Performance Review Coming Up? 6 Critical Legal Career Questions to Ask

Today's legal careers entail complex activities and responsibilities, many of which are continually changing. I  recently wrapped up my yearly performance review and find that while this is a mandatory event, taking time out of my busy schedule to thoroughly prepare for this annual meeting is incredibly useful for keeping my career goals on track. These yearly checkups can help you determine if you're satisfied with your current position and, if not, whether it's time to start looking elsewhere. Conducting an annual audit also can help you avoid getting to a career crisis point where you're tempted to give notice without having a backup plan in place.

Six Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. What is the breadth of my skills? Document your strengths, such as your level of legal technical knowledge. What new qualifications have you gained? What soft skills do you bring to your law firm or in-house legal department? On the flip side, document the skills you're lacking, especially with the latest law office technology such as eDiscovery tools.

  2. What are my legal interests? Is your current position aligned with your interests? For instance, if you're passionate about a particular area of law, does your legal job reflect that? If not, do you feel fulfilled pursuing those interests separately, such as through pro bono or volunteer work, or do you feel strongly that they should be part of your everyday agenda?

  3. Am I satisfied with my position? Note the things you specifically like and don't like about your current position, including your salary, billable hours requirement, opportunities for professional growth, and relationships within the organization. If you feel the negative aspects of your work currently outweigh the positives, consider whether it's time to look at other law jobs during the coming year.

  4. Am I happy with my work-life balance? Do you feel you have an adequate balance between the time you dedicate to work and the time you spend with friends and family? It can be a difficult place to strike a balance in the legal field. If you feel work is dominating your time, brainstorm some strategies to gain an equilibrium.

  5. What are my legal career goals? Determine what you’d like to achieve in your career during the next 12 months as well as one or two years out. Your goals may include expanding your practice area, looking for a new position or implementing a new work-life balance strategy.

  6. What specific actions should I take to reach my goals in the next year? What steps are required to meet your goals? For example, if you're interested in a new position, work with a legal recruiter to learn about positions that match your passions. Also, consider working with your mentor on this step. He or she has years of experience in the legal industry and will be able to guide you or suggest courses of action.

Routine Maintenance Checklist

In addition to answering these questions, your annual legal career review should include some routine maintenance activities as well, such as:

  • Update all of your profiles, including your resume, website and social media presence.

  • Check out the current legal job market. Are any skills becoming needed or popular? What are the salary and job trends?

  • Identify professional development and training opportunities that can help you achieve your goals. Look for CLE classes, legal conferences or events scheduled in the next year and mark your calendar on dates when registration opens.

  • Schedule networking commitments. While networking is a constant undertaking, this is a good time to renew your efforts and get involved with a new organization or bar association committee to expand your professional contacts.

To avoid letting your career get stagnant, it’s important to be proactive. If you skip conducting an annual legal career audit, you may hit a point where you realize you're overly stressed and unhappy. Before that happens, check in with yourself to keep track of your progress and update your professional goals.

For more information on legal industry trends, download a complimentary copy of Robert Half Legal's Future Law Office report.