Are you working too hard? Not hard enough? Avoiding social opportunities or being too social? Overspecializing or having too broad an approach? Prioritizing work-life balance or not prioritizing it enough?

It can be difficult at any stage in your career path to know what the right next move is or how to balance your priorities to maximize career growth.

As we build our “How I Made It” community, we often ask partners to share the career development mistakes they see among associates. The answers vary greatly, but a few errors are so common that they qualify as red flags.

Not Having a PlanCollette Woghiren, a partner at Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg, told us, “The most common mistake is not having a plan at the beginning of their career. Instead, the ‘plan’ is to see what happens in a few years. Each attorney should set a goal, and if that goal changes, that’s fine. Developing a plan, discussing it with a mentor and sponsor, and then working toward it is something everyone should do—no matter the level of seniority.”

Staying in the Comfort Zone“Turning down opportunities for new and different work” is a common error, RumbergerKirk partner Patrick Delaney pointed out. “If you get a chance to work with a new partner or with a new/different client, you should jump at it. It allows for the opportunity to think differently and will expose an associate to more people within the firm, and can help shed light on new arguments for regular cases.”

Keeping Your Head Down—This mistake comes up repeatedly in our interviews. “The most common mistake I see associates make is putting their heads down and expecting that doing great work is enough to carry the day,” says Simone Jones, a Sidley Austin partner.

Shari Dwoskin, a partner at Brown Rudnick, echoes the point: “It’s a mistake to think you can just put your head down and do your work, then pick your head up several years later and be made a partner.”

Erin Hanson of White & Case picks up the same thread. “While hard work is definitely necessary—it’s usually not sufficient. Don’t underestimate the importance of building relationships, both within your firm with your colleagues and outside of your firm with your peers and clients,” she said.

Avoiding these (and other) mistakes can help keep your career growth on track. Pick up more tips and suggestions from partners and law firm leaders by following our “How I Made It” series.

For more career advancement success stories, check out the “How I Made It” Q&A series on  

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