Jumping headfirst into succeeding at a career without doing some in depth self-assessment – in advance and along the way – is like driving fast in the dark with your low beams on. You can feel really confident about moving forward at a fast pace as far as you can see, but the road could change at any moment and you don’t have advance warning. This is what can happen to many lawyers who are going full speed ahead, but working towards someone else’s dream, goals, or milestones. They can feel really great about the progress they are making only to realize they are not working towards anything that is meaningful to them. Then they burn out, freak out, and feel trapped in their career.
We’ve all seen it happen to someone (or maybe it happened to you) – but when the road you are on no longer feels in line with your goals and what you want – it seems like an endless and thankless journey. As a solo practitioner, it is arguably even more important than for other lawyers to identify your path and make sure your progress is working towards goals that are really meaningful to you.
If something’s got to go, don’t let it be you
The core of professional development and advancement lies in the uniqueness of your individual path – being a unique human being, lawyer, and professional is how you stand out and grow your business. So it shouldn’t be a big surprise that I am going to encourage you to set aside time in your busy day, week, month, and year to really identify who you are and what your goals are. I’m not going to tell you how to do this self-assessment in this post, but rather try to inspire you with some context to become more curious about bringing self-assessment and planning into your life.
Who you are is much more than a lawyer specializing in ______ [fill in the blank]. You may also be a spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, father, mother, daughter, son, sister, brother, coach, church member, entrepreneur, and much more. All of your experiences, interests, skills, and roles in life make you a better lawyer if you let them. But it can take time to actually identify your goals and a path that makes sense for you.
Listen to your elders (about goal-setting)
I love connecting with senior lawyers to hear their stories – I recently attended my state bar association summer meeting and sat next to a lawyer at lunch that has been practicing for over 50 years. He practices 6 months out of the year in the US and 6 months of the year in Australia. I was fascinated by this situation and what he must have had to navigate to get licensed in both jurisdictions. I asked a bunch of questions about how this split in geography and legal jurisdictions came about. He simply stated, “well that is what I and my family wanted, so I figured out how to do it, and did it, and it has worked out just as we had hoped.” He said this in such a matter-of-fact way that it really inspired me to dissect 3 principles wrapped up in what he was really saying in that simple statement, and how it could relate to other practitioners.
First of all, he identified that this big life change was in line with he and his family’s goals. That first self-assessment hurdle is huge before you invest time, money, and resources into working towards a major goal. If you are following the herd mentality, or just trying some new marketing effort because “everyone else is doing it” but it is not something you are passionate or excited about – why bother? How does running your practice line up with your bigger picture goals? Did you go solo to make more money, have more freedom, or cut back on hours to spend time with your family? Are you still working towards those goals or have they gotten lost in the shuffle of deadlines, client needs, and dockets? Does the direction of your practice still line up with your big picture goals?
Second, he confidently stated (in so many words) that all you had to do was figure out how to get from Point A to Point B, and then start working on the steps. He had to research how to get licensed in Australia and then to go back to law school. He broke the bigger long-term goal down into steps leading towards success with timelines and results that built on each other. He applied research skills that serve him well in his practice and applied them to some digging and planning for his personal and professional betterment.
Third, he did not seem put off by my questions asking why in the heck he would have wanted to do this. He laughed and explained his wife is from Australia, and why it meant so much to them to raise children in both countries. He was confident in his decision and I am sure was just as confident at the time – when others were likely telling him he was crazy to go back to law school and learn an entire new legal system. He was clearly someone who was comfortable with self-assessment, able to identify goals, and then stick to the ones that meant a lot to him.
I have experienced similar conversations with other senior lawyers. Many of them are very matter-of-fact in stating how they achieved great success in their careers. But at the heart of many of their stories is a passion and drive that only aligns when your actions and path line up with your true priorities and goals. I haven’t heard any of these senior lawyers say that they went away on planning retreats or spent hours meditating on their goals (maybe they did – who knows), but it was just second nature to them to do what was meaningful to them and to charge ahead.
Carving a path is what helps you stand out
If you are feeling a bit lost in your career path, or out of touch with your current and future goals – maybe it is time to take a page from my lunch partner’s book and do some self-assessment to identify which goals(s) in your life you could be so confident, so sure of, so that nothing would make you budge from working towards it. Whether it is focusing in on a particular practice area, turning down a potential client, trying a new marketing strategy, hiring staff, taking extended vacations, or starting a new business on the side of your practice – can you trust your instincts? You are a unique person and an absolutely unique lawyer. How can you help turn on the high beams, so you can feel more sure of your path and next steps in your career?
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.