Navigating a hard-earned and prestigious legal career is rewarding for ambitious, high achieving individuals. However, as you rise in seniority, the optimism may start to wear off.

It also becomes obvious that technical skills and experience play a smaller part than anticipated when it comes to moving up the ranks.

Below, in partnership with Lawyer Monthly, Simply Law Jobs hears from Abigail Ireland, a high performance & productivity consultant, who explains how the availability of opportunities, strength of networks, office politics, general “fit”, underlying discrimination, conflicting personal commitments and health concerns can all have an impact on how your legal career shapes up over time. 

Moreover, the average PQE of new partners has been creeping up over the years. This is largely due to an increase in competition for a limited number of positions, as well as changes in the way partnerships are structured in many firms in order to absorb the impact of adverse market conditions.

So, what do you do when you feel like your career has hit a wall? Here are three considerations to help you figure out the best way forward.

 

1. Is it you?

Before feeling too disenchanted, consider whether your own priorities and motivations have changed. Have you perhaps outgrown your career ambitions, and do your personal goals and aspirations no longer align with the way your career is heading? Just how badly do you want to make it to partner one day and what is driving that? 

A lack of congruency could be the reason your career is stalling. If your head and heart say different things, you could unconsciously be sabotaging your career growth until such point that you have to give in to your intuition. A key step here is to spend time working out what is important to you, what you enjoy, and (most crucially) why you want it. Then create a practical plan to move towards it. 

Alternatively, has your career genuinely hit a wall, what is the evidence and do others agree with you? Are you rushing to move upwards when things actually aren’t as bad as you perceive them to be? Sometimes, we can be so impatient to progress rapidly in our careers that we forget to truly enjoy what we are currently doing right now.

 

2. Is it the work?

If your work is no longer challenging or giving you the tools you need to grow, remember that you are in control of changing this. As much as we want to pass the buck, or blame others for our lack of progression, there are always options available to us. 

Seek opportunities for growth outside of work, as this can be the most empowering way to satisfy your innermost values and motivations. Volunteer, find a mentor, create a side project, grow your network or get a coach. Be patient, yet relentless in your pursuit of personal development and excellence in your career.

Within your role, put your hand up for a secondment or ask for opportunities to get involved with certain clients or transactions. You can even explore options outside your direct team or company, and consider whether the partner route is what you want or whether an in-house role would be more aligned to your personal preferences. Lateral, and even downward, moves are becoming an acceptable norm in the dynamic 21st Century business world, so don’t limit yourself because of preconceived views that there is only one route for success.

 

3. Is it the environment? 

A third factor that might make you feel like your career has stagnated – and the one which is the most uncontrollable, is the environment you are in. This includes where you work, who you work for, the way you work, and who you work with. Long hours, high workloads, poor social connections, an unsupportive (or disorganised) boss, weak professional ties, and a lack of promotion opportunities are just some of the issues that can jeopardise career success. 

For any high performer, it makes sense to review your situation and identify what you have the power to change or influence. Tackle those areas, but first develop a well-thought out plan that enables you to do this effectively. For example, build your network or be more assertive in setting boundaries.

 

Summing it up

Once you have established the fundamental reason(s) for your stunted career growth, you can really work on what you are personally going to do to get out of the rut. You’re more in control than you realise, and figuring out the real reason your career isn’t going where you want it to go is the key to making powerful long-term progress.

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