Legal Practice

Take Control: Why Ambition is Necessary for your Legal Career

It is so common when you get your first job to feel super grateful that someone took a chance on you. Gratitude is good! But there is a risk when we are so happy to have a job, to have our license, to be a real life attorney (!!!) that we kind of just go with the flow. Suddenly, a few years pass by and you realized you haven’t structured your career in a way that best benefits you. The best way to avoid this is to take control of your career by being ambitious.

It may feel like we should shy away from seeming determined or focused on a next step (especially when you’re new), but it’s ok to look forward to what you want your career to be and to start taking steps now. In fact, it’s imperative that you are as purposeful and focused as you can be on cultivating your career because climbing up the corporate steps is not always clear-cut.

We already know that it isn’t easy for Latinas to advance in this profession. We face hard statistics and the legal field doesn’t make it easy–I mean, a Latina making partner is still such an anomaly that it makes the paper! So, like always, you have to work harder to achieve the work goals you want. I know that’s not easy to do. I wish I could say that you can just keep your head down and do your job and that will be noticed and rewarded. But that’s not how it works. Latinas have to work harder to find mentors, to network, to be respected as attorneys–so of course, we have to work twice as hard to get the higher positions we want.

So all of that is to say that when planning your career’s next steps, it’s good to have ambitions and to prepare like crazy. If you’re a first-year associate/staff attorney, take the time to envision where you want to be in seven years. Ask yourself big picture questions: what kind of title do you want to have? What responsibilities do you want to be in charge of?  What kind of experience do you want to have under your belt?

I was a VISTA attorney my first year out of law school–so it was a temporary position and I wasn’t technically doing as much client work as I wanted/needed. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to practice in immigration, but I knew I wanted to stay at my legal aid. Because my position was temporary (and because public interest jobs were few and far between–hello recession), I really had to focus on what I wanted my next steps to be and how I would get there. And because the market was tough and my job temporary, there was no time to be timid about what I wanted/needed (i.e. a full-time attorney position).

What worked for me was setting goals for what I wanted in my first year, five years, and onward. Making the goals is the easy part; figuring out how to get there is tougher. This requires you to research what it takes to reach your goal. How do other people make partner in your firm? Are you participating in the right networking events? Are you seeking out growth opportunities in-house to make yourself stand out at work? Are you preparing and working on your cases as diligently as you should? Pick one or two areas to focus on to grow your skills and network. And then make sure you’re keeping track of your growth! The best way to do this (for me) is to update your resume frequently. This lets you see where you’re growing and where you’re lacking.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that the more you participate in how your career develops the more satisfied you will be as an attorney. This means taking ownership in cultivating skills, figuring out next steps, and making moves that will propel you forward. You can’t depend on anyone else doing this for you. And you certainly can’t be timid about having goals and working hard to advance them. Remind yourself that it’s good to be ambitious, to seek ways to grow, and then prepare like hell to make sure you achieve your goals.