I remember checking my first semester law school grades and thinking, “hmmm, not great.” Surprisingly, I did not have a freak out when my grades were not so fantastic. And although I tried to alter some things second semester, I still didn’t seem to get it. It wasn’t until I completely revamped my studying style that everything finally clicked into place and it was smooth-sailing/dean’s list from then on, thankyouverymuch. But think of all the time I wasted my second semester because I didn’t realign appropriately. Instead, I should have taken the gift of a “fresh start” to make real changes in my study habits. I try to do that now, even as an attorney, to stop and assess my own career to make sure I’m happy on my current course or if it’s time to ask, what’s next.
I am a big believer that for any professional growth, we have to keep moving the line and setting new goals to keep our skill sets fresh and to help keep us interested and passionate in our job. There is a danger in complacency and whether you’re practicing or currently a student, you should take the time to assess where there are areas you can improve upon to help make you a better lawyer.
For students, I think goal setting can seem a little easier to name: better grades, make law review, get a job offer (hey, I said easy to name, not achieve :)). For attorneys, it can seem a little more nebulous, but our performance evaluations are a great go-to source for ideas of what we can improve and/or goals we’re supposed to meet. Essentially, you need to pick your poison. When I was two years into practicing, I realized I needed more litigation experience than I was getting (which was none) so I decided to focus on just that for a year.
Once you’ve decided what you want to do, make a plan of action. It’s easy to say, “I want to get on a moot court team,” but what are you going to do–really–to make that happen? Make a list of steps you should take; the more details the better–and if you can add deadlines, even better. Give yourself doable, realistic steps to take so you’re working your way toward your goal. Because I came in as a transactional attorney, I didn’t have many options to get trial experience. Instead, I took on more public speaking engagements and sought out cases that would eventually lead me to my goal.
The last step is the hardest—you actually have to do the work. Duh, I know this isn’t a huge revelation, but holding yourself accountable is difficult. Especially when life can get in the way. I find the best way to keep working on toward a goal (particularly long-term ones) is to keep a constant reminder of it. When I was in college, I kept a picture of what would end up being my law school as my desktop image (completely random because at the time, I had no idea that I would even apply to Loyola), but I selected this image because I wanted to constantly remind myself that law school was my ultimate goal.
You don’t have to be a mega-nerd like me, but keep a little reminder for yourself of what you’d like to achieve to keep you motivated. Of course, not all goals are going to be life-changing; increasing your litigation experience, for example, may seem like a blip in your long career. But making an effort to improve your practice will result in stronger skills that can be parlayed into new opportunities and experiences, which is always win-win
What are some of your goals for 2017?