What’s Next? Career Development for the Mid-Career Professional

On the final day of the 2019 LMA Annual Conference in Atlanta, Baker Donelson’s Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer, Adam Severson, The Tilt Institute’s President and Founder, Marcie Borgal Shunk, and I took the stage for a panel presentation entitled, "What’s Next? Career Development for the Mid-Career Professional." The panel was moderated Megan McKeon, Director of Business Development at Clark Hill.

We kicked off the presentation by sharing our circuitous career paths. I began my career focused on applying to law school while working as a legal assistant but took a sharp right turn when I instead became my firm’s first marketing coordinator. I rotated through several more senior roles to come to my current client-facing position.

Marcie also thought she’d attend law school but initially worked in economic consulting for lawyers on expert witness and litigation support. She then tried marketing consulting with a startup in Spain for a year, returned to the States, and joined BTI Consulting and LawVision before venturing out on her own to start The Tilt Institute.

Megan, in turn, did attend law school before deciding she didn’t want to practice. She entered the legal marketing arena and spent time at several larger firms before settling at Clark Hill, where she was recently promoted to director.

Adam started as a salesperson for a legal service provider before changing directions for an in-house position. He then rose through the ranks at several large firms before landing as Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer at Baker Donelson.

The varying perspectives of a C-suite leader at a large firm, a consultant, and a director leading a diverse team to mine of a client-facing executive at a small firm converged at the same conclusion: While we all thought we would be doing something very different from what we are doing now, we wouldn’t change the path that got us there

Thank U, Next: Reflecting on Possible Change

Get comfortable in the gray. Change is constant everywhere, so learn to roll with it and learn that it is very rare to have something be as clearly defined as you would probably like it to be.

When considering a move, think about the open-mindedness of leadership and how firm culture will affect the team. Don’t focus as much on an elevated title as whether your work will be intellectually interesting in the long run. Do your research. Have conversations with your network and get to know the brand and reputation of the place you are considering before making a jump.

In rebranding myself from a support role to an administrative role within my firm, I directly disobeyed advice that the only way to get the lawyers to see me in a different light was to move firms. Carry yourself in a way that begets respect, speak with authority and demand that you are seen in a different way.

Movin’ on Up: Pursuing Advancement

Don’t expect to be thanked for doing exactly what is expected of you. If you want to shine, you have to go above and beyond the call of duty. Your thank you for doing your job is your paycheck.

Read articles from Harvard Business Review, attend industry conferences and programming outside of legal, such as American Marketing Association (AMA), to get different perspectives, and generally expand your reach by doing more research to further your professional development and enhance your credibility with your lawyers.

Add value in your current role through coaching – but make sure you know what you are coaching. It is much easier to coach an attorney on closing a deal if you have experienced it yourself, but you can start with the “we” in talking strategy with your lawyers to develop a coaching relationship. Find a need or a way to move the needle and fill it. If it doesn’t work, fail fast and learn from it. Necessary experience can sometimes come from solving the wrong questions.

If you are working in a small firm with a small team where you are not presented with management training or experience early on like me, seek those opportunities through volunteering with LMA and other organizations. Take that involvement just as seriously as you take your real job. The way you present in your LMA roles is part of your overall brand.

Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. It’s important to pull on your strengths. However, everything that you can do is not necessarily everything that you should do. Spinning a million plates isn’t going to get you advanced, so get really good at the things for which you’d like to be known. Skip the drama that can be evident in our industry and within your departments. Remember that social media is everywhere and be wary of that.

When negotiating salaries and title, come to the table with data/research on your role and geographic area, and making sure the right title resonates with your audience. I understood the importance of having the word “client” in my title rather than “business development” because my firm’s clients said they would prefer it so.

The Middle: Leading from the Middle

Making the lives of the others at the table easier led to me to getting a seat at the table. Remember how many priorities are on that person’s plate and add value by being a team player. When you see an opportunity, take initiative and lead from the middle without being asked to do so. Act like the owner. In managing up, understand the big picture and ask smart questions. Don’t take it personally when information is initially withheld. If you are not given the information with which to do your job well, ask for it.

Temper wanting to be the smartest person in the room with surrounding yourself with those with more experience to help your advancement. In handling new or challenging situations, respond, don’t react. Every day you come into the office with a bucket of water and a can of gasoline; you choose which one you use. Try to pour water on most things. 

Walk the Line: Maintaining Work/Life Balance

You can have it all, just sometimes not all at the same time. Acknowledge that the times in our lives where personal or professional priorities take precedence is only temporary.

Discuss your boundaries. Sometimes you have to do double duty (taking a call from the car or en route to a personal endeavor) in order to balance both worlds. Some days, you might work eight hours, others 15 hours. Balance sometimes doesn’t look like direct boundaries between work and personal life. Prioritize your days so that you can be present for the important things that give you joy.

Stay organized in order to best utilize your time. I live by the motto, work hard, play hard, knowing that the time spent on work is important work. Outside of your normal hours, be in the office only if you are doing something that moves the needle and not because you think “looking busy” is going to get you anywhere. At times, a breakdown in communication is at fault for someone being overworked. When it is time to go home, let something wait, because it’s not a real emergency.

By Jenna Schiappacasse, Director of Client Development, Rosenberg Martin Greenberg, LLP

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