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Become an Expert and Double Your Worth

published July 16, 2007

( 19 votes, average: 4.7 out of 5)

What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.

<<But you have thought about it. Endlessly. So what's stopping you from approaching your boss and asking for it?

You may feel that any effort is doomed to fail because you cannot quantify your worth. You can calculate just about everything else—years on the job, positive performance reviews, sales generated, employees supervised, and more. But are mere numbers enough to get you what you want?

Another way to look at this question is: "Have I made myself so valuable that my firm or organization has no choice but to make me a partner or promote me to a more important position?" If the answer is "no," then how do you make yourself so vital that you can command a more prestigious post with better pay and more benefits?

Become an expert, that's how.

A lawyer can transform her (his) career and position herself to earn more in her existing job or future job by committing herself to improving her skills and becoming a recognized expert in an area central to her firm's productivity or survival. All it takes is time and commitment to persevere.

After law school and out in the working world, free time evaporates. Where did the time to read, study, or do anything related to learning go? For many, the only new skills learned after law school are those acquired through the "school of hard knocks" or through employee training programs available to everyone else on the job. And if you are in a general practice area, learning options are further constricted. It's a challenge to find time to focus on a particular area or to gain a depth of knowledge. But the payoff is worth the sacrifice.

Firms value an attorney who masters a particular area and uses her knowledge and expertise to add worth to the organization. In my empowerment program Journey to the Top, I recommend that professionals commit to becoming a recognized expert in a chosen field or practice. This increases opportunities for promotion to more senior positions. By developing a specific body of knowledge, an attorney makes herself indispensable, automatically increasing her chances for promotion and raises—especially as word of her expertise spreads.

Becoming an expert is different from earning a certificate or even completing a degree program offered by a law school. Firms are full of employees with J.D.s, MBAs, professional certificates, and other degrees, yet they still have trouble finding the right employees within their ranks to fill key leadership positions.

To become an asset to your organization, you must identify a niche, or specialty area. You may already be on your way. For example, a litigation attorney might decide to become a niche expert in representing employers in claims of retaliation of employees, or in advising financial institutions on how to negotiate complex loan agreements on shopping mall projects.

The more refined your niche, the greater your chances of becoming pre-eminent in your field. In selecting a niche, think of what will make you the go-to person in your firm or organization. To join the ranks of senior management or a partnership in a particular firm or organization, you have to identify the current and future needs of that firm to ensure you are aligning your expertise with them. Use formal and informal networks, news, and stockholder reports to figure out where your firm is headed. It would be imprudent to develop expertise in corporate transactions if you work for a firm that is rumored to be shedding its transactions practice group.

You can further develop your mastery by combining your experiences and education with self-study and research. In Journey to the Top, I advise professionals to begin this process by doing a number of things, including writing articles, presenting at seminars, sponsoring workshops and taking on leadership roles in targeted organizations. Becoming an expert doesn't require you to be an exceptional thinker or extraordinarily creative. It does, however, require you to make a commitment to continue the learning process well beyond law school and to think differently about the information you acquire. Begin to see yourself as a problem solver.

This will allow you to think more practically about the information you acquire. Most of us learn by repetition. By concentrating on a particular area of expertise, you will begin to see the same information and problems over and over again. Eventually, you will develop a repertoire of information, which will allow you to answer most of the questions presented to you in any given situation.

Keep in mind that an expert is the single source of information for your partners and others to go to within your organization or firm. You don't always have to know more than everyone else; you simply need to be able to access the information and present it to your superiors or coworkers in an organized fashion. You must also be able to assist others in using the information to meet your organization's objectives. Finally, you need to keep on top of your expertise, reading from industry and government sources, staying on top of new developments, and building relationships with other experts.

As you gain a reputation in your organization or firm for being a problem solver and a go-to person, your worth will soar. Consequently, you will be in the optimal position to not only ask for, but to demand, an increase in salary and benefits.

About the Author:

Areva D. Martin, Esq. is a Harvard-trained attorney and managing partner and CEO of Martin & Martin, LLP Write a review for this law firm. She is an author, syndicated columnist, and professional speaker.

© 2006 by The ArevaMartin Companies, Inc. This article may be reproduced without permission for educational and training purposes only, provided that the full and accurate bibliographic citation and the following credit line is cited: Copyright 2006 by The ArevaMartin Companies, Inc., website, and reproduced with permission from the author.

( 19 votes, average: 4.7 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.