By Alnisa Bell • September 05, 2017•Writers in Residence
September marks the end of my law firm billable year and therefore, the best time to re-evaluate my Professional Development Plan (“PDP”). In short, a PDP for a lawyer should track his/her realistic developmental goals; provide a timeframe for their completion and should take into consideration any feedback that the attorney has been given throughout the year by integrating those expectations into the PDP and executing them. The PDP should be a living document. That means, you should set time markers for when you will evaluate your progress on meeting your goals and as new goals arise, include them on your PDP. You want to make sure your aspirations are realistic for your year level.
I used to think that I could keep a mental record of what I needed to accomplish each year, but that was neither efficient nor effective. By putting ink to paper, I was able to hold myself accountable. As a senior associate, there are certain “soft” and “hard” skills that I need to hone and to continue to develop. With this blog post, I will provide you with a snapshot of my PDP in hopes that it encourages you to think seriously about yours and to execute your goals this year.
To start, review the attorney benchmarks that your firm provides of the specific skillsets that you need to master for your year level and look ahead to make sure you know the skillsets you will need to master in the future. For me, I am fortunate to work at a law firm that allows me to operate in a first chair capacity. I have always received challenging work assignments and have been given first chair responsibility to attend court conferences, argue motions, handle mediations, settlement conferences and assume a client-facing role etc. Still, I wanted to gain more trial experience so I decided to participate in the NITA Trial Training program, a week-long, intensive program on trial techniques given by trial lawyers from across the country who volunteer their time to provide their own tried and tested trial skills. Similarly, you, too, should think about the areas in which you want to develop new and/or existing skills.
Part of being a senior associate also requires the successful management of junior associates. An effective manager must be able to train more junior lawyers and assist them in developing their skills. Thus, my PDP included ways in which I could further develop my management skills. As an example, I delivered a few “Lunch and Learn” presentations for junior associates on the ins-and-outs of litigating in New Jersey. This allowed me to not only train, but to also be seen internally as a key contributor to the firm’s New Jersey practice.
Successful lawyers must also focus on the “soft skills” of networking both internally and externally in order to increase their name recognition. This year, I focused on networking more in the New Jersey market. Although my law firm is located in New York, I do a fair amount of work in New Jersey. Following law school, I clerked and practiced in New Jersey and I want to continue to increase my name recognition in the state. To that end, I participated in the New Jersey State Bar’s Leadership Academy. This was a training program to prepare the next generation of state bar leaders through the study of ethical, professional, and civic engagement. Through the program, I networked with other practitioners and increased my external network within the state. Just recently, I was also appointed by The New Jersey Supreme Court to serve on its Committee on Minority Concerns for the 2017-2019 term. The key for me, is to credential myself and to also remain involved in activities that are personally rewarding.
I also set a goal of publishing a certain number of articles and doing speaking engagements. I focused on writing and speaking engagements related to my employment law practice, but also on topics of interest to me. For one, I wanted to create a blog particularly for women of color lawyers navigating law firm culture, which Ms. JD provides me with this platform. Too often, I was hearing—and still keep hearing—from women of color that they do not have mentors and feel as if they are navigating unchartered territory in private practice without the necessary support to ensure promotion. This blog hopefully provides some much-needed guidance.
Community involvement and civic engagement are also important to me (and should be for any lawyer). When drafting my PDP, I thought about ways in which I could continue to remain involved in causes that I care about, but that also provide me with opportunities for professional development. This year, I was appointed to serve on Bryn Mawr College’s President’s Advisory Council, which consists of a select group of women alumnae who provide guidance and strategy to the President. I also continue to volunteer my time through NJLEEP, a program that prepares students for college through legal instruction and provides each student with an attorney mentor. In March, I was honored to speak at a program sponsored by the Department of Justice’s Federal Women’s program for an event titled, “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business.”
None of these accomplishments and recognitions miraculously happened to me. I set concrete goals for myself and executed them. Once you execute your goals, remember to “post and boast” as we discussed in my April blog post here: [https://ms-jd.org/blog/article/self-promotion-at-work-if-you-got-it-flaunt-it] The key players at your firm must be aware of what you are doing (posting) and you must relay your accomplishments to them (boasting). Let’s start working on our PDPs and owning our success. No one can do it for you. No one will do it for you. You’re in charge of your own career. Make it happen! It’s really that simple.