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How to Create a Five-Year Career Plan

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Summary: An attorney’s five-year career plan is, in its most simplistic definition, no different than anyone else’s five-year career plan.
Having a five-year career plan can put you on the path to success.

What is a five-year career plan?

The term “five-year career plan” is ubiquitously alluded to in many professional settings. For example, a middle school teacher’s five-year career plan may be to leave the middle school ranks and teach high school, or her plan may be to simply concentrate on a different subject. Meanwhile, a businessperson’s five-year career plan might entail rising to the ranks of a manager within their company.

An attorney’s five-year career plan is, in its most simplistic definition, is no different than anyone else’s five-year career plan. Attorneys want, of course, success after their plan’s five-year course has run out. Of course, success will no doubt vary from lawyer to lawyer. Usually, after five years, lawyers who practice in large, prestigious firms may want:
  • To become a partner
  • Produce more billable hours
  • Have a good number of clients
  • Start his own law firm, and take a good number of clients with him to that firm
  • Be highly regarded in his or her practice area
  • Leave law altogether

Career plans, whether they’re two years, five or 25 years long entail goals, and there are very few practicing attorneys who are not without goals. The fact is one attorney’s goals can be the polar opposite of another attorney’s goals, the example being becoming partner as opposed to quitting law.

Yet at the same time, there are plenty of attorneys, particularly new attorneys fresh out of law school, who haven’t even considered a five-year career plan, let alone their career in general. The reasons these attorneys have not made or even considered a five-year plan can be infinite. However, the most common reasons attorneys haven’t considered a career plan can entail:
  • They are too busy with other work.
  • They can’t think that far into the future.
  • No one, particularly in law school, told them they needed a career plan.
  • This isn’t their true career; something better is on the horizon.

Regardless, those types of attorneys who denigrate or simply don’t care about career plans won’t be reading this article. Those attorneys who do care about their futures as law practitioners will stay tuned to learn how they can create five-year career plans.
Where do I start?

As far as career plans go, no matter how many years they’re designed to last, you start at the start. First, you set a goal for yourself. Do you want to be a partner in your firm within the next five years? Do you want to start your own firm? Do you want a lot of clients who will give you a large amount of work?

The plans vary, but what doesn’t vary is that you have to start somewhere. You need to put a goal in mind, and execute it immediately, especially as five years can go by quickly.

The Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program (MLOMAP) helps licensed attorneys, or those soon to be licensed, to implement professional office practices and procedures. One of the program’s specialties is to assist attorneys with establishing career paths.

MLOMAP suggests the place an attorney should start their career or business plan is with a clear description and view of where that attorney wants to be in the next two to five years. They then suggest that attorney visualize the details of their actions to get to their future career state. Then, once that attorney establishes their goal, they need to distill that visualization into component parts and prioritize them into milestones – specific, measurable, and time-bound goals. After that, an attorney needs to break down those milestones into precursor goals with shorter time frames.

Once this is done, the attorney begins to chip away at each task they are given with this outline in mind. Each completed brief, every successful litigation and all billable hours go toward the attorney’s career goal. In doing this, an attorney may not feel this process is very personal now, but as their career forges on and their timeframe becomes shorter, the process changes into something that can ultimately improve their position, prestige, and importance within their law firm.
What should I consider within my five-year career plan?

As has been outlined, a five-year career plan takes into account what you envision to be your future self vs. your current self. A series of comparisons and contrasts need to be made regarding your career. Use this MLOMAP outline as a guide to what should be considered within a five-year career plan:
  1. Where will you be vs. where you are today?
  2. What will you be doing vs. what you are doing now?
  3. What will be your brand identity – that is your title, role, responsibilities, clients, workplace, mindsets, feelings, behaviors vs. what is your brand identity today?
  4. Who will be in your network of relationships vs. who is part of your network today?
  5. Describe the most valuable relationships in your future network vs. describe the most valuable relationships in your network today.
  6. Describe your technical and soft skills in your future vision vs. describe your technical and soft skills today.

Who you are inside a law firm today can have a strong bearing on who you will or will not be in a law firm in the future. Of course, things can deviate, and do so in immeasurable ways. Careers Advice Online calls this sort of deviation planned happenstance.

In short, you might be delayed a year or two within your career plan, though hopefully by no fault of your own. Or, your plan might accelerate and before you know it, you’re a partner in three years, not five. Then again, clients might leave the firm you work for, or the firm could fold, and with that all bets are off for your five-year career plan. At least by then, you hopefully will be on course with another career plan.
What are some suggestions to keep me true to my five-year career plan?

According to Life, one of the best ways to stay on track with your five-year career plan is to revisit your plan on a continual basis. For a career-based job, five years isn’t a very long time. It is long enough, however, to have an influence over what you think and feel about your job. Essentially, you should know in a much shorter time than five years if you like what you’re doing and where your career is heading or not. By revisiting your career plan, you’ll be able to see patterns that directly align with how you’re following your plan and how you feel about your job.

Some things an attorney can consider while revisiting their career plan are billable hours and whether or not that attorney fulfilled their goal in reaching those hours. If the attorney did reach their goal, good job; he or she is on the path to greater glories in the not-so-distant future. However, if that attorney did not reach those billable hours, they need to ask themselves what happened. Did they lose interest in their work? Did they burn out? Does that attorney dislike the practice area they’re in, or the other associates, the partners, or possibly the law firm’s clients?

All of these issues can grossly affect, if not kill a career plan. So, when you revisit your career plan and find somewhere along the route you fell off the rails, try to immediately find out why so that you can get back on track with your career goals.
How do I know if my career plan will be a success?

Whether in law, business, sports, or any other results-driven field, commitment is relative to success. In other words, in order to be successful, one has to first be committed toward what they want to be a success in.

By creating a five-year plan a person can exponentially increase their chances of success in reaching their goals. In fact, according to Life, people who write down their goals are 33% more likely to achieve them. This fact is further reinforced by Dave Kohl, professor emeritus at Virginia Tech, who states people who regularly write down their goals earn nine times as much over their lifetimes as people who do not.

Of course, commitment will always be the driving force behind successful career plans. Remember that as you revisit your plan to check off the goals you’ve accomplished.

Stay attentive and committed and what you desire as far as a law career will present itself to you. It’ll just take time.
See the following articles for more information:

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