Yesterday I was the guest of Bonnie Marcus, Forbes contributor and career coach, on her CBS Sky News radio show GPS Your Career: A Woman’s Guide to Success. I enjoyed talking to Bonnie about many of the issues that are major themes of the Best Friends at the Bar project, and the show was chock full of good advice for young women lawyers. I hope you were tuned in, but, if not, catch the podcast at:
One of the subjects we talked was commitment on the job—what it is and what it isn’t. We started out taking a look at lack of commitment. For those of us who have been in business a long time, lack of commitment is not hard to spot. It is one of the things that distinguishes the upwardly mobile from the not-so-upwardly mobile, and it needs to be nipped in the bud.
What is a lack of commitment? It is the reluctance to be a team player and creating the impression that you are punching a time clock. It is not wanting to work long hours or weekends—EVER—and it is never going the extra mile because you cannot see how it will directly benefit you. It is that “I do not do windows” attitude that can be spotted a mile away. This is clearly not the lawyer that I want on my case, and it is not the lawyer that most managers want on theirs. If personal time always takes priority over your professional responsibilities, you can be sure that people will notice.
By contrast, commitment is being serious about your work so that you are taken seriously. It is about creating the impression that you care about the work and the clients and that you are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. It is staying until the assignment is complete or until the motion is filed, and it is making sure that the job gets done the best way you know how to do it. It is caring enough to make suggestions to improve the work product and taking the initiative to identify what needs to be done without waiting to be told. Simply stated, it is acting responsibly and sending the message that you can be counted on as a member of a professional team. Commitment creates value that can enhance your career opportunities and give you bargaining power when you may need flexible work arrangements in the future. If you have proven yourself to be reliable, trustworthy and industrious, the firm will not want to lose you.
But, commitment is about more than just billable hours and a solid work product. It also means devoting time to networking and developing new clients. These are very valuable assets to a law firm and will affect your future prospects in the firm. It is almost impossible to be upwardly mobile in a law firm today without having your own clients, and the way to do that is to network, network, network.
The challenge comes in being committed to your profession and having a personal life as well. That is when choices come into play. If the commitment of private law practice does not work with your personal circumstances, you need to consider your alternatives. I am a self-proclaimed Queen of Reinvention because that is what I had to do. When being married to a fellow trial lawyer and having two children under two years of age made private practice incompatible with the responsibilities of my personal life, I turned to public service. The eight years that I spent in public service was some of the most interesting and valuable work experience of my career, and that experience made me more valuable when I returned to private practice. You have to plan for changed circumstances, and you have to grab the brass ring when the time is right for you.
So, commit yourself to your work. Grab that brass ring and make the most out of your opportunities. You will be investing in your future, and that is always a good and wise thing.