Creating your 5-year legal career plan

Legal Career Goals set SMART goals
Are you thinking about where your legal career might take you? Ask yourself where you want to go and determine what steps you need to take in the meantime, when developing your legal career plan.

Are you thinking about where your legal career might take you? When it seems like the only thing that you can be certain of is uncertainty, gain an awareness of what might lie ahead by strategizing now. Ask yourself where you want to go and determine what steps you need to take in the meantime.

Here are some ideas to help you formulate your plan and avoid a career rut:

Do some brainstorming

Have little or no idea where you’d like to be in five years? Don’t worry about a specific job title. Instead, think about what areas of law you most enjoy working in, what you’d like to eventually be earning, the day-to-day duties that would be most fulfilling for you, and the qualities that potential employers will likely be looking for. Also, assess your personal goals and values – do you have the desire to get your student loans paid off sooner rather than later, or save up a down payment to purchase a home? Think as broadly as possible about what you want your career and personal life to look like five years down the road.

Set some SMART goals

After you’ve done some career brainstorming, it’s time to identify some specific goals that meet the following criteria:

  • Specific – clearly express what you want to accomplish.
  • Measurable – progress can be determined as goals are accomplished.
  • Attainable – have a 50 percent or greater chance of becoming a reality.
  • Relevant – important and relevant to your career plan.
  • Timely – can conceivably be accomplished in a specific time frame.

Setting SMART goals will help you develop a solid strategy that will allow you to implement your plan and guide you toward a career that is customized to your interests and ambitions.

Seek out a professional mentor

Although some legal professionals successfully blaze their own legal trail, most find that working with a mentor helps them get to the next level that much quicker. Because they’ve likely been in your situation, a legal mentor can help you identify goals and make your career aspirations a reality.

Look for a mentor whom you admire and find easy to talk to – someone who has the experience and vision to provide you with the advice and guidance you need. Think about what you want from a mentoring relationship: insight into the legal industry, constructive criticism regarding skills learned thus far, or a broad assessment that will help you prepare for your future career.

Avoid insular thinking

Experience is a good thing but relying too much on how something has always been might cause you to miss or misread new trends. Avoid having an overly narrow view of the legal industry, and be aware that as you move forward, some skills will need to be developed, while others might need to be updated or left behind entirely.

For example, digital skills like navigating social platforms, mobile technology, and using artificial intelligence are all comparatively new sets of skills that most legal professionals will need to stay competitive in the coming years, while continuing to rely on manual procedures will likely need to be abandoned in favor of office automation.

Be mindful that what got you this far may not get you further, and be willing to question what you are doing and always look for a better, more productive, and more efficient way.

Be determined but flexible

Even though you’re mapping out a five-year plan for your future, don’t assume that your goals should be set in stone. Instead, try to think of your map as a living document, ever-changing both personally and professionally, right along with you.

Because legal trends will be a major factor in your plan, stay open to new opportunities presented by technology, changes within the industry itself, and advice and experience you gain while on your journey.

Update your goals often, and don’t passively sit back waiting for things to happen. Rather, be proactive in keeping things moving forward by obtaining a continuing legal education, improving your interpersonal skills, and continuing to expand your professional network.


Do you know of other ways to develop a five-year legal career plan? Tell us about them in the comments!

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