If you need a guide to help you with your career development here is a free Google docs template that I prepared previously. I hope that you are able to use it, and please feel free to pass it around and let others know of its existence.
It would be great to get your feedback in the comments section where you think law firms could improve in this department. Is it purely a lack of cash, a lack of interest or that partners don’t care enough?