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How to advance your career in 2019

Another year has begun and here comes the inescapable question: “What are your new years resolutions?”

Most of us probably fell short of where we wanted to be. This year do yourself a favour and adopt a resolution of building a stronger personal brand. This is one resolution that I continually build on. You should too.

As a lawyer, I understand that my role is primarily that of a service provider, a trusted advisor and a risk mitigator. However, as an ambitious young professional, I have always understood myself to be more than the title that my profession has bestowed upon me.

In the iconic words of Jay-Z: “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” This quote continually reminds me that I do not just work for someone, but I most importantly work for myself first. When you think of it this way, you start to ask yourself: When was the last time I invested something into my legal career that was not per the initiative of my law firm or company? Is my brand inextricably linked to an institution or do I have an equally influential personal brand? Is my future determined at the complete whim of someone else or do I have some control over how you are presented?

I strongly believe that you should continuously be building your personal brand as a lawyer. The importance of starting earlier on becomes more apparent when you are hitting your senior post qualification level and you realize that you have just been flowing along the same river as everyone else and have not developed a distinct selling feature about yourself to merit any real bargaining power. Marketing is business development, business development is building a practice and a book of business, do not neglect your personal brand. Here are a few ways on how you can start this year:

Study for an LLM or MBA

Supplementing your law degree with a master of laws or a master of business administration is a common route that lawyers consider. An LLM is useful if you want to market yourself as a specialist in a particular area of law (tax law, labour relations and employment law), or if you want to use it as a bridge into a new practice area altogether. As an academic degree, the LLM will be focused more on theory and will likely involve writing a dissertation. An MBA is useful if you are regularly involved in corporate work and want to broaden your understanding of businesses. As a more practical degree, the MBA will be focused on how to approach business situations through case studies and collaborative work. It is particularly useful if you decide to pursue an in-house legal role and it opens the door to pivoting into a purely business role later on. Both the LLM and MBA provides part-time study options so doing it while working is possible, however this will definitely test your ability to manage your time commitments at work and at home. Also note that certain scholarships are only available to full-time study. 

Qualify in another jurisdiction

Along the same lines of studying to get ahead, why not consider writing a foreign bar exam to qualify in another jurisdiction? Obviously, this would only make sense if your practice actually merits you putting in the time to write another bar exam. If you are a cross-border transactions lawyer that helps clients with deals down south of the border, why not consider qualifying into a particular U.S. state? If you want to set yourself up for an international move into a tier 1 city like London, Hong Kong, Singapore, why not consider an England & Wales qualification? The most common foreign jurisdictions for Canadian lawyers to qualify in are New York, California, and England & Wales, the reason being that major financial centres outside of Canada are dominated by U.S.-and-U.K.-headquartered global law firms and they most often hire lawyers having those qualifications. In my experience it has become the norm to see either dual or triple qualified lawyers, with a U.S. or U.K. qualification as an anchor. Niche qualifications may be useful (or necessary) depending on your practice area, such as investment-fund-lawyers qualifying in jurisdictions such as the Cayman Islands, BVI or Bermuda.

Contribute publicly online and/or in print

Showcasing your knowledge in the form of an article or column is a great way to reach out to a specific industry audience or to make yourself public. Want to develop your medical-industry exposure? Why not write articles for a medical magazine on relevant legal matters. Whether in print or online, being seen is half the game. Particularly with online publications and outlets (blogs, YouTube and others), trust that potential clients and acquaintances will be searching you up as part of their due diligence and general curiosity. If your search results link you to a variety of insightful contributions to newspapers and blogs, that is much more impressive than the usual Linkedin (I cannot stress enough the importance of a carefully crafted and updated Linkedin profile) and law firm profile. Even more unique, why not create your own platform to showcase yourself? Many lawyers that are pursuing a burgeoning industry such as cannabis or cryptocurrencies are creating their own websites/blogs/vlogs/discussion forums to engage others, and this is setting them up to be pioneers with expertise knowledge.   

A resolution is merely a determination to do something, find something that works for your personality and time schedule, then put it into action.