In Letter from London, we get perspectives from barristers and solicitors about legal life in the UK.
Starting your legal career can be daunting: your seniors and peers are very capable and technical ability is assumed. But being a successful lawyer is not just about the technical law; strong soft skills are also key.
As I qualified, I was intent on learning more about those soft skills that people at the top of their field have mastered. Through the majority of events I have attended over the last few years, two major themes have emerged: confidence and networking. But these two concepts are quite tricky to demystify, so our StepUp Network (which is run for and by trainees, associates and senior associates) hosted an event in July in an attempt to do so.
Guest speaking at the event was Phanella Mayall Fine, an ex-lawyer and banker turned career coach, who has extensively researched the different aspects of career progression. She shared some of the wisdom from her new book (coincidentally titled StepUp) with our guests. Phanella articulated something that really stuck with me: while networking with the right individuals and providing great legal service are tangible and identifiable stepping stones that are likely to help you move ahead in your career, “confidence is a precursor to almost all career progression behaviours.” Some of the best practical tips to building confidence that I have picked up over the years and learned from Phanella are:
- Get involved.
Say yes. Whether it is a new client initiative, joining the firm’s football team, working on a pro bono project or joining a diversity network, saying yes to new opportunities may be one of the most straight-forward ways of getting to know your firm and the people across it. Especially as a new joiner to an organisation, putting your hand up to volunteer for the firm’s fundraiser this year will put you in touch with individuals in your organisation that you may not come across in your day-to-day fee earning. Not only does this build your internal network and perhaps put you in a better position to cross-sell your firm’s capabilities, but more people within the firm will know who you are, and you never know what position someone in your internal network might be in 5-10 years from now, or in the next promotion round. If they don’t know you, how can they promote you?
- Mini-challenge yourself.
Break it down. A challenge is, by definition, something that is quite difficult to overcome and will take time to conquer, but just as you develop as a solicitor, you have to start somewhere. Get the basics right and build on that success to gradually become an expert in your field. Applying this same logic to different challenges in your career can help to focus your energy and yield greater results. Phanella gave us a great tip: break the challenge into three steps. For example, many people, including myself, can find networking challenging, but it can be surmountable with the right kind of confidence. Before jumping into the deep end and challenging yourself to mingle with the general counsel of a major potential client, which can be daunting, your first mini-challenge can be to have coffee with the person at your level who works at your client and with whom you have just completed that big transaction. Breaking these challenges down into more attainable steps can make your success more tangible and will gradually build your confidence so you can attempt greater networking challenges.
- Have a story.
Tell it. Develop your personal brand, and consider what impression it leaves. Successful businesses have a key mission statement and vision, which is underpinned by a strong brand. The brand is how others will perceive the business and remember it. Understanding personal brand from this perspective highlights why that ‘elevator pitch’ and why spending time developing and refining your own personal brand is so important. If you don’t know your story, how can others buy it?
Katy Bagerman is an associate in the Infrastructure, Energy, Resources, and Project practice at Hogan Lovells.