“The partners leading my team are too focused on business development and managing demanding clients to take a serious interest in my development as a lawyer. Is this a bad sign and what can I do?”
Michael Chissick, managing partner, Fieldfisher
If you are looking for a mentor or someone to help you develop your career, you should not restrict yourself to your own practice or to just partners. Are there any other practice areas you have an interest in or have worked with previously? Can you get involved in some of the firm’s more strategic projects?
A partner’s main role is to bring in business and manage client relationships. If you can demonstrate that you have those skills too by building your network (internally and externally) and bringing in new work, this will make the senior lawyers sit up and take notice. Make yourself stand out from the pack.
Chris Anderson, head of legal services, Brighton & Hove Albion FC
Their apparent lack of interest may not be a bad sign for you in a personal sense – do they take an interest in other lawyers or do you feel they show a lack of interest more generally?
Regardless, you should be proactive about your development. Why not take some time to think about what you want to learn, and then try to plan how to do it?
For example, when I started at Everton I was aware that the legal training I had received had not given me a proper knowledge of finance. I therefore sought out and studied books on the topic.
Of course, this is not the right approach for all areas of career development, but it is important that you do not leave your future to chance – or to someone else.
Elaine Hutton, EU general counsel, Shiseido
You need to take ownership of your own career – it is rare to find a manager who genuinely has your interests at heart. Why don’t you find a career coach and ask the firm to fund this? If the firm is reluctant to do this, look at what the firm states its values are and point out how it measures up in practice – or not.
The currency of your career is the experience you are gaining
Also, the currency of your career is the experience you are gaining. Could you ask to transfer to another area to widen your skillset or go on secondment to a client? You could learn a lot from working in-house and gain insight into why some clients are so demanding. Perhaps you could help them to give clearer instructions and more reasonable timeframes too.
Ray Berg, UK managing partner, Osborne Clarke
Business development and developing talent are both important aspects of the role of a partner, but you should also take ownership of your own development and there are a number of things you can do to further your own career.
First and most importantly, do your homework to understand what is expected of you. Most firms have clear contribution definitions and promotion criteria readily available. I recommend that you set up a meeting with an HR or learning and development professional so they can guide you on the training and assessments that are available, and advise on how to progress to the next role.
Set up a meeting with an HR or learning and development professional so they can guide you”
You might also seek support from professionals in finance, BD or knowledge. They could help you understand how their specialisms can enhance your contribution.
Do not forget that you are surrounded by lawyers who will have been in your position previously and are now more advanced in
their careers. It is important to build on those relationships as your colleagues can tell you how they developed. You could even consider asking one to be a mentor.
Typically, lawyers will use their development chat with their partner as a sounding board. Being prepared for the meeting will ensure you and your partner get the most out of the time. It will also show you have taken the initiative to drive your own
development forward, which is always a good thing.
Sally Davies, London senior partner, Mayer Brown
You should get involved in BD and in helping to manage the firm’s demanding clients, both of which will assist your development. Are you pushing yourself forward, suggesting how you can help or get involved, and seeking guidance? If this is met with resistance it is a bad sign, but proactivity is usually welcomed and encouraged.
Ask for a 30-minute meeting with a partner you respect and trust. Ask them if they will help you to develop a plan, and request feedback on your performance. Suggest that these become regular catch-ups to review how you are doing in addition to your regular appraisals, where you should also raise these issues more formally.
Ask for a meeting with a partner you trust. Ask if they will help you to develop a plan, and request feedback on your performance. And suggest that these meetings become regular catch-ups in addition to your regular appraisals”
Also, consider a mentor, either through a formal scheme or informally, to discuss how to approach these issues.
If your firm has a learning and development team, make the time to speak with them and take responsibility for finding out about, and attending, any sessions they put on throughout the year.
Ruth Fenton, solicitor and careers coach
Partners don’t always make the best managers. They get to partnership level by doing great legal work and showing potential to bring in new matters. Many partners do not get any meaningful training in how to manage a team and bring out the best in their associates.
This is why associates need to be proactive in their development and training. Depending on the type of firm you work for you may have a learning and development team or training partner who can help you put together a personal development plan. The SRA require you do this so you can undertake the right training and reflect on your on going learning.
Partners don’t always make the best managers
Most firms have a career ladder which is used to assess associates in their annual appraisal. Referring to this will help you seek out learning opportunities at the right level and offer your services on new projects.
Offering to help partners with business development shows initiative and will help you to learn how to bring in business. Asking to observe difficult client meetings will help you to develop your interpersonal skills. This will maximise your contact with partners. You can then do things such as self-study and asking to get involved in certain tasks to brush up your other skills.
The views expressed here are personal ones and do not necessarily reflect those of the panel’s organisations. If you’re a lawyer who wants to put a question to our panel of experts, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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