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How to move up the ladder as a legal professional

By Tina De Maere  – April 30, 2024

Searching for purpose in life is a basic human instinct. Part of the meaningfulness we attribute to our lives is affected by the fulfillment we experience in our jobs.

As a legal professional, working long hours on complex cases, assisting “difficult” clients and collaborating with demanding partners are no exemptions. Therefore, receiving recognition and getting satisfaction from your job is even more important as a legal counsel or lawyer.

Some conditions that define the purposefulness of a job are:

In general, these conditions will improve with the position you claim in a company or law firm; the higher you grow, the more your responsibility, salary and recognition will increase and the more the complexity of your tasks will raise.

Receiving opportunities for growth is therefore a key factor in defining the value of your job. If you feel like you’re stuck in a place where improvement is impossible, you will quickly lose ambition and motivation to continue on the path you’ve chosen. Moving up the ladder is the best way to prevent this. As the saying goes: standing still is the same as moving backwards.

In this blog, we’ll explain why and how moving up the ladder can give your legal career the kick in the butt it needs!

Don’t climb a broken ladder as a legal counsel or lawyer

The first step in building a career as a legal professional is picking the right ladder. It is impossible to climb a ladder with broken steps.

If you feel like you’re stuck in a company or law firm where no personal or professional improvement is achievable, it might be a good idea to switch ladders. Maybe another company or office will grant you more opportunities to learn and to move forward (e.g., becoming a partner or General Counsel).

In any case, it cannot hurt to stay on the lookout for new challenges, even if you sense that you haven’t reached the top of your capacities yet. Having a plan B can be a relief when you have to face unexpected setbacks.

Start with a broad legal basis

The best way to improve your chances of climbing the ladder, is to start at the foundation. Try to gather experience and practical knowledge in as many different fields of law as possible. A broad legal basis is necessary, since you’ll inevitably come into contact with various legal areas when occupying a higher position.

If you have to lead a team or even multiple teams or departments, you’re responsible for the quality of the work that is delivered. Being in charge also means being able to understand and correct every document that carries your signature, as you’re accountable for the mistakes of your employees.

If, on the other hand, you want to specialize in a specific legal niche, like intellectual property law or competition law, make sure you become an absolute expert in that area. Obviously, this requires a lot of time and effort, but it’s difficult to grow when other people with more expertise than you announce themselves.

Never stop learning as a legal professional

To enhance your growth opportunities, it remains important to keep improving yourself. Don’t ever think that there’s nothing left for you to learn; this is the biggest mistake you can make.

When we’re talking about educating yourself, we’re not exclusively targeting your legal skills. Technical skills, soft skills and research skills, too, form an essential part of your repertoire. Consider the following abilities:

Don’t wait for your current employer to offer you opportunities to develop yourself in these areas, but actively search for ways to do this on your own motion. Attending additional training programs, doing research and testing your own capabilities in day-to-day situations at work are all good methods of achieving this goal.

Showcase your sense of responsibility as a lawyer

To qualify for a new or higher position, one of the requirements will usually be the ability to manage a team and take on responsibility. The higher you grow, the more complex and numerous the tasks you’re in charge of will become. It’s up to you to prove that you can handle the extra pressure.

Therefore, it’s important to showcase your sense of responsibility and team management skills on your own motion. Don’t be afraid to perform additional tasks, take the lead in group projects and train junior employees and colleagues. These activities will all prove beneficial at later stages.

Protect your own well-being as a legal professional

As important as your professional development and progression may be, nothing is more valuable than your own health, both physical and mental. If you feel like your search for personal and professional progres is becoming detrimental to your own well-being (e.g. you feel overworked or overwhelmed), it might be a good idea to take a step back and analyze the situation.

Oftentimes, this gives a much clearer view of the position you find yourself in. Maybe, your body and mind need some time to adapt to a new situation or environment or the amount of work you’re doing is becoming more than you can chew. In those cases, it’s not always necessary to keep seeking for progress, but rather, it could be better to take your foot of the gas and give yourself enough time to process your own achievements.

The ultimate tip: don’t be too harsh on yourself. When in dire straits, taking one step back can help you move two steps in the opposite direction.

Networking as a lawyer is as important as in any sector

As always, knowing the right people in the right places is the easiest way of getting where you want to be. This counts for lawyers and legal advisors as well. Expand your network, attend events, talk to people, throw yourself out there: without connections, you’re only making things more difficult for yourself.

If your network cannot help you find what you’re looking for directly, they can always tip you on where to look or hint others to check out your profile. At the same time, you can help other people in making their next career choice. What’s more beautiful than that?

Need some help in connecting with the right people?

Contact us on tina.demaere@limine.be and find out how we can give your legal career a kickstart!