Year-end is normally a busy time. Law firm partners and administrators are hustling to collect fees (at least in those firms that are on calendar years), associates are scrambling to complete assignments with the hope that they’ll be able to squeeze in some time off, and in-house and government lawyers are feverishly completing budgets, staffing projections and forecasts. It is thus with great reticence that I offer some ideas for things that should be added to your never-ending to-do list. I do think, though, that there is a lot of value to recalibrating before the page turns on 2012 and provide 10 recommendations in that regard.
Refresh Your Body and Soul
I recently spoke, in the span of an hour, with a law firm managing partner and a general counsel. While there were quite a few topics that were unique to their particular industries, they had a common refrain: The practice of law, no matter the setting, is a grind, as lawyers work very hard. If some sense of balance cannot be found, burning out will be the least of their worries, as a raft of other maladies will come into play, just as they do for those in other walks of life.
Although December 31 is only one day on the calendar, it can serve as a wake-up call that it is time to step back and recharge the proverbial batteries before the end of 2012. Trying to find at least a few days, and hopefully more, to disengage should pay dividends in 2013. No one needs a columnist to suggest specific things you can do with your time off, as the options are bountiful and intensely personal. If you are feeling the effects of a tough year, just try to find something that will allow you to unwind and clear your head — you’ll really be glad you did.
Conduct a Review of 2012
The odds are good that the past year whizzed by. Before you look up and realize you’re knee-deep in 2013, take a look back at 2012 and think about these questions: (1) What were the key things that worked for you this year? (2) What mistakes did you make, and, if you had a second chance, how would you have avoided them? (3) What were the major surprises — good or bad — and what can you learn from those occurrences that will allow you to better prepare for the future? The answers should help you better gear up for 2013.
Compile an Inventory of Your Accomplishments
As younger lawyers will learn, the years zoom by and blur together. This makes it difficult to not only remember when a key accomplishment occurred, but the details of it, too. Year-end thus serves as a reminder to gather all your articles, significant blog posts, copies of decisions, newsletters, awards, speeches and other significant accomplishments from 2012. In some cases, you’ll still need to go “old school” and store these as hard copies in files. Otherwise, a digital compendium, whether it’s stored on your server, hard drive or even in the cloud, should be created.
There surely will be times when you’ll need this information — whether it’s during a job change, in making your case for a promotion, in applying for a board spot, or in any other number of situations. You’ll save inestimable time later if you do this now.
Update Your Web Bio and CV
In a similar vein, take a few minutes, after you compile that inventory, to look anew at your Web bio and/or CV. The odds are good that those items should be tweaked or even overhauled as a result of what transpired during the past year. This also holds true for your LinkedIn, Facebook (if you use it for business) and other online profiles. It is good to have symmetry among all your profiles, so don’t forget to keep all the online materials current, too.
Reflect on Macro Developments
Change sometimes happens overnight, but, in the legal profession, it most often occurs over time. Many people miss the indicia of the transformations that are taking place because they are too busy or never take the time to take a step back to conduct a critical assessment.
If you fall into this camp, and all of us do at various stages of our careers, don’t let it occur this year. Now is the time to think about what is happening in your practice area, firm or company. Are others doing things a bit differently, and perhaps better, than you? If there are colleagues or competitors who are landing business, and you’re not, what has given them the edge? Are there new skills they have acquired or different methods of conducting their practices that you are now lacking? Are there peers who have ascended to a general counsel seat before you? What is happening with your clients (and their competitors)?
The questions are too numerous to list, but the common denominator is that you should not just keep plugging ahead with your nose buried in the work before you. Do your best to question why things have happened and to look forward to try to gauge what may be coming.
Update Your Contact List
Your contact list is one of your most valuable assets. Putting aside its utility on a day-to-day basis for communication purposes, it is the lifeblood of lawyers, whether they are in private practice, in-house or the government. It is crucial for business development efforts, is essential if the time comes when a job change is in the offing, and generally keeps you connected to your network.
Once again, year-end serves as the perfect time to update your contact list if you didn’t do so during the year. Search through your emails to ferret out the notices you received from those whose information changed, dig through your stacks of information behind your desk to find those announcements received from friends and clients, and otherwise make sure your information is current.
Set Three Goals for 2013
New Year’s resolutions will be all the rage as January 1 approaches. Personally, I am a big proponent of goal-setting, but also feel that the consternation that surrounds resolutions is a bit overblown. The intentions are good, but creating a laundry list of lofty aspirations that you haven’t fully thought through and are committed to pursuing is often of little value.
My recommendation is to focus on three goals for 2013. Shoot for those that will stretch you, but are not so far out of reach that you’ll be tempted to abandon the effort when February rolls around. The goals could be as diverse as finally joining (and getting heavily involved) in an organization that you know will advance your career or setting a specific business development target. In so doing, set some intermediate targets and checkpoints that you can track during the year that will help you stay on track.
Re-evaluate Your Firm or Company
Financial experts implore investors to not only look at their portfolios at year-end, but also to assess the underlying companies that are a core component of their holdings. If you were to look anew at those companies, which makes eminent sense, why wouldn’t you similarly re-evaluate the law firm or company you work for at the end of each year?
If you are in a law firm, media stories abound that provide metrics, observations and other views as to how your firm may be doing as compared to its competitors. Consultants, potential laterals and friends in other firms also can provide other insights. On the in-house front, you surely have access to data, studies and other reports that help to establish where your company stands in its industry; the ACA and other organizations similarly may help in benchmarking how your department stacks up.
This analysis may reaffirm why you are in a great firm or company. If that happens to be the case, cherish it. If not, perhaps one of your goals for next year should be to dig a lot deeper to better gauge whether your organization should remain your home.
Assess Whether You’re Social Media-Savvy
If you are just a few years away from retirement, it may not matter whether you know what a tweet is, why there is a face book that is not a yearbook, or whether you are linked in or out. For the rest of us, it is important to, at a minimum, at least understand these various social media or, even better, to master the ones that could help your career.
Whether you like it or not, many of your competitors and clients are using social media, and, if you’re not, it likely is putting you at a disadvantage. You do not have to aspire to become a social media darling and can refrain from ever posting a comment on Twitter if that’s not your style. Buy a book (or two), look at online how-to articles, or talk to colleagues who are adept in this arena. You’ll find that even if you’d like to remain in the background, social media can be a wonderful research tool that can help you in many phases of your career — neglect it at your peril.
Step Up Your Self-Improvement Game
We end much as we started, as I strongly recommend that you find some time next year to do something that, on its face, has nothing to do with the law. Create a reading list of self-help books, novels or other publications that you bought (and never read) or others that you have heard about but have never taken the time to buy or download. Once you do, set aside some time to read a few next year.
Many believe that one of the primary reasons why we are here is to help others. If you fall into that camp, writing a check to help a charity, organization or person in need is terrific. Finding some time to contribute can be even more rewarding.
As with several other items in this article, the potential options here are limitless, as you could also target beginning to learn another language, traveling to a country you’ve long desired to see, or any number of other “bucket list” items. The net effect, if you can do this, is that you’ll find better balance in your life, and, as a result, just may become an even better lawyer and person. •
Frank Michael D’Amore is the founder of Attorney Career Catalysts, a Pennsylvania-based legal recruiting and consulting firm that focuses on law firm mergers and partner placements. He is a former partner in an Am Law 200 firm, general counsel in privately held and publicly traded companies, and vice president of business development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.