Practice Pointers – Assessing Your Career Progress

              We’re officially in the holiday season… which means peppermint hot chocolate, Hallmark movies, and oh wait, annual reviews. Sorry to ruin the festive mood, but annual reviews? They’re just as important and browsing all those Black Friday deals. (I know I’m not the only one.)

              Obviously, annual reviews matter because they factor into your potential bonus, pay raise, and overall standing wherever you work. But they also matter because they force you to take stock of your career progress over the past year – to assess what you’ve worked on, learned, and could use more experience in. That said, this month’s post is about prepping for your annual review.

              If you’ve already done your annual review, well, sorry this is a bit late, but hopefully you’ll glean a nugget or two you can implement next year.

  • Drafting the written self-evaluation

Oftentimes, and especially if you’re in a law firm setting, you’ll have to draft a self-evaluation before you actually meet with anyone for a formal review. Know what sucks? When you can’t for the life of you remember what you worked on the past year. Hot tip to prevent that: Keep a running log of cases and major projects you work on throughout the year. That way you can easily reference that list to jog your memory when it comes time to write the self-evaluation.

When reflecting on your year, remember who your audience is. Your goal is to show your supervisors what you’ve contributed, what you’ve worked on, and what you believe you did well or need to improve on. Try to provide a good, diverse sampling of what you worked on. So rather than write about three different motions to dismiss you drafted, write about the most complex one and then save room to discuss other skills you gained (e.g., depo defense or taking, summary judgment briefing, etc.). Same deal for transactional practice (the former litigator in me just gravitates towards litigation examples).

  • Anticipating “needs improvement” points and highlighting your wins

Remember that a self-evaluation is an exercise in self-reflection. That means you’ll want to think through areas of improvement. One piece of advice on this front – think back to feedback you’ve gotten on assignments throughout the year (and hopefully, you’ve been keeping a list of feedback to refer to… if not, definitely start doing so!). Were there any recurring themes? If not, choose an example or two of what you’ve been told or discerned to be an area that needs improvement and then most importantly, discuss how you’ve started to work on shoring up that skill set.

As for highlighting your wins, don’t be afraid to be direct and advocate for yourself. And because this is Ms. JD, I want to reiterate that point. Be direct and advocate for yourself when discussing your wins. When I was writing my first self-evaluation, my associate mentor read the draft I had put together and immediately commented on how humble I had been. She reminded me that men aren’t shy about taking credit and promoting themselves and I should do the same. I’ve taken that advice to heart over the years. Give yourself credit where credit is due.

  • Asserting your needs

One last point about self-evaluations… they’re an opportunity for you to assert what you need from your work environment to facilitate your continued career growth. If there’s a certain type of matter you’d like to work on or skill you haven’t had a chance to hone, say so. Perhaps suggest a current matter or attorney you’d like to work with. Now’s the time. If you don’t ask (and don’t follow up), you could be missing out on critical career development opportunities. Remember that no one cares more about your career than you, so own it and ask for what you need.

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