Welcome to Ready for anything: our first Summer School series for legal professionals. Whilst the summer is traditionally a time for a break, it’s also an opportunity to spend some time working on yourself. Over the coming weeks, we will share some tools and techniques to help you succeed as a freelance lawyer. In this first part, we look at why and how you need to work on what you have to offer.
“Simply following the herd is not going to work. In a way that past generations simply didn’t have to do, each one of us will need to think about who we are and how we construct our life and how this reflects our identity and values.”
So write Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott in their 2016 book, The 100 Year Life. The process of career reinvention and re-evaluation that they saw as resulting from our increasing longevity has just been given a new impetus by the C-19 pandemic. Whether you are a V-shaped optimist or an L-shaped pessimist, there is no doubt that changes in the shape and structure of professional careers will be accelerated by the economic and social fallout of recent events.
So how do you set yourself up for success in these changing times? You need to be flexible in your thinking, skilled in reinvention and clear about what you have to offer. Think about yourself as a product and determine; what you offer, who are your ideal customers and how are you going to market yourself. We’ll help you tackle the second two points in greater detail in future articles, today here are three of our favourite techniques for understanding and articulating what you have to offer.
#1 Discover your values
Your values are principles that drive your behaviour and decisions, giving your life meaning. They help you make a contribution to an organisation beyond simply delivering tasks and determine your approach to work. They also help to distinguish you as an individual. If you’re not clear about your values, you risk taking up opportunities that don’t work for you or coming across as inauthentic or lacking in commitment to potential clients.
There are many different techniques for getting in touch with your values but here’s our pick. Set aside thirty minutes and think about three people in the public eye, past or present, that you admire. Then write down a biography of each, including what they have done that you admire, and why you have chosen to write about them. Finally, highlight or circle all the qualities that you’ve described in each of them. Read through the words you have selected and identify any common themes or repeated characteristics – these give you insight into the values you admire and prioritise.
#2 Skills and experience refresh
As a professional, you need to sell your skills and experience as well as your values. To do this, you need to make sure they are relevant to today’s market. List all the skills and experience you have accrued during your career. Then check that the terms you are using to describe them are up-to-date with market practice. Often the underlying skill may not have changed that much, but the terminology has. Finally, identify the achievements you are most proud of that show your skills and experience in action. Make sure you can articulate the results of your actions. Being able to describe these clearly in writing and in person will be key to helping you secure future opportunities.
#3 See yourself through others’ eyes
You need to understand how your values and skills come across in the workplace. If you can, think back over past appraisals or feedback from previous clients. What stands out to you? If you were to speak to previous clients or managers, how do you think they would describe you? If you are still in touch, contact them and ask them for some direct input.
Compare your feedback from others with your own understanding of your values and skills. You might find that there are gaps; that a quality you are proud of hasn’t been coming across. Or that there’s something you don’t see in yourself that others do. Ask yourself what needs to change in your behaviour, the work you do or the way you present yourself to align the two. Give yourself some time to reflect and take what’s useful from this exercise forward with you.
Putting it all together
Take your refreshed understanding of your values and skills and put it into words. Create your own mini-pitch that brings together your two or three top qualities alongside your priority skills and experience. For example, “Deadline-driven and passionate about securing the best commercial outcomes for my clients, I am a commercial lawyer with ten years’ experience and a special interest in data protection. I have guided several companies through successful GDPR implementation and remediation projects, helping them to protect their business interests and their customers’ privacy.”
This one-minute statement is the natural opener to a CV or introduction. It can also help you to identify and prioritise work opportunities and further personal development – more on how in our next article.
Three picks for further reading
- The Hundred Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott, Bloomsbury
- Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, William Bridges, Da Capo Lifelong Books
- What Color is your Parachute?, Richard N Bolles, Crown Books