For Women in Law By Women in Law

Dear Lil – I am being overlooked to work on major files. How do I get senior lawyers to notice my work product, take me seriously and consider adding me to more interesting and complex files? Signed ~ Over being Overlooked

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Guest Blogger, Abigail Turner discusses how to showcase your work and abilities in favour of being noticed by more senior lawyers and finding more opportunity within your career.

Dear Over being Overlooked:

Being overlooked at work is not fun. Working hard and not having your efforts be noticed is extremely frustrating. I had originally been told that if I kept my head down and worked hard, I would be successful. In today’s climate, the outcome of that approach will likely result in you becoming overworked as well as overlooked. That in turn may make you feel like you do not belong. Fortunately, you are not powerless to change that situation. The key is to find a diplomatic way to showcase your work and your abilities.

First, ask yourself if you’re being realistic about the amount of appreciation you’re expecting from your colleagues or senior lawyers. As we all know, lawyers tend to be very busy people and the feedback you crave may not be as much or as detailed as what you receive. However, the fact you may not be receiving a lot could be reasonable given the nature of your law firm. Try taking a detailed, personal litmus test of your work. What is your work result? Is it unusual or extraordinary or are you simply putting in a great deal of time and effort to produce a mediocre product? Just because you are proud of it does not mean that it is a piece of work that will put you in a position to be considered for big files. If, however, you think it is or should be, consider getting a second opinion from a slightly senior colleague who may be able to give you some real feedback before approaching the senior lawyer on the file.

You may wish to talk to other lawyers you work with about specific projects. Choose a time period, for example the last few months, and ask for their feedback on where your strengths lie and where you could learn. Use specific examples of pieces of work you have done. Reviewing and getting feedback on specific work may indicate where improvement is needed but may also trigger a consideration which will enable that lawyer to seriously review your ability to move to work on bigger files.

Paradoxically, praising and appreciating other lawyers’ work could be of benefit to you. They will often respond by returning the favour noting that you are someone who works well within a team. When consideration is being given to adding another lawyer on a major piece of work, this positive feedback could generate the necessary profile and optimism to include you on the team being assembled to work on the file.

All of that being said, it’s important to be wary of the need for constant external validation. While being appreciated and openly valued for your work is nice, do not expect all your motivation to come from external sources. As many can attest, real fulfilment comes from within, which will then reflect on you going forward. Focus on what you do well and try not to dwell on anything that went wrong. Look for ways to make your work and accomplishments more visible. If you are pleased with your work, have a good result or a very happy client do not keep your great job to yourself. Do share with your colleagues, as they may be able to pick up some pointers as to what went well, as well as keeping you in mind when adding to teams on other files.

Working hard and working smart remain key attributes to achieving success. However, the hardest working and the smartest lawyers may not necessarily be those who have the most interesting, rewarding or satisfying careers. Try to be both proactive and receptive. Know what you want, focus on the goal and try to move toward the results. At the same time try to be receptive to new ideas, new situations and new opportunities. Know yourself and reflect on your interests and your strengths. Consider challenging your comfort zone. Demonstrate your skills, abilities and feel free to discuss your ideas and successes with others. Look for opportunities when they may present. They may not look the way you first imagine them, for example it might be a small task, but that small task might actually be part of a larger issue which will then open the door to working on the major file itself. You need to be proactive by trying to identify your interests and then explore those interests with enthusiasm. It will be engaging for others to work around you if you are excited by what you are doing.

About the Author

Abigail Turner is a partner at Harper Grey LLP and a member of their Health Law Group. Abigail assists clients with a variety of issues arising from the practice of medicine. She is community-minded and very involved with Rotary International, an organization of more than 1.2 million business, professional and community leaders.

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