Coming into this year, none of us could have expected the chaos and disruption which pursued. With many of us in a transitional phase as a result, now seems to be an ideal opportunity to evaluate past choices and use that knowledge to make future plans. Here are my top five pieces of advice to my younger self to help you get started.
Find a mentor
I have had the privilege of working with some wonderful mentors in my time and have been motivated by their successes, as well as learning from their failings. The legal world can be a daunting industry to get to grips with, especially without any prior experience. There is no doubt that I would have benefited from having a mentor from an earlier stage in my career. However, as for many, my main obstacle was not having the network to find one.
There will usually always be people willing to assist you along the way, although you need to be proactive by seeking those opportunities for yourself and asking for help. Networking events, LinkedIn and workplace connections are some good places to start your search. Once secured, ensure to nurture and maintain the relationship. Mentoring really is a two-way process and you will only get out what you put in.
Be kind to yourself
In such a competitive industry, the odds are already stacked against you. If you cannot believe in yourself, it is unlikely that anyone else will. The legal qualification process is already demanding without burdening yourself with additional self-critique. Instead, be kind to yourself.
Take ownership over any negative thoughts by asking yourself if you would say the same to a friend in a similar situation. We are truly our own worse critics and we reserve our compassion for others, rather than ourselves.
Remember to show up for yourself too. Give yourself time to feel disappointed after a setback, however, impose a deadline to move on. Disappointment is a natural emotion, but be kind to your future-self by giving yourself a head start on making things right.
Everyone’s journey is different
With the average solicitor qualification age now standing at 29 years old, the so-called “traditional” path to qualification is changing. ‘Junior’ is no longer synonymous with ‘young’ and prior experience is now seen as a major advantage. Yet in the harsh light of rejection, it can often seem like you are on a never-ending road with no destination.
It is normal to feel frustrated by unexpected obstacles, but use them as an opportunity to assess how far you have come. Everyone’s journey is different, so try not to compare yourself to others’ perceived successes. Focus on what you have learnt and the transferable skills you have developed. People achieve great things through different means, so cherish your unique experience and remember that qualification/promotion is a marathon, not a race.
Always have a back-up
In today’s tumultuous climate, it may feel more comfortable to let the world change around you rather than embrace change itself. But given the speed with which things can change, it is far better to choose action over inaction. Take control as best you can by preparing for all potential consequences and having a back-up.
With all best intentions aside, business can be unforgiving. While it is easy to believe that hard work will get you everything you deserve, unfortunately at times that will not be the case. Do not place all your eggs in one basket. As lawyers we would not advise on the best way forward without considering potential alternatives, so apply this principle to your own career and devise a strong contingency plan.
Lessons not mistakes
Despite the potentially dire professional consequences of making errors within the legal industry, lawyers must learn to live with the constant risk. In a profession of perfectionists, failure is often not perceived to be an option. However by automatically rejecting the concept of it, we fail to see its inherent value.
It is important to understand that “failure” is merely a part of the learning process and is the key to future success. Indeed, we would not have learnt how to walk without falling first. Much more can be said about how you rectify the error, rather than the actual mistake itself. Your actions dictate the impact of your mistakes. Recognising mistakes early on and seeking support where appropriate will lessen the personal ramifications for you. A problem shared is, more often than not, a problem halved.
See your mistakes as a lesson or a test – one which will build you into a stronger person, an outstanding candidate and a better lawyer.
Leah Caprani is an Executive Committee Member of the Junior Lawyers Division.