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Making a career in law work: priorities and planning

16 January 2019

When did you last look at where you want to be in 20 years' time or make a serious, detailed plan for your career progression over the coming months and years? 

If you want to move from associate to solicitor, partner to equity partner, junior counsel to Queen's Counsel, recorder to judge, do YOU have a plan? Do you have a supportive network of people championing you and helping you to get there? And how about if you wish to move from being a maternity career break returner to a successful lawyer with more flexible working?

For me, whilst still at The Bar, and prior to setting up my own specialist Corporate and Executive Coaching business, I must have considered the "plan" a maximum of twice a year, and only in passing, when talking about my pension with my Independent Financial Advisor and, briefly, with my senior clerk at the annual practice review meeting.

As a former criminal barrister, practising at Broadway House Chambers for the best part of 20 years, and dealing with heavy weight rape and sexual offences cases, I have direct experience of managing the competing interests of the responsibilities and pressures of being a legal professional and life outside the office. I understand how easy it is to plough on with the daily firefighting without a clear vision of what you want and a plan of how to achieve it.

Start with the end in mind

Firstly, Habit 2 of Stephen R. Covey's book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is "Start with the end in mind". If you don't know what you want, how can you form a clear plan to get there?

  • Identify the things that are important to you. Consider the consequences of not achieving them. Then stretch yourself to think of your career plan, initially for the next 3, 6 and 12 months; then for the next 3, 5, 10+ years 
  • Write down the overall plan. By committing it to writing, you are well on your way to taking the first, and most crucial, step: a commitment to taking action.

It is helpful to do this to see where you are headed, and also to motivate you to take the action required to achieve it

  • Next, identify your priorities around work-related challenges which, once addressed, will make achieving the plan more manageable
  • Order these priorities.

Possible priorities

After having spoken to solicitors interested in coaching to support their people to work more productively and purposefully, I identified some recurring examples of work-related priorities within the legal profession:

  • What's in it for me? Why am I doing this? What are your values/ beliefs?
  • Life balance/ boundaries 
  • Time management/ efficiency
  • Financial considerations such as targets versus fees
  • Distraction avoidance
  • Resilience and dealing with overwhelm
  • Communication skills
  • Belonging/ congruency
  • Leadership

Once you have identified approximately 6 work-related priorities, consider where you are now compared to where you want to be. Then break these priorities down and identify specific action plans to address each one.  

Coaching empowers clients to turn plans into reality

Using a really effective coaching tool, with my clients I examine each priority individually and support them to make an action plan for achieving their desired outcomes.

What is your final goal, perhaps for in about year?

What is your first journey goal, say for in the next few days or weeks? Much like climbing a mountain, every journey starts with a single step. By breaking down your goal into manageable chunks you can start the forward momentum and see the path to the final, end-point more clearly.

Examine your strengths to support you to achieve your objective, and encourage you on your less motivated days.

Identify the obstacles you might face en route to anticipate, and more easily plan to overcome them.

Then commit to the action you will take, and consider, most importantly, when?

Action and accountability

Committing to a particular action within a specific time frame is an extremely effective method to ensure the journey is started. I've heard it said many times: positive intentions without positive actions lead to positively nothing, so have the courage to commit, not just to writing down the plan, but to getting on with facilitating those actions. Now. Become responsible for your own outcomes. You are on your way!


Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.

Read Nikki's popular blog: Stop saying yes, start saying no - "After 16 years of practice, I refused to take a brief for the very first time."

Read former FTSE 100 in-house lawyer Matt Oliver's blog Why field research is critical to your next career move

Explore our Women Lawyers Division

Find your new role with Gazette Jobs

Explore career progression with our tools for those seeking to return to the profession, and those looking to update their skills to develop their careers

Tags: strategy

About the author

Nikki is a former criminal barrister, now corporate and executive coach focusing on female lawyers, and law firms and barristers' chambers. Feel on fire not burnt out by visiting or email Nikki to arrange a free, no obligation consultation.

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