5 Legal Professional Development Tips to Master
The legal industry is competitive. From law practice management to compensation, to culture — law firms have to create new incentives to attract and retain top lawyers. Fostering an environment of learning and growth opportunities is a key factor in being the top-choice law firm for young lawyers.
Lawyers also need to stay on top of their skills to continue to provide the best representation for their clients. In a fast-paced law firm environment, years can fly by – leaving lawyers behind the curve of their peers.
Importance of Legal Professional Development
Employee development and engagement are crucial parts of building a strong firm culture and more capable lawyers. When law firms present ongoing opportunities for legal professional development, lawyers and support staff are encouraged to invest in their own growth and feel connected to the larger mission of the firm.
How to Identify Legal Professional Development Goals
Lawyers can advance their careers in more ways than striving for a partner. Taking on new responsibilities, learning new skills, or working within a new practice area can create more competencies and develop global expertise for lawyers at every stage of their careers.
Identify Career Goals
Before you can begin professional development, you must create goals for what you want to achieve. Consider both short- and long-term goals that are SMART:
Having broad goals like “being a better lawyer” is a nice dream, but it’s not actionable. Goals should be specific, well-defined, and something that can be accomplished. If a goal is specific, you should be able to determine:
Why you want to accomplish it
How you will accomplish it
What challenges may make it difficult to achieve
If you can’t measure your goal, you won’t know if you’re on track to achieve it. All SMART goals must be measurable so they can be tracked and assessed with quantifiable milestones.
Having lofty goals is admirable, but unrealistic goals are nearly impossible to achieve. Repeatedly setting goals and failing only leads to discouragement. It’s better to have realistic, conservative goals that can be met or exceeded.
Similarly, setting goals that are too easy to achieve doesn’t hold much value. If you’re setting a goal that’s likely to happen anyway, then you’re not challenging yourself enough. Set goals that push you to try harder but don’t set you up to fail from the start.
Goals should always be relevant to your larger career goals or the goals for the law firm. For example, learning to cook from scratch or to play a musical instrument is a good personal endeavor, but that’s personal development and not professional development.
Goals should have a timeframe that measures their success. Otherwise, your goal is just something that would be nice to achieve “someday.” This time frame should be specific and realistic, neither too far in the future or so close that you will inevitably fail.
Tips for Legal Professional Development
1. Keep Up with the Trends
With the busyness of day-to-day work in a law firm, it’s likely you’re focused on other things beyond keeping up with legal trends. They’re important for staying competitive in an increasingly competitive legal landscape.
You don’t need to follow every trend but staying aware of what trends exist gives you a chance to monitor them and prepare for potential opportunities or issues.
2. Reading Legal Professional Books
Legal professional development doesn’t always have to be in a formal setting – it can be reading helpful books on your own. There are several books that you can read or listen to, all from experienced lawyers and legal industry veterans, to save you years of missteps.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey: Helps with solving personal and professional problems to stay more adaptable in your career and capitalize on opportunities.
How to Argue & Win Every Time: At Home, At Work, In Court, Everywhere, Everyday by Gerry Spence: While older, but still highly relevant, you’ll learn that arguing is an art that isn’t just for trial attorneys – it’s a skill that’s vital to all aspects of the law.
Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges by Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner: This book is an exercise in persuasion, both in speaking and writing, told in an entertaining manner. The authors cover these skills as they apply to everything from legal briefs to oral arguments in court, making it a must for any attorney.
MacCarthy on Cross-Examination by Terence MacCarthy: Complete with real-world examples, this book is key for any trial lawyer and helps with all aspects of the courtroom. It’s even recommended by the American Bar Association.
A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr: Explore all areas of the justice system and intricacies of practicing law as you uncover the true story of a difficult case that involves two corporate giants and illustrates that justice can be elusive sometimes.
3. Events and Conferences
The legal industry is always changing, and lawyers and legal professionals need to learn and grow with it. Events and conferences keep you aware of the latest trends and developments in the legal industry and offer an opportunity to network and stay current on the latest news and regulations.
Quality conferences give you an opportunity to immerse yourself in the latest training and educational opportunities in a short period, helping to balance professional development with work demands.
There are numerous conferences to attend, however. Some are general and others focus on specific practice areas or audiences within the legal industry. Consider conferences that offer Continuing Legal Education opportunities to upgrade your skills.
Both new and experienced lawyers can benefit from a legal mentor. There’s always something to learn and lawyers offer new learning opportunities and a different perspective.
A legal mentor is an experienced lawyer who passes guidance, experience, and advice to other lawyers, law students, or legal professionals. With the guidance of a mentor, you can learn new skills, create better goals, and build confidence in your career path. Mentors may work one-on-one or in a group setting.
5. Pro Bono Work
Pro bono work is a requirement for lawyers, but it comes with some excellent benefits. Working pro bono cases add variety to your routine and keeps your skills sharp, not to mention pushing your limits to build more diverse and robust skill sets. As a result, you will become a more well-rounded lawyer for your paying clients.
Get Started with Legal Professional Development
Legal professional development is key for lawyers and legal professionals to advance their careers and realize their goals. Though it can seem challenging to fit professional development into an already packed schedule, it should be a priority to capitalize on future career opportunities.