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Professional development career advice: goal setting & career management

Professional development career advice: goal setting & career management

By Liz Atchison, Manager LIV Professional Development

Professional Reputation 


January sees the beginning of our annual (some would say, obsession) focus on resolutions – what we want to achieve in this new year, and what we resolve to stop doing. Now that we are in February, most practitioners are back from an extended break – the thinking turns to – ‘what do I want to achieve career wise this year’.

As a practitioner, your career path is somewhat laid out for you following graduation and admission to practice. Typically, that two-year mark following admission is when some practitioners start to think about specialising in a particular area of practice and being more focussed on defining their future career. It all starts with you. What do you want to achieve? I’m sure you’ve heard the adage – we provide the opportunity; the rest is up to you. To some extent this is true, however support, guidance and opportunities are needed to help you achieve your goal.

Approaches to goal setting

Start with identifying what you want to achieve (goal) and setting a realistic timeframe for success. There are two frequently used models for goal setting, the G.R.O.W. model and S.M.A.R.T. for setting objectives. In the course of your research you will notice that the definition of the acronyms change, however the premise is the same.


G goal
R reality
O options
W will



M measurable
A attainable
R realistic
T timely


It may be helpful to use the GROW model when you are first thinking about what you want to achieve (big picture) and your current environment. You can then use the SMART process, to set objectives to help you achieve that goal.

Using the SMART process will enable you to identify specific objectives that will go towards you achieving your goals. Identify opportunities that enable learning, new experiences and broadens your professional experiences.

It is important to frequently review your goals and objectives – create a checklist if that would be helpful. The key to success is, setting effective goals – defining specific outcomes and being focussed on achieving your goals.

Broaden your horizons

Success can be achieved utilising opportunities in your current organisation. Become an ambassador for your firm, be involved in recruitment campaigns, join a mentoring program (formally or informally). These initiatives serve to build your profile within and external to the firm, it broadens your firm knowledge. The challenge of specialisation within firms is that you are so focussed on your area of expertise that it can have a siloed effect and narrow your professional view.

Using feedback cycles to your advantage

Giving and receiving feedback in professional life is often fraught with challenges, unease and distrust. It doesn’t have to be that way. First things first. It is not constructive criticism – the term is constructive feedback and it should be a two-way process. Discuss with your Partners, Directors, Heads of Human Resources (HR), your needs and career goals. It is important to let the senior leadership team know what is important and motivates you. Those end of year performance reviews and discussions can be used to your advantage. Use the time to share what you want to achieve in the next 6 to 12 months, ask about opportunities for development. Go prepared – don’t wait for the opportunities to be handed to you. Investigate possibilities for development, outline what can be achieved as well as highlight the benefits for you and to the firm.

Hold your firm to the promise ‘we provide the opportunity’ – take advantage of what is on offer. Be open to receiving constructive feedback – learn from it. Review your goals – critically analysed the best opportunities for you to achieve your goals. Identify any areas of weakness or as they say in HR your ‘areas for development’ and work towards building your expertise and skills in those areas. Actively pursue learning and development opportunities – not just at the end of the CPD year.

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. I hope that through putting in place an effective career management strategy across the short and intermediate term you can achieve your career aspirations in 2018.

If you want to stand out and step up in your legal career, please consider registering for the LIV’s inaugural Emerging Leaders Conference on 14 March 2018. With topics including practice management for young lawyers, building your own client base, leadership, and innovation this full day event is the perfect stepping stone for your career. Registrations are now open.

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