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The thing about job titles

… is that it’s just a title. Job titles do not describe the work that you’re actually doing and what value it has to you and your development.

Take the title “Administrator”. I’m not necessarily speaking of an Administrator in the legal industry, but any type of industry.

What is an Administrator? Do they “administer” stuff? What does that even mean?

Whilst I appreciate that the title may give you some “idea” of what work that is, and many people would make assumptions about what that job entails, it doesn’t truly give an explanation of the tasks, responsibilities involved in the job nor does it speak of the skill sets of the person who holds the position.

For the record, Administrators are exceptionally talented people. They can, and often do, embody many (and in some cases all) of the following other tasks or responsibilities within their job:

  • personal assistant (don’t get me started on how broad that title can be!)
  • project manager
  • accounts receivable
  • accounts payable
  • appointment setter
  • client liaison officer
  • receptionist
  • typist
  • transcriptionist
  • procurement officer
  • office manager
  • contract manager
  • purchasing officer
  • IT consultant
  • multi-tasker
  • fire putter-outer

What the above list is designed to demonstrate is this; the title alone doesn’t tell you much of anything about what the person who holds that role does, what skills they have or their experience.

Thinking back to the legal industry; why is this important? Thinking the above through for a moment, gives us a glimpse and perhaps encouragement not to judge a book by it’s cover and also to redirect your focus on the fundamental job responsibilities, skills and experience it offers.

Whether your searching for a first job, fresh out of uni, or you’ve been in law a while, this is a meaningful and valuable thought process to undertake.

If you’re a person in the “first job” category of this thought process, think about what the job may offer you in developing your skill sets, giving you experience in the industry, how much exposure you may have that industry, the workplace, the culture, and how valuable that could be.

If you’re a person in the “been in it a while” category of this thought process, the process of considering the work may come a little easier because you’ve had the experience in working in the field, so you know what kind of things to expect in terms of the work. However, when you’re looking at a title, the work description is going to be all that more important.  It can be hard for people to leave a certain title behind, particularly when people associate titles with importance. It’s also impacted by ego. It’s ok; “ego” isn’t a dirty word; we all have one. I think the more we acknowledge that we have an ego, the better we are able to understand it and [possibly] keep it in check, when necessary.  It’s fair to say that leaving behind a “senior associate” title or “director” title can be pretty hard, having regard to these things. While the title may feel like a ‘backward’ step in your career, if the work is good, challenging, exciting, and gives you a chance to really grow, develop and ticks all your boxes, what real difference does the title make?

I think this thought process is important for two reasons:

  1. a constant reminder not to judge a book (i.e. a job) by it’s cover (i.e. it’s title) ;
  2. to provide an insight into the value of a job opportunity even if the title doesn’t say what you would prefer.

For the non-lawyer titled jobs, there can be so much valued gained in experience in jobs that are not technically legal practice that can place you well for further development. This is particularly so for those that have finished uni and have found it difficult to find the right graduate role.  This is particularly so where the non-practice job is within a legal environment. (A common example may be a paralegal or a legal assistant role; these jobs are exceptionally valuable to a law student or graduate looking to learn about working in law). The kinds of opportunities that can present themselves from such an experience can include:

  • on the job experience;
  • exposure to legal practice;
  • learning from new colleagues who are lawyers and non-lawyers;
  • networking;
  • exposure to and experience in marketing;
  • upskilling and professional development seminars (internal and external);
  • opportunity to be considered when new jobs become available in the business;
  • experience in dealing with clients/customers;
  • working with individuals and different size teams;
  • working on projects with others;
  • understanding the business of law works.

Administrative roles in law can be the most valuable thing on your resume and also the thing that makes you stand out against the rest of the candidates vying for a job as a practitioner.

Some employers even value experience like this over the value of exceptional grades. The reason? Because the practice of law is so wildly different to the theory we learn in uni. A person can be an exceptional law student, with the best possible grades, but could have real difficulty in dealing with clients and/or colleagues or managing a file. Conversely, a person can have great real life experience working within law but have mediocre grades. Grades are absolutely important; there’s no doubt about that. However, what is important to remember is that there is incredible value in other attributes outside of grades.

Experience is invaluable to standing out and demonstrating your point of difference when you are advocating and selling yourself in the job application process.

This same approach can be useful when you’re been in practice a while as well when tossing up between practising roles that have different titles, like “associate”, “senior associate”, “director/partner” etc etc. Whilst once upon a time, these titles indicated a certain level of seniority, but there is starting to be a shift in this line of thinking. There are many practitioners that have been in practice for 10, 15, 20 years and hold the title of “lawyer”.  A person’s title is not the valuable part of their role, it is the years and breadth of their experience that speaks to their quality of work and skills in providing exceptional legal service to the public.

It is easy to say, but don’t be worried about what other people think, either. At the end of the day, your career is yours; not theirs. Fundamentally, it is the work itself that makes a difference to our growth, development and happiness in what we do.

Be flexible and open minded. Taking on new opportunities, new challenges and something different can provide you with rewards that you never contemplated. You never know who you will meet in the process. Connections and networking is an absolutely essential part of the success of any individual in business (and in law) and is also a separate topic of it’s own, for another day.

Titles, are just that; titles. They are not job descriptions nor are they an all inclusive demonstration of the value of engaging in that job or learning the things that job/workplace/experience will provide.

My two cents = consider the title, sure, but don’t let that be the deciding factor of any opportunity you consider. What will you learn? Who will you meet? How will this contribute to my development? Where could this lead me?

Photo by Austin Kirk on Unsplash with grateful thanks.

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Your own version of success

Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live

Anne Sweeney

Lawyers are competitive creatures, in one way or another. Even if you’re not outwardly competitive, you still likely have a burning desire to be the best at whatever you do (whether it’s the best presentation at a conference or the best drafting of that one clause in that big Deed).

So, when it comes to measuring success, it’s likely that we might look outside of ourselves to find out what that truly is. But, is that really the right place to be looking?

Respectfully, I don’t think so.

There’s oodles and oodles of books about success and there’s even more quotes about it. I wonder, however, whether we take that literature too literally and forget that our success is ours to own and live. This means that what ‘success’ looks like should also be developed from what success actually means to us! If we continue to look outside of ourselves for success, we’re likely to be continually unhappy and, moreover, unsuccessful. Success and happiness are permanently and critically interlinked.

Let’s take a closer look:

success (noun)

‘the accomplishment of an aim or purpose’

aim (noun)

‘a purpose or intention; a desired outcome’

purpose (noun)

‘the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists’

What is interesting about the above is that not one of those definitions involves another person.

The words purpose, intention, desire and reason are all intrinsic words that only you can define.

Take law school for example: in law school it’s common to have this concept of making partnership in a law firm as the epitome of success. However, that is not necessarily going to be the case for everyone and there may be a multitude of reasons why and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!

The important fact remains that your purpose, intention, desire and reason are all yours to be developed, sought and achieved. They are what YOU want, not what someone tells you you’re meant to want.

If you seek someone else’s idea of success as the yard stick to which you measure your own success and happiness in law, you will likely be left forever wanting, unhappy and confused. However, if you spend the time to think deeply about your purpose, intention, desire and reason you work in the law, you can begin to build your path to your own version of success.

Your success in law could be in running a well-oiled machine of a law practice and having cultural harmony among your people. It could be enjoying good and ongoing quality work in your chosen practice area. It could be part time practice and part time side hustle of sewing colourful frocks and golf shirts. It could be lecturing and educating in law and writing about the law. It could be working in legal publishing and contributing to the history of legal writing. It could be working in policy and contributing to law reform.

More broadly, it could be working for yourself and doing kid drop off/pick up regularly or taking the kids to karate or gymnastics. It could be working half the year and travelling the other half. It could be working as in house counsel for your partner’s business and enjoying lunch with them every day.

The options are limitless. They are as limited as the greatest reaches of your mind and heart.

There are no limits to what you can accomplish, except the limits you place on your own thinking.

Brian Tracy

I implore you to consider what makes you happiest in your world and write them down. Write them with a good old fashion pen (OK, I’ll allow an apple pencil or stylus, if I have to!) and when you’re finished, read them back over and over. Visualise them. Does it make you smile? Does it make your mind wander? Does it make you feel harmony or even joy?

If you’re one of the many people (like me!) that got into the law to help people, have you considered whether you’re helping yourself as well? Are you helping yourself to enjoy what you do and how you do it? Are you helping to be the best version of yourself? Are you helping yourself to walk and own your own journey? Are you seeking out your own version of success?

If not, take a moment for yourself; you deserve it.

If you own this story you get to write the ending

Brene Brown