Ask the Coach

  • July 16, 2009
  • Gary Mitchell

Not sure if your career is headed in the right direction? Consider these five key areas and learn what steps to take to regain control over your career and your future.

Q: “I am a fifth-year call associate. How do I take more control over my career?” 7-year associate, national firm

A: The good news is that you can take more control over the future of your career. It all comes down to being proactive. There are five key areas where being proactive puts you in control:

  1. Planning for success
  2. Bringing in new business
  3. Working well with others
  4. Asking for feedback and support
  5. Giving back to the firm

Planning for success

This is where you are going to have to do some serious soul searching. This is about making sure you are in a practice area that suits you and your goals while aligning with your firm’s goals. You must be able to answer (and like your answer to) the following questions:

  • Why did you become a lawyer?
  • What does being a lawyer mean to you?
  • What type of work appeals to you most?
  • What types of clients do you wish to serve?
  • What are your long-term goals for your career?

Once you have a crystal clear understanding of where you are now and where you want to get to, the next step is to examine how you are going to get there and then map out your strategy.

Answer these questions:

  • What markets do you wish to serve?
  • How do you reach them?
  • What associations serve these markets?
  • How can you get involved with these associations to raise your profile?
  • What publications serve these markets?
  • Can you write articles for these publications?
  • If you are already serving clients in your ideal target market, what more can you learn about their needs and challenges?

Bringing in new business

Once you have thoroughly mapped out what you want to create, then it’s time to turn your attention to bringing in new business. That can start with current clients and developing your relationships further with them; and/or it can start by raising your profile and attracting new clients.

This of course all depends on your firm. Some of the large national firms don’t want their associates bringing in new business because they would not typically be the types of clients or files the firm wishes to attract. If this is the case, continue to build your profile, build new relationships and keep in touch with people as you progress in your career. At some point, some of these contacts will get to positions where they will be able to purchase your services, and they will be the types of clients your firm wants to attract.

In most firms however, being able to bring in your own business leads to power. Rainmakers often have more power than other partners.

Working well with others

Here I am referring to everyone with whom you come into contact on a daily basis: your assistant, paralegals, IT professionals, receptionists, firm management, marketing, library services, etc. Go out of your way to treat these people with the utmost respect and watch how in turn they will overperform and deliver for you.

You will not become successful in your career without their support. So when they go out of their way for you, acknowledge their efforts. Take them out to lunch from time to time. Ask them how they would like to contribute. Find out how you can help them achieve their career goals by first understanding what they are. Treat them as you do your clients. In other words get to know them as much as possible.

Asking for help, feedback and support

First of all this is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength because it demonstrates to your firm that you are serious about your career and your dedication to your work and to your clients. So don’t wait for your practice group leader or your mentor to come to you. Go to them directly and ask for help when you need it and request honest and constructive feedback on the work you do.

You should always know where you stand and how you are doing. In most cases you will have to take the lead in finding this information out for yourself.

Giving back to the firm

By this I am referring to what can you do outside your practice to provide value to your firm. Consider answering these questions as a place to start:

  • What committees can you be on and contribute to?
  • Are there opportunities for you to mentor a summer or articling student, or even an associate more junior than you?
  • What can you do outside the walls of your firm in the community to better position your firm?
  • If you don’t know, ask someone you trust.

Take control. Minimize the uncertainty about your career by focussing on these five key things. It’s in you to do it.

If you have follow up questions or would like more detail in any one of the areas outlined in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

Gary Mitchell is the Managing Director of GEM Communications, where he leads an international team of consultants and coaches who help lawyers and Law Firms prepare for and profit from transformation in the legal industry. GEM’s services include strategic planning, marketing, media relations, and a suite of coaching programs that address the talent development needs of law firms. Gary can be reached at or 604.669.5235, or visit him on his blog,