It’s too easy to get caught up in your daily lawyer life, so make sure you’re picking your head up often to ensure you’re working toward a future that you want to become your present.
You graduated from law school with big plans for your future, hung up your shingle, and found your first client. But then your first case overwhelmed you and you never finished laying out your five-year plan.
Or, you hit the ground running, working 80-hour weeks as an associate with the single-minded goal of making partner. Now you’re junior partner, and you realize you never planned for what comes next.
The day-to-day work of lawyering can be one of the most stressful jobs out there, with a long and hectic schedule. But all this hard work can be worth it if you know that you’re working towards some future goal. It’s too easy to get caught up in one case, throw everything aside when that important client comes in, or reschedule your family vacation when your court date gets pushed back.
Soon, you might find that not only do you not have a vision for your future, but you also don’t know when you can sit down to flesh out that vision.
It’s important to have future goals, as they will help you work more effectively in the moment. So, here are some tips on how to map out what you expect from your life and your legal career.
Set big-picture goals first
It may be tempting to plan out the specifics of each step right upfront, but without knowing where you are going long term, you can’t know the best approach to each moment. Think about what you want one year from now, five years from now, ten years from now, and in retirement. Think about at what age you would like to retire.
Once you know what you want at various stages of the future, you can come up with a list of action items. Try to think big picture first: “To make senior partner, I must bring in new clients” can be more effective motivation than “Bringing in this new client will make me a senior partner.”
There are multiple paths on the journey
Instead of setting life goals with one path to achieving them, think about setting a life direction. If one step doesn’t work out as planned, what are your other options for still reaching that goal? Remember, you also want to keep your present life compelling, meaningful, and enjoyable.
1) How do I want to spend my time?
2) What daily activities make me want to leap out of bed?
3) What do I excel at?
4) Who do I work well with?
The answers to these questions can help you to figure out the most effective and fun way to map out your journey. Your car’s GPS gives you multiple options (fastest route, avoid tolls, avoid highways), and so does your legal career.
Throw out logic and pragmatism
Will you be appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 2032? Will you work remotely from a cabana in Curaçao? Maybe, maybe not. But if you don’t take the time to think it, you certainly will never have the time to achieve it.
This doesn’t mean that each of your goals should be illogical and outlandish — you are merely brainstorming at this point. You can parse out what’s realistic later by asking yourself what is actually possible. But be sure to give yourself an opportunity to envision the future, unconstrained by that brief that is due in two days.
Map out specific steps
Once you know your long-term goals, you can map out guideposts and actions to get there. Legal work can ebb and flow, so you can’t merely set a simple goal like “Win three court cases next year.” You don’t know exactly what will be on your desk at any given moment.
Be sure to account for downtime by envisioning what personal and professional connections you will make, what CLE credits will get you there, and what kind of financial considerations your long-term plan requires.
Then, map out the details instead of squeezing them in at the last minute.
Keep a reminder of your future vision nearby
How are you going to remember all of this and know when it’s time to take stock or congratulate yourself for your achievement?
Write everything down. Don’t merely have the goal in mind — you’re an attorney, put it in writing! Write down your visions, goals, and steps. It can be an outline, bullet points, or narrative, whichever works best for you. But be sure that you can come back to it.
You also need daily small reminders of your goals. We all have different ways to do this. Maybe you have a talisman on your desk, a picture of your family or a quote on the wall, or a song with special significance. You could also set your email to send you weekly Monday-morning reminders.
Don’t try to do it alone
Who is going to keep you accountable? It’s easy to avoid a problem or give up on a goal if no one else knows about it.
Find somebody you trust, respect, and can depend on. Let them in on your vision and check in with them regularly. If they also have a mapped-out vision for their future, this can work in favor for both of you, as you can support, encourage, and remind each other.
Take care of yourself
Most people probably never even think about self-care. Even if people do eat well and exercise, they might neglect their mental and spiritual health. “Mind, body, and spirit” is a cliché for a reason, and it’s important not to neglect any one aspect of wellness.
It’s okay to say “no” when something really isn’t for you, and “yes” to that urge you’ve been holding in for too long. This can give you time to focus on things like starting to cook meals at home, biking with your family, or joining that young professionals’ outing group.
If you don’t do the things that keep you happy and healthy, your vision for the future becomes moot.