It can be an overwhelming experience for someone starting their career and trying to make sense of it all. Advice about success is all around us and often contradictory. You hear, “work hard,” “make a life,” etc. But truth be told, one size does not fit all.
A lot of lawyers warn that you can’t succeed by giving away free advice, but I’ll ignore that for the time being. As the chief commercial officer, general counsel and corporate secretary at Infrastructure Ontario, I’ll share four insights, which I have gleaned from my own experiences, on how to build a fulfilling career in law.
1. Keep an open mind
Don’t let one-track ambition steer you into a rut. When I was in high school, I wanted to be cop. However, thanks to supportive, but persuasive parents, I went to university and then law school.
After graduating from law school, my interests and ambitions remained focused on criminal law. If you told me then that I would be general counsel of a large government agency overseeing billion-dollar infrastructure deals, I would have laughed. But by keeping an open mind, I discovered the challenge and fulfilment of corporate law, and realized I enjoyed engaging in the rough and tumble of negotiations and deal brokering. And that, as Robert Frost would say, has made all the difference.
2. Take chances early in your career
Being open-minded about your career path also means being open to taking chances. Your career will peak early if you follow a safe, cookie-cutter approach.
The legal profession is changing so quickly that lawyers of tomorrow need to be more forward-looking and innovative than any generation of lawyers before. The burst of legal technology startups in recent years means you have more opportunities than ever to shape what a fulfilling and successful career will look like in five, 10 or 20 years’ time — if you’re innovative. So take chances, and look into new ways to deliver legal services.
3. Find a champion to help forge your path
None of us have a crystal ball, so we need help seeing those opportunities down the road. Mentors are critical, but so are champions.
Champions are people who recognize your potential and will promote you inside and outside of your organization. To find one, you must be bold. Approach someone you feel could be that champion, and prove you’re worth their time and effort. In today’s world, we all need others’ help to hold a light that we can shine in.
4. Have a life
Finally, the last ingredient to my own success is to have a life beyond work. I love my job, but I love my family more. It is important for me to ensure that priority plays out on a daily basis by showing up at my kids’ football and hockey games, and being home for family dinners.
Achieving all this means making difficult choices. Sacrifices will need to be made — getting to that dinner with friends might mean only dessert at home and working on a report the next morning. Constantly juggling a schedule is inevitable. But make choices that are true to your priorities. The term work-life balance is a bit of a false premise in my experience (the reality is more like work-life chaos). It is a bumpy ride, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!