Susan Smith Blakely

Why Young Lawyers Need Business Plans

As a young lawyer, a business plan may be the farthest thing from your mind.  Billing hours, making your numbers, trying not to look stupid to the partner and, well, just surviving in law practice in the early years are what occupy you.  I understand and remember.

But, don't dismiss having a business plan as some other-worldly exercise that is not worthy of your time.  It is more than worthy.

I have been preaching --- yes, preaching --- to young women lawyers about the importance of career plans for over a decade, and business plans are the same thing.  All of you, male and female lawyers alike, need to have them.  It is pretty simple:  Where do you want your career to go, and how do you intend to get there?

Over the years I have emphasized creating career plans based on values.  You have to identify the things that you value and do not want to sacrifice on the altar of a workaholic lifestyle, for example.  Those values include questions about family, children, making a difference in your community, and doing work that interests you.  Your plan needs to contemplate what legal setting works best with your values.

Your career plan --- or business plan --- is not going to look like anyone else's.  It is unique.  It reflects who and what you are, and having it gives you confidence.  It will be tweaked many times over the years, and that is the beauty of a plan that allows for flexibility and change.  Once you have it, put it aside and concentrate on being the best lawyer you can be.  That will give you valuable bargaining chips down the line.  And from time to time revisit your plan and revise it as needed.  Nothing is written in stone.

Now, my preaching is validated in an article that I want all of you to read.  It is part of a series of articles by Lateral Link.  As the name implies, the professionals there specialize in lateral movement among lawyers.  But, even if you are not looking to switch jobs, the concepts addressed in the article are worth reading about.  Here are some of those concepts:

  • Why a good business plan takes time;
  • How your business plan can be designed to highlight a key skill or specialty;
  • The role of substance and business development skills in your business plan; and
  • Uses for your business plan --- now and in the future.

These are all important things to think about.  Sure, the objective of the article is to attract young lawyers to the Lateral Link mantra, but the advice can be used more widely to get you in the right mindset for taking your career seriously.

Planning is just that.  It is not taking action.  It is planning for action and getting all your ducks in a row to act in your own best interest and protect your future.  It is serious business, but it does not have to be taken seriously to the point of creating stress.  Relax and start to think about your future in a strategic way.

Have fun with it.

Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Her third book in the series, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, focuses on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and was released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

 Ms. Blakely’s new book for ALL young lawyers, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, will be released by Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers in the summer of 2018.

 Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the ABA Journal, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, Women Lawyers Journal (NAWL), DC Spotlight, Lawyerist.com, Daily Muse, Lawyer and Statesman, Law.com, Georgetown Law Magazine, Legal Toolkit Podcast, and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" and the Lawyer Monthly “Women in Law Award 2016” for her work on behalf of women in the law. 

 Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and is certified as a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com. 

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