In today’s competitive legal market, lawyers are more disposable than ever. According to the 2014 Report on the State of the Legal Market by Georgetown Law and Peer Monitor, “The legal market has become much more intensely competitive than it was five years ago.” And according to a recent article in the American Bar Association’s Bar Leader, the legal market has lost 54,000 jobs since 2004.
With fewer jobs and more competition, companies know they can expect more and pay less. While in the past, lawyers could expect consistent promotions and a clear, upward-trajectory career path, today nothing is a given. In order to ensure a successful, rewarding career, it’s more important than ever to keep building your skills and avoid going stale on the shelf. In-house lawyers are especially prone to this as their roles — and skills — can grow stagnant or evolve into an area that is too narrow.
Here are six creative ways to help you stay relevant and expand your career horizons:
1. Update your social media profile
As you look to expand beyond your comfort zone, it’s important to take inventory of the current state of your personal branding and social presence. If you don’t have one, then get one. Make sure your social media accounts, especially your LinkedIn profile, are up to date, including a photo that’s fresh and high quality. These personal-branding basics are fundamental, serving as the foundation you need to have properly established before you can even begin to think about expanding your horizons.
2. Stretch beyond your comfort zone
Identify areas of interest and then look for ways to act and begin to build experience, contacts and credibility. For instance, if you are interested in branching out into a new sector, learn about what’s happening in that space and identify key industry players. Network and talk with entrepreneurs in your sector of interest and consider providing free legal advice as a way to gain access, insight and credibility.
3. Take on pro bono work
Pro bono work is another possibility to explore for building additional skills, contacts and experience. Aside from the obvious charitable benefits, taking on pro bono work can also be a good career move as it allows you to enter another field and gain new skills. According to Harvard Law School, “Building your skill set is especially important for future mobility within the legal profession. Most lawyers do change jobs throughout their careers; having worked on pro bono cases can give you the edge you need to get the next job of your dreams.” Pro bono work is a great way to make a difference, get involved in a cause you are passionate about, and build some potentially high-value skills along the way.
4. Pursue board leadership
Another great way to expand your career horizons is through board leadership. Lawyers — who are known for being outspoken, analytical and great leaders — are terrific assets as board members. Explore the idea of enrolling in a Board Leadership Academy in order to develop the knowledge and skills needed to serve on boards of nonprofits as well as corporations. You can start by serving on a community or school board, and eventually parlay your experience into nonprofit or corporate leadership, where you can have the opportunity to interface with executives.
5. Get certified
If you are looking to get into a new area of expertise, consider becoming certified by your State Bar. Certifications are becoming increasingly popular; according to The ABA Standing Committee on Specialization, “The number of lawyers to whom specialty certificates have been issued continues to grow steadily.” Yes, you’ll have to study and take a test, but a key certification will add a feather in your cap and a third-party validation of your new or enhanced skill. The ABA Standing Committee on Specialization notes, “Certification by an independent, recognized authority conveys real meaning to prospective clients, professional peers, and institutions regarding the professional capabilities of legal specialists.”
6. Create a new network
Embrace outreach. Look at where you want to get to in your career, and be tactical about your outreach. Identify GCs in industries of interest and find ways to get connected. Attend key industry events, or leverage existing connections by stepping out of your comfort zone and asking for the introductions you need in order to build new relationships in the areas that are of interest to you.
In today’s competitive legal market, lawyers must be creative and consistent in their efforts to stay relevant. By stepping out of the “comfort zone,” getting involved in board leadership or pro bono work and being tactical in your networking and outreach, lawyers will ensure they are moving forward while gaining intangible yet invaluable life experiences.