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Want employment and career advancement? Write down your road map

Want employment and career advancement? Write down your road map

You want meaningful employment and career advancement. The question is how to use your time in law school most effectively to achieve your goals.

In the current period of challenging market changes, law students secure meaningful employment by differentiating themselves from other law students. The problem, Indiana law professor Bill Henderson emphasizes, is that “virtually all [law students] lack the skills to differentiate themselves.” In order to become employable (and to develop professionally if you already have employment), you need to determine how you can develop and present a unique package of capacities and skills that will appeal to legal employers and clients.

The most effective way for you to gain meaningful, long-term JD-required or JD-preferred employment (or to advance professionally if you already have employment) is:

  1. To understand your own strengths and motivating interests;
  2. To understand the competencies desired by clients and legal employers;
  3. To discern how your strengths and motivating interests best meet the competencies that clients and employers want;
  4. To design the three years of law school (and early years in practice) with the goal of developing those competencies; and
  5. To effectively communicate and demonstrate evidence of those competencies to potential employers and clients.

During your three years in law school and your entire career, take charge of your story of how you add value to help employers and clients beyond just technical legal skills. Take charge of creating and implementing a written professional development plan (on which your professors and other veteran lawyers and judges can give feedback) to use your time in law school most effectively to reach your goals.

The ABA has published my new book, “Roadmap: The Law Student’s Guide to Preparing and Executing a Successful Plan for Employment,” to help you achieve your goals. The ABA Professionalism Committee selected “Roadmap” for its 2015 Gambrell Award to recognize excellence in a professionalism curriculum.

“Roadmap” takes you through the following steps to develop toward meaningful employment to serve others well:

A. Assessment of Yourself

1. What are your strengths?

2. What are the characteristics of past work/service experience where you have found the most meaning and positive energy? Are there particular groups of people you have served from whom you have drawn the most positive energy in helping them? What specific strengths and competencies were you using in this work or service?

3. How do you self-assess your trustworthiness in the past to help others on important matters? How do others who know your past work/service assess your trustworthiness?

4. Looking at the competencies that clients and legal employers want, how do you self-assess what your strongest competencies are? How do others who know your past work/service assess your strongest competencies?

5. How do your strengths from question 1 and strongest competencies from question 4 match up with the competencies that legal employers and clients want?

6. Step back and think creatively about the changing legal market and possible entrepreneurial responses to those changes. Could you demonstrate some innovative ideas and differentiating competencies to help potential employers and clients to be more successful in this changing legal market?

B. Assessment of Your Most Promising Options for Employment

7. Can you create a tentative list of the most promising options for employment where you see the best match among your strengths, the characteristics of past work that have given you the most positive energy, and the competencies that legal employers want?

8. What is your value proposition to demonstrate to those employers that you can add value beyond the standard technical legal skills to help the employers’ clients and the employer itself to be more successful?

C. Your Professional Development Plan

9. How do you plan to use your remaining time in law school to gain good experiences at your most promising options for meaningful employment so that you can confirm or eliminate (or add to) your list of most promising employment options? What metrics will you create to assess whether you are implementing your plan?

10. How do you plan to use your remaining time in law school, including the curriculum and all the other experiences of law school, most effectively to develop the competencies that support your value proposition?

11. What evidence are you collecting to demonstrate to potential employers (or clients) your development at your differentiating competencies? What evidence do you want to develop going forward?

12. How do you plan to develop long-term relationships based on trust with other lawyers, particularly senior lawyers and judges who can give feedback on your employment plan and help you with experiences to implement it? Are you assessing your progress in implementing this plan?

13. What is the biggest fear or roadblock holding you back from any of the steps above?

D. Persuasive Communication

14. How will you most effectively communicate your value to potential employers on your list of most promising employment options (or to clients if you already have employment)?

© 2015 Neil Hamilton

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Neil Hamilton Neil W. Hamilton is professor of law and founding director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota. He served as interim dean in 2012 and as associate dean for academic affairs twice at St. Thomas. He has taught professional responsibility and an ethics seminar for over 30 years. He is the author of four books. Most recently, he published "Roadmap: The Law Student’s Guide to Preparing and Implementing a Successful Plan for Meaningful Employment" (ABA Books 2015), which received the American Bar Association’s Gambrell Award for excellence in professionalism.