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December 11 2020

How to build a Personal Development Plan

Legal Career Tips

James Bosson

James Bosson

Some seedlings as seen from above

A personal development plan is a bit like a spiraliser. We’ve all heard of them and know we should probably get one – but are they really necessary? Will it really affect the taste of our courgettes?

We’re not experts on courgettes, but we reckon personal development plans are incredibly important and definitely the sort of thing you should be thinking about. But how do you develop one? Where do you start? How do you know if it’s working?

We got stuck right into this important topic at last month’s Flex Legal Virtual Lunch, in collaboration with LexisNexis and Crafty Counsel. We were joined by Chris Benn - Technology and Outsourcing Associate at Fieldfisher, Katie Barker - Corporate Associate at Addleshaw Goddard LLP, and Claudine Adeyemi - Founder and CEO of CareerEar.

The call covered some excellent ground – and we can’t wait for part 2! There were a few big takeaways from the event, which we’ve broken down for you below:

Have an end goal in mind – but be flexible

First things first – know where you’re going. Having a clear end point that you’re trying to reach is the first step to getting anywhere. You wouldn’t go on a trip if you didn’t know what the destination was, and a personal development plan is no different. Having a goal in mind can keep you on track, and keep you moving forwards. So start by having a think what you want to achieve.

The legal industry, fortunately, has fairly clear trajectories. Many people have big dreams of qualifying as a lawyer, or landing a job at a city law firm, or reaching a certain salary. However, this can be problematic. Goals are linear, but the reality is that careers are often anything but. Sometimes you’ll move sideways or diagonally before you move forwards. This is not a bad thing! What might at first seem like a step back could open up new learning opportunities or experiences you might not have considered. Be flexible with yourself and your goals, and understand that sometimes sidestepping is the best way to progress.

Communicate your goals

Once you have a goal, make sure you share it with those around you. We’re all too often taught to keep our aspirations to ourselves, so this step can sometimes feel a little counter-intuitive. However, communicating your goals externally accomplishes two very important things.

Firstly, it provides you with external accountability. If others are aware of your goals, they can encourage you to meet them too. This provides an extra incentive for you to keep on track, and keep working towards your ambitions. This is especially important if you’re the sort of person who perhaps struggles with self-motivation.

Secondly, sharing goals with those around you lets you see where your aspirations align with theirs. For instance, sharing your ambitions with your manager or wider company can open up a dialogue about what you’re both trying to achieve, and how you can align both goals. This can lead to longer-term planning where you can identify mutually beneficial solutions. Everybody wins!

Don’t just pursue fee earning

This one is especially important in the legal industry, where your measure of success is often attributed to your salary alone. However, it’s important not to lose sight of everything else around this. Here at Flex Legal, we often talk about finding a good life / work balance, and this is ultimately what it boils down to:

Professional goals are important, but that’s only one side of life.

Make sure you’re setting aside dedicated time outside of work to pursue your other passions and interests. This, at the risk of speaking in quite grandiose terms, is what life is all about. Whether it’s baking, five a side football, spending more time with your friends and family, or anything in-between – don’t lose sight of your personal goals. Take stock of them, align them with your professional ambitions, and give them the time they deserve.

Check in with yourself

Let’s say you’ve already done everything in this list up to this point. You’ve set an end goal as a “north star”, you’ve expressed your goals to those around you, and you’ve carved time out for your hobbies outside of work. Now, you’ve just got to work towards it, right? Hold on a second.

As you work towards your end goal, make sure to check in with yourself. It might sounds obvious, but taking the time to reflect on where you’ve come from, where you are, and where you’re going is crucial. How are you feeling about your efforts so far? Is your workload sustainable? Do you need to recalibrate? Pausing to assess your progress is important. Feeling good about things? Great! Keep going. But don’t keep doing the same thing if it’s making you miserable. There’s nothing wrong with adjusting your goals or your methods to adapt to changing circumstances. Your short and medium term goals are probably going to change as time wears on, so listen to your gut and check in with yourself!

Hopefully that sheds some more light on why personal development plans are so important – and has given you some food for thought! If you’re interested in signing up to more Flex Legal Virtual Lunches you can do so here on our Eventbrite.

Additional resources:

  • Personal Development Checklist – this tool from LexisNexis can be accessed using the free trial. It provides 25 practice and largely cost-free personal development opportunities for anyone interested in developing their law skillset.
  • Pearson Career Courses Offer – We’re proud to partner with Pearson for this limited time offer. Until Feb. 2021, you can have complimentary access to their full range of courses which include a personal mentor. It’s a great way to kickstart your personal development.
  • In-House Insights with… The Roald Dahl Story Company – This free Crafty Counsel boxset features discussions with the in-house legal team at the Roald Dahl Story Company, which includes an incredibly relevant conversation around lessons learnt as a sole GC.
  • BBC GoodFood’s Best Spiralisers – Any courgette enthusiast would be incredibly pleased to get to grips with these sensational spiralisers.