By Charles A. Volkert, Executive Director of Robert Half Legal®, a legal staffing service
specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal
professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments.
Perennial Keys to Career Success
Economic downturns serve as reminders that even top performers may be among the
casualties when tough times hit. As most legal administrators are well aware, career
stability – much less, real advancement – can be elusive during difficult business cycles.
Although you can't predict how economic ups and downs might affect your career, you
can better prepare for most eventualities and enhance your prospects by recommitting
yourself to these core principles of career success.
1. Embrace professional change. Take note of whether the techniques and strategies
you’ve used to advance your career in the past need updating. For instance, your previous
successes as a legal administrator may have been mostly attributable to your strong
management abilities. But as the role of legal administrators has broadened, it’s become
critical to have a diverse skill set that not only includes supervisory talent but also
knowledge of specialty areas such as accounting, marketing and information technology.
Embrace these types of changes and look for ways to stay ahead of the professional
2. Set clear goals. Reflect on your interests, skills, passions and attributes to create a
strategic vision for your career. Identify a primary professional goal as well as a strategy
to achieve it. For example, if you want to become a legal administrator for the largest law
firm in your area, think about the steps you may need to take to be considered for this
position. Your list might include building a personal network within your target firm,
earning a certification or gaining additional management experience.
3. Don’t compromise your values. Enthusiasm is a critical element of career success,
which is why many people seek job opportunities that are in sync with their personal
principles. For instance, you may want to find a firm that’s known for its pro bono work
on behalf of a particular cause or that represents clients in an industry that interests you.
By working for and with people who share your values, you’ll likely experience greater
motivation and job satisfaction.
4. Communicate effectively. Strong communication skills are essential for career
advancement. The most important aspect of communication is the ability to listen – not
only to hear the words that others are saying, but to understand the concerns and
motivations behind their words. And in an increasingly electronic age, it's especially
important to communicate as clearly, concisely and professionally by e-mail as you do
when interacting with others in person or over the phone.
5. Create value on the job. Your top work priority should be to make a positive impact.
This means going beyond the minimal job requirements and striving to exceed
expectations. It can help to think of everyone with whom you work – coworkers, clients,
partners and attorneys – as prized customers.
6. Conduct yourself with integrity. Next to your job performance, nothing has more
bearing on the stature you attain or the influence you ultimately wield than your
reputation for integrity and honesty. Safeguard your reputation by practicing honesty in
all your interactions with colleagues.
7. Never stop learning. You have to keep learning new skills and broadening your
knowledge if you're going to excel in your career. Make it a habit to attend conferences,
participate in professional groups and enroll in courses. Not only are these experiences
career-enhancing, but they tend to revitalize your approach to work.
8. Strike a balance. While you need to demonstrate that you’re committed to your
career, this doesn’t mean you should overlook personal priorities. Finding a balance
between your professional and personal life has a way of enhancing them both. That's
why you should make time for activities that you're passionate about outside of work,
whether it's pursuing an unusual hobby, supporting a charitable cause or coaching a
child's sports team. Most people find that their personal pursuits play an instrumental role
in helping them recharge and remain enthusiastic about work.
9. Keep your network active. Tough economic cycles serve as reminders that there’s
really no such thing as permanent employment. If you suddenly find yourself without a
job, networking is perhaps the best way to get a new one. It's much easier to reach out to
others for help when you stay involved with professional organizations, volunteer groups
and social circles. Not only can your contacts help you identify possible job
opportunities, but they can also provide valuable career advice.
10. Take setbacks in stride. Almost everyone who has achieved career success has dealt
with failures or setbacks along the way. When faced with challenging situations, try not
to dwell on the negative. Look for ways to turn your disappointments or mistakes into
Even though economic cycles can sometimes put a wrench in your career progression,
your ability to achieve your professional goals will still depend largely on your own
actions. By remaining committed to ongoing career management and adhering to certain
core principles and behaviors, legal administrators can enhance their professional stature
and marketability in the short term while also setting the stage for a brighter future.