10 Ways to Become Indispensable at Work

The best piece of career advice I ever received was dispensed to me by my mentor during my summer clerkship in 2001: “The key to getting ahead is to make yourself indispensable,” he advised on my first day on the job.

That summer clerkship was full of fun outings, partner luncheons and firm-wide get-togethers designed for the firm to get better acquainted with its ten summer law clerks. Many of my fellow clerks did not realize that the fun-filled summer was really a series of mini-interviews to determine if we were a good fit for the firm. Beyond all of the social gatherings, performance is what really mattered. 

Thanks to my mentor, I looked for ways to go the extra mile, working until 9:00 when others left at 7:00, volunteering for special projects and performing routine tasks, such as photocopying, that some of my colleagues felt was beneath them. 

At the end of the summer, the firm only hired three of the ten summer clerks and I was fortunate to be one of the lucky few.

Since that time, the legal profession has evolved: market pressures have fueled competition for choice positions and a greater focus on the bottom line have forced firms to lower hiring quotas and promote fewer lawyers to equity positions.  Today, lawyers must work harder than ever to prove their worth, whether they are a newly minted associate or a seasoned partner.  Becoming indispensable is the key to success in any position.

I have leveraged that piece of advice in many ways throughout my career as a lawyer, writer and legal marketing professional.  Volunteering to complete a research project for the managing partner helped me land an offer at the end of my summer clerkship.  Launching a successful legal column helped pave the way to a role as the publication’s editor in chief.  Brainstorming new revenue streams helped me expand my team and earn the bosses’ praise (and a great bonus) in my current position.  

Below are ten ways that you can become indispensable in your position:

  • Help colleagues without expecting anything in return
  • Anticipate the needs of your supervisor
  • Set concrete, measurable goals and exceed them
  • Brainstorm new initiatives that will impact your company and the bottom line, even if it creates more work for you
  • Volunteer for key projects and committees
  • Become the go-to person for a specialized area of service, topic or niche within your law firm or company
  • Drink up every learning opportunity you can and leverage that knowledge to grow in your position
  • Make your supervisor’s and colleagues’ jobs easier
  • Offer solutions to problems
  • Be a self-starter and go beyond the scope of your position

Becoming indispensable translates into power.  Not only does it cement you as irreplaceable within your organization, it can open up new opportunities, pave the way to promotions and boost job security.

Sally Kane is an attorney, writer and content director for PaperStreet, a digital marketing agency that serves law firms around the globe.

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