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Setting SMART goals to help develop your legal career

Setting SMART goals to help develop your legal career

Whether you are a law student, at the start of your legal career or established in your field, setting SMART goals are sure to help you to build the legal career you want. SMART goals ensure you have a clear roadmap, so you are not wondering what to do next.

Your goals are not going to be achieved overnight, but this approach means you have a clear timeline so you can easily track your progress and continue to feel motivated.

This article discusses:

  • What we mean by ‘SMART’ goals
  • Top tips for achieving your goals
  • Examples of SMART goals for the legal sector at every stage of your career
  • The next steps once you’ve identified your SMART goals

What are ‘SMART’ goals? 

So what does ‘SMART’ goals stand for?

S – Specific

You need to be specific about what you want to achieve. This will make the steps to achieving your goal easier to recognise. A specific goal will usually tell you:

  • What you want to accomplish and how
  • Why you are trying to achieve this goal
  • Who is involved or needs to be involved to achieve this goal
  • When it will be completed by
  • Which obstacles or requirements you need to overcome

M – Measurable 

Once you have identified something specific that you want to achieve, you need to quantify your goal and create tangible factors to measure the success. To make it measurable, there could be steps you need to complete along the way that will eventually add up to the completion of your overall goal.

A – Achievable

Achievability focuses on how important the goal is to you and what you can do to make it attainable e.g., additional training to develop your skills, support from another lawyer, management courses that can be completed. The more attainable your goal, the more motivated you will be to keep on even if there are setbacks along the way. This part of the process will give you a serious reality check. If it’s not attainable, think of something else.

R – Relevant

You should focus on a goal that has benefit for yourself and your legal career, as well as the objectives of the law firm.  

T – Timely/Time-Bound

Setting a time-based goal will help you to measure the success of your goals and keep you motivated too. Again, make sure your timing is realistic. If you want to reach your goal in, say, three, six- or twelve-months’ time, it would be beneficial to set achievements to complete along the way.

Five top tips for writing your SMART goals 

  1. Be prepared to ask yourself, your line manager and your wider team lots of questions to ensure your goals are aligned with the business. There will be a lot of fine-tuning of goals initially.
  2. Start by thinking about your job as a whole and what you are responsible for.
  3. Don’t set yourself too many goals. If you find yourself having lots of little goals, ask yourself if they can be combined.
  4. Think about the key performance indicators (KPIs) that are important to you and the firm.
  5. But make sure your goals are personal to you and your development too.

Examples of SMART goals for your legal career

Common goals for lawyers include increasing something, improving something, reducing something or developing yourself.

 If you’re a law graduate…

These typically revolve around finding your first legal job and getting your career started through a vacation scheme or training contract.

SMART goals could include:

  • I want to apply for three (measurable and achievable) training contracts/vacation schemes from companies that align with my values (specific and relevant) before the end of the month (time-bound).
  • I will network (specific) with one person (measurable and achievable) from each department (relevant) by the end of my 1/2/3/4-week vacation scheme (time-bound). 

If you’re a paralegal…

As a paralegal, you might want to develop your skills, increase efficiency or specialise in a specific department.

SMART goals could include:

  • In six months (time-bound), I should be proficient in my law firm’s software (specific and relevant) ensuring it only occupies 25% of my workload instead of the nearly 40% of the time it occupies now (measurable and achievable).
  • I will attend one training course (measurable) every quarter (time-bound and achievable) so I can develop my case management skills for improved efficiency (specific and relevant).

If you’re a qualified lawyer, but just starting your legal career… 

As a newly qualified lawyer, your goals will typically include developing skills and knowledge and focusing on your performance. 

SMART goals could include:

  • To increase my billable hours by ten hours (specific, measurable, achievable and relevant) each month for the first six months of my career (time-bound).
  • To attend one (measurable) training session (specific and relevant) a month (time-bound and achievable) that will help to develop my career. 

If you’re established in your legal career…

As someone who is established in their legal career, you might be looking for a promotion, to take on more responsibility by mentoring a team or for a slight change in your career.

SMART goals could include:

  • I will earn a promotion to Partner by completing required training modules (specific, relevant, and achievable) in three months (measurable) and discussing with management at the end of next quarter (time-bound).
  • In the next six months (time-bound), I will support three (measurable and achievable) new trainees to develop their skills (specific and relevant) to support their legal career.

The next steps 

Once you have created your SMART goals, it is time to start implementing and tracking them.

Finding a tracking tool that works for you will be essential to managing and measuring your goals. You want something that allows you to plan, track, manage, automate, and report on your goals. This is the best way to keep yourself motivated! Reassess your goals as you go if you identify limitations in achieving your current goals.

Don’t forget to regularly check-in and celebrate your wins!                                

Is your SMART goal to make your next career move?

If you are looking for your first, or next step in your legal career to reach your SMART goals, head to the Jobs in Law job board to see what opportunities are available.