Soon it will be August, followed quickly by Autumn, and then - the year-end review and bonus time. You can affect that review now, if you are proactive.
Years ago, a young, bright associate, a top-10 law school grad, came to me after the review he received didn't measure up to the his expectations. He had overlooked the preparation and personal marketing he could have done leading up to the review period.
Most law firm reviews take place in October, sometimes in early November. Meaning, that is the time period when members of the review committee and finance committee meet on annual reviews and related hiring/firing and financial decisions. Making your case at your individual meeting with your supervising partner may be too late to affect any impact.
Therefore, act now to determine:
1. What is important to you? e.g. Particular practice areas, writing, speaking, pro bono
2. What appears to be the pathway to what you want - the practice area and work you want to explore?
3. Who in the firm can help you engage more with that type of work?
4. Who can help tell your story of recent success and your range of skills?
Begin to frame your case:
Do you enjoy your present practice area? If you tackled work in 2 or more practice areas, you may have found one you enjoy more than another, or perhaps you also enjoyed working with the partners or team related to that practice. Outline why you want more work like this and what you bring to the table to make the work run smoothly, efficiently, and reveal actionable solutions. If you were part of a successful outcome and that win relates to work you want to explore and continue doing, enumerate your impact on that success and how it may have broadened your thinking about your talents and leveraging them in the future for similar successful work in an efficient manner.
Keep track of atta-boys and kudos you received earlier this year and into early September. Don't kitchen-sink your list with every tiny thank you received, but refine the list to pertinent appreciation that supports "The Case for You."
Gain insights from others. For example, if you are in general commercial litigation, but because of experience with a case in Practice A you would like more work there, seek time to meet with one of the partners you worked with on that case and tell them
a) how much you enjoyed the work,
b) in particular, something you liked that shows off your skills (I especially appreciated writing for this project because it helped me think about how I might approach a speaking opportunity on this topic),
c) ask for advice on developing your identified skill/interest (What would you recommend I do to enhance my writing and speaking skills to help my professional development and impact the firm and business development?).
Then, also leave the floor open for your mentor/adviser to provide any other advice for professional development, especially in the area of your interest (Is there anything else you might recommend I work on, study, practice? I believe I have a talent for this particular practice/industry and I certainly have the interest in it.) If you don't already know the answer, you might ask how your mentor got started down this path - what incident sparked their interest.
The hypothetical conversation above outlines one way that you might discuss the primary area of your interest (what's important to you), coupled with reminders of your success and skill (what's important to the firm). Take the advice you receive and meld that with a new approach to other decision-makers in the firm. For example: you might next approach your HR person for their guidance on how you let key partners know about your interests. HR should have historical background to contribute to your method of storytelling and whom you approach, though they also may direct you to simply wait until review time to have that discussion. Still, it would be worth asking for their input.
How you say it is as important as what you say.
Firms are increasingly awakening to the value of having insightful content on the firm's website that can be leveraged through social media and digital marketing. They are also increasingly recognizing the drive to deliver top-level client service in addition to straightforward strong legal work. Therefore, couch the presentation of your successes, your skills, and your aspirations within these two contexts: content and client service.
1. Suggest how your elevation within the firm and/or your addition to a practice group, etc. would impact content generation because (hypothetically) you have been complimented on your writing, you enjoy writing - especially to inform clients, so you want to work closely with Practice A on its matters and be counted upon to draft and edit articles for the website, blog, social media, and so on.
2. For your client service component, you might explain that your work with Practice A has heightened your interested in Industry A and your awareness of industry trends and concerns. Therefore, you want the opportunity to work on any writing or speaking opportunities that contribute to client-targeted communications.
The point is: use August to explore what you want and how you can make the case for what you bring to the table. As firm leadership returns from summer vacations, use September to schedule time for those "advisory" meetings - where you seek to gain insights and guidance to build your future success and that of the firm, while at the same time you are reminding decision-makers of your abilities and interests. You may want to circle back with a follow-up conversation in very early October. Just be thoughtful about your approach - don't oversell, understand each of your targets' personalities, and consider their objectives as you draft the case for why they should care about what you have to offer.
Last, and perhaps most important:
Please consider a plan like that I have outlined above. Yet, as I always emphasize to my attorney clients: approach every day from a point of view of service to clients - be they your colleagues, mentors, the firm, or the firm's clients. Today more than ever, you are being reviewed -- every day.