Making strategic career decisions for lawyers – create a career plan
in Careers Advice, Legal Profession, Staying in Your Job

Making strategic career decisions for lawyers – create a career plan

Very often, if your career is similar to the overwhelming majority of lawyers we deal with on a daily basis, you will make all your career decisions for one of three reasons:

Money, Family and Work Environment

Money – you don’t get a pay rise and decide to look around. Or you find out one of the cleaners gets paid more than you do. Or your boss suddenly buys herself a new Tesla on the business whilst telling you the practice is strapped for cash and you’ll have to cut down on your hours.

Family situations – elderly parents, divorce (made worse if you’re married to a colleague at work), school runs and need for more money due to children.

Work environment – one of your colleagues thinks they are Mussolini, the secretaries decide they don’t like you, your boss is a workaholic (or worse and they’re an alcoholic).

Just about every career decision is taken on these three grounds. Even when we get the reason “it’s time to broaden my horizons/seek pastures new/open new doors” or “it’s time to seek new opportunities”, the reality is that the reasons for doing this will fit under one of the categories above.

When we face life pressures like these, how do we make decisions based on a long term strategy rather than emotional reasons?

The answer is that you can’t. It’s as simple as that. You have to blend your longer term plans into life’s realities and simply point yourself in the right direction.

A comment we often hear from lawyers is that they wished they’d planned out their career a bit and not just launched themselves into new things without thinking it through. Running a business is just the same and it can be hard to step away from what you are doing on a daily basis and look at the bigger picture.

When we operated career coaching services for lawyers, one of the exercises we always recommended to clients was to sit down and write out a plan of where you want to be in 10 years time. Forget all of life’s constraints and focus on what you want to do with your life and get out of your career.

Write about a page – how much you want to be earning, where you want to be living, what type of house, how many children, what car, what savings you’ll have, what your job will look like, whether you are employed or self employed, how many people you’ll be managing, whether you’ve left and opened an office opposite your current employer and poached all their clients. Similarly importantly include an assessment of your stress levels and levels of happiness on a scale of 1-10.

Once you have written this, put it in an envelope and put it somewhere safe. Enter a note on your phone calendar to open it in 5 years’ time and read through your plans. Either life will have changed your plans completely, or you’ll be on track to achieve some of your ambitions (I don’t think anyone ever manages all of them).

I did this exercise when I was in my mid 20s, and planned for a career owning restaurants or cafes (I didn’t mind which), living in New Zealand and generally not working a lot. Life then got in the way and we had 3 children! 25 years later we don’t own any cafes and never made it to New Zealand (although we did get as far as North Wales).

The theory behind the reasoning for writing down your plans is that in your head you then have a career plan. It can be very satisfying just to have written something down and be able to refer back to it.

Finally – don’t stress about not having a career plan – it’s normal! At least 90% of lawyers don’t have a clue why they’ve ended up doing what they’re doing – it’s just the place they’ve finished up at.

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 20 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at You can contact Jonathan at