How to secure a Promotion in your early years of Practice: A Young Lawyer’s Guide

Working as a young lawyer in a commercial law firm in Nigeria, I noticed that many young lawyers struggle to secure a promotion in their early years of practice.

One of the major reasons for this problem is the lack of transparency and structure in most law firms in Nigeria. As a result of this, young lawyers are left clueless as to how to secure a promotion.

This usually results in young lawyers engaging in hard work which involves; keeping late nights, spending weekends at the office, taking more responsibilities than they can handle regularly, which ends up leaving young lawyers feeling overwhelmed from the stress and constant negative feedback.

How can this issue be resolved? How can young practicing lawyers secure a promotion in their early years of practice?

In answering this question, the saying “you have to work smart and not hard to succeed” comes to mind. This basically means that in order to secure a promotion, a young lawyer has to initiate ways to maximize his productivity level.

It goes beyond spending late nights in the office on weekdays and weekends, there are some extra steps that need to be taken to ensure that you are headed in the right direction and considered for promotion.

The steps are: ask the right questions, know when to ask these questions, volunteer for extra activities and learn how to satisfy your boss/supervisor.

Ask the right questions

As basic as this may sound, the first step in securing a promotion as a young lawyer is to ask your bosses/supervisors the right questions.

Examples of these questions are:

  • How am I fairing with work?
  • Am I performing at the level expected of me?
  • Is my performance at the level where my boss can give me additional responsibilities?

These questions will proffer feedback that a young lawyer can develop or work with to better their skills and knowledge in the practice of law. The feedback given will provide guidance and direction to a young lawyer seeking to secure a promotion.

If the feedback is negative, the next question that should be asked is, what can I do to improve?

When the answer is given, you now have the responsibility of putting the feedback into effect in a way that’s demonstrable, by ensuring you deliver good legal work.

This can be achieved by seeking help from your colleagues or immediate bosses, reading widely, asking questions to obtain clarity on a subject matter etc.

This shows seriousness, resilience, and determination to succeed, which every employer loves to see in his employee and will definitely give a young lawyer an edge over his peers at the next quarter when promotions are being considered.

If the feedback is positive, ensure that you maintain that level of excellence and even thrive to do better. Most people become comfortable when they get to certain levels in their career where they believe they are performing well. However, this can be dangerous as too much comfort breeds mediocrity.

Know when to ask the right questions?

The next step is realizing when to ask the questions and to achieve the best results from the question mentioned above. These questions have to be asked at the right time, which is usually at least 6 months before the next promotion quarter.

For example, appraisals in your law firm are usually done in December and promotion lists released in January. A young lawyer should ask the above-mentioned questions in June/July of that year. This will afford the young lawyer ample time to improve his skills and work on the feedback received from their boss or supervisor before the next promotion quarter.

Most young associates or lawyers tend to ask those questions after seeing the results of their yearly appraisals.  Usually, this is too late because there is not enough time before the promotion list is released to improve your skills.

If you have just secured a job in a law firm, you should be asking the above-mentioned questions after the first quarter or the first half of the year.

Volunteer for extra responsibilities at work

It is advised that young lawyers volunteer for extra responsibilities at work that will help showcase other skills a young lawyer may possess i.e. organizational skills, management skills.

However, this should not be done to the detriment of your legal work at the office. Therefore, time management has to be applied to enable a proper balance between participating in extra activities and the ability to deliver legal work.

It should also be noted that as a junior associate, the bulk of the work is your responsibility and as such your legal work should always be your primary responsibility.

Learn how to satisfy your boss/supervisor

I was once reprimanded by a Partner in my office for neglecting to keep him informed on every step I took while communicating with a Client on a particular matter, leaving him out of the loop.

The thing about this was that I did not think it was necessary to inform him because nothing major had happened, however, the partner I was dealing with was particular about knowing everything that happens in this case.

After reprimanding me he told me something that has stuck with me: “figure out the little things your boss likes, the way he likes his things done and ensure you do it that way”. He said that this little act goes a long way and will leave a lasting impression on your boss.

My point is that as a young lawyer you are encouraged to study your boss to know his likes and dislikes with respect to work and do everything with enthusiasm to satisfy him with your delivery.

These little acts can make you become one of your boss’s favorite and as a result, he may overlook your mistakes and also put in a good word for you when certain names are being considered for promotion.

Are you a young professional who has a lesson to share?  Let us know here.

Ral Obioha: I have always had a passion for inspiring others

My goal is to use my expertise and knowledge to improve the lives of my clients - Ral Obioha Click To Tweet

Ral Obioha holds several degrees; a Juris Doctorate degree from Howard University School of Law, a Masters of Law Summa Cum Laude from American University Washington College of Law and a dual Bachelor’s degree in History and Psychology Magna Cum Laude from Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia.

Eager to offer her legal expertise, Ral served as a Student Attorney in the Fair Housing Clinic, where she represented impoverished D.C. residents. She expanded her body of work in the legal field by becoming a member of the International Moot Court Team; participating in the D.M. Harish International Moot Court Competition in Mumbai, India, where her team won the Best Advocates Award. As a law student,

As a law student, Ral interned with several law firms in Washington D.C., gaining experience in Immigration Law and Civil Litigation. Prior to moving to Houston, Texas, Ms. Obioha worked at an esteemed boutique law firm in Washington, D.C. where she represented clients in Personal Injury, Immigration, Business Law, Real Estate Transactions, Criminal Appeals, as well as International legal matters. Before starting her own firm,

Before starting her own firm, Ral worked in one of the largest plaintiff’s Personal Injury firms in Texas representing clients in high profile auto and 18-wheeler trucking accident cases, as well as, premises liability and product liability cases. When she’s not working, Ral runs her inspirational blog, NwaVic and enjoys fine dining.

What are three things you gained and lost in the process of setting up your law firm?

I gained the quest for constant self-improvement, patience in service, and a stronger work ethic.

I lost time, care and concern for things and people who do not add positive value to my life or life path. Now, I surround myself with “good vibes” only.

I gained the quest for constant self-improvement, patience in service & a stronger work ethic Click To Tweet

Do you volunteer? If so, can you share any advice on volunteering as a way to build a career?

Yes, I volunteer at least once a month. Volunteering is an important avenue to not only contribute to your community, but to personally connect with the people in it. This gives you a gateway to free knowledge about the needs of your community and how you can meet them through the services you provide in your business or career.

By volunteering, you can get experience, gain/expand your skills, learn more about yourself and your potential to grow and develop, and build your confidence. It is also the definitely the purest way of networking and expanding your networking. I have made some lifelong connections through volunteering.

Tell us more about participating in the D.M. Harish International Moot Court Competition? How did you successfully lead your team to win an award?

D.M. Harish International Moot Court Competition is an annual competition that is hosted the Government Law College, Mumbai, India, in association with the DM Harish Foundation. The competition presents a unique International legal issue and invites law students from various parts of the world to come and compete. In 2011, I attended the competition with two esteemed class mates. We were asked to research and debate the legal issues surrounding international surrogacy.

I served as the researcher for my group and provided all the groundwork legal research we used to navigate the competition, and ultimately win an award. The experience was incredible. It took a lot of hardwork, dedication and late hours to win but it was an invaluable experience. I met law students (now lawyers) from all over the world, including Russia, Brazil, India and France with whom I still stay in touch.

What are your current career goals? How are you taking the steps to reach them?

My current goal is to continue to grow my law practice into a leading avenue through which my clients can reach their dreams, achieve their goals, and protect their estates. My goal is to use my expertise and knowledge to improve the lives of my clients.

I am taking various steps to achieve my goals by networking, volunteering, and most importantly, providing each client with quality legal solutions and specialized attention.

Can you tell us more about your inspirational blogging?

I have always had a passion for inspiring others. In 2011, I started a blog NwaVic. The purpose of the blog is to inspire and empower others “to aspire, to love and to live a life of purpose”. There I share inspirational thoughts, stories, and experiences through the lens of my own life experiences and journey. I blog about my spirituality, my experience in marriage, friendships, and courage.

Ral Obioha: The purpose of my blog is to inspire and empower others Click To Tweet

The blog also has a section “Dear NwaVic” where my readers can send me any question or issue they need a neutral opinion on. I blog about my spirituality, my experience in marriage, friendships, and courage. The blog also has a section “Dear NwaVic” where my readers can send me any question or issue they need a neutral opinion on.

The name “NwaVic” means “Daughter of Vic” and is inspired by my late dad whose name is Victor. I’m also on Instagram  and Facebook.

What has been your best fine dining experience to date?

Ohh, my favorite experience was at this restaurant in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2015. The restaurant literally sits on a tree with a view of the city of Rio. The service was amazing and the food was impeccable. The experience as a whole was so memorable, I think about it sometimes.

What three skills do you think every young woman lawyer needs to be successful?

Courage, self-confidence and discipline.

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