This one is for the Legal Secretaries/Admin Staff

How you present yourself is not just about how you dress or how you brush your hair. It is also about how you present yourself in written correspondence. At the risk of sounding like an old person, spelling and grammar are still very important for employers. If your writing goes directly out to clients or customers with incorrect spelling or grammar, like it or not, it is a reflection on you and the organisations. Similarly, if you present work to a supervisor which is badly set out with spelling mistakes, it is frustrating to have to correct it.

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The most common errors are with words known as ‘homonyms’ – words that sound alike but mean different things. Changing one letter in a word can change the whole meaning of a sentence. Knowing which is which is important.


Accept, Except:

Accept is a verb meaning to receive something or acknowledge something. Except is usually a preposition meaning excluding. I will accept all the packages except that one. Except is also a verb meaning to exclude but not used as often as the work exclude – for example: . Please except that item from the list.


Affect, Effect:

Affect is usually a verb meaning to influence.  Effect is usually a noun meaning result. The drug did not affect the disease, and it had several adverse side effects. Effect can also be a verb meaning to bring about. Only the prime minister can effect such a dramatic change. The best way to know the difference is to ask if the word ‘the’ goes in front – that makes it a noun.


Elicit, Illicit:

Elicit is a verb meaning to bring about. Illicit is an adjective meaning unlawful. The lawyer was unable to elicit information from the client about illicit drug use.


Principle, Principal:

Principal is a noun meaning the head of a school or an organisation or a sum of money. Principle is a noun meaning a basic truth or law. The principal taught us many important life principles.


There, Their, They’re:

This is one of the most common errors.

There is an adverb specifying place; it is also a statement. For example:

Adverb: Fiona is standing there doing nothing. Statement: There are two plums left.

Their is a possessive pronoun, used to denote ownership of something

They’re is a contraction of they are. John and his partner finally sorted out their finances, as a result they’re really happy today.


Here is an example of the proper use of all three in one sentence:

If you look over there, you will see that John and Fiona have their new car – they’re so happy with it.


Your, You’re:

Another common problem.

Your is a possessive pronoun; you’re is a contraction of you are. You’re going to be in trouble if you don’t wear your high vis vest.


Licence, License

Licence is a noun, license is a verb. You get a driver’s licence, which means you are licensed to drive a car.


Council, Counsel

This is a tricky one. Council is a noun meaning a stator body. Counsel is usually a verb meaning to give advice. For example: The Council took advise from experts who counseled against the development. In legal circles however Counsel is also a noun, referring to a barrister – we sent a brief to Counsel.


Practice, Practise

This one is easy to remember. Practice is a noun (and ‘ice’ at the end of the word is a noun), but practise is a verb. For example, The practice is one with a rich history. They practise their speeches every day


It is tricky, but with practice (not practise) you will get these right. Are there any that you find confusing that are not on this list?



Networking, as we know, is a skill you can learn but one that people sometimes hate to have to do. There is so much to think about – how much to drink (or not to drink), where are the business cards, who are the important people to meet etc.

However the so called ‘soft skills’ needed for personal and professional development are not soft at all – they are human characteristics that will take you far, and can be applied equally as successfully to networking. Here are some tips to sue these ‘soft skills’


Keep your eye out for someone on their own at networking events

Is there someone not in a group? Ask them to join you. Can you notice someone standing awkwardly to one side? Turn and make room for them to join your group.


Be on time, or even better, early

Being always late is just rude – it delays others, delays decisions and destroys trust. And that is just at work! Vow to be on time, and plan to be early. Being early to networking events means that you are able to join conversations early – and we use the word conversation deliberately – it is a two way thing not about you talking about someone


Connect people because you can

If you know two people who would like each other, or work well together, or who have mutual business interests – introduce them. In person is grat , but email after the vent is just as useful. I can’t tell you how many business relationships have been built on something as simple as this.


Don’t just collect business cards

There is no need to keep a collection of business cards – if you’re given one, connect on LinkedIn and put the details straight into your contacts. use the tag and notes function in LinkedIn, and the notes field in contacts. Send an email following the introduction to et up a meeting or just to say thank you.


Connecting on LinkedIn afterwards

To be completely honest, getting a ‘I’d like to add you to professional network on LinkedIn’ message is boring – although I admit I do make allowances for people who hit the ‘connect’ button o mobile devices and the message goes automatically because I have done it myself. Always go to the person’s LinkedIn profile and connect from there as it allows you to add a personal message, for example – “It was lovely to meet you last night at xx event, and I’d like to add you to my professional network etc’


Remember – networking is not just about what you can get

Networking is also about what value you can provide to others and developing relationships. One of my favourite stories is of a young graduate lawyer offering a lift to someone at the airport in a long taxi queue. They exchanged cards as the man wanted to end him a note. Turns out he was the CEO of a large listed company and they stayed in touch, mostly by email but occasionally saw each other at events. Ten years after the initial taxi ride that large company listed and the young graduate was by that stage a senior associate at a mid tier firm. Guess who won the tender for the IPO over the big nationals? And guess who became a partner on the back of winning that work? That initial act of kindness developed into a lifelong client relationship – but it started 10 years after the initial contact.


Networking really is all about people – remember to use your soft skills not necessarily your selling skills for success.



It doesn’t seem that long ago that we wrote about 15 things you could do for your career in 2015. Where did that year go? How many of those things did you do?

Rather than add one more thing to your ‘list of things to do’, I decided to dilute this list a little and set out the most important things I think you should do for your career in 2016:zzz resolutions


Look forward to the end of 2016

Imagine yourself in December 2016, looking back on the year that was.   What are some of the words you would like to use to describe what you feel? Proud? Accomplished? Happy? Content?

Here are some words you don’t want to use to describe your year – disappointed, exhausted, sad, angry

So decide now how you want to feel at the end of the year, and remember that feeling. Every career step or decision you take needs to be working towards that feeling, and when you find yourself feeling negative thoughts, remember how you want to be feeling and work out what you need to do to change that situation, or how you can use the negative experience to your advantage.


How to get there

Once you decide how you want to feel at the end of the year, write down three or four significant goals you want to achieve. ‘Achieve’ is the most important word here – these goals must be SMART goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic (or what Resources do you need)
  • Time bound.


Prepare for appraisals/reviews

I believe you need to start preparing for your annual performance review the day after your last one. If you have not already started doing that, start now. Review your last appraisal:

  • Were you happy with the appraisal?
  • Did you act on the feedback you were given?
  • Did you set goals?
  • Did you achieve them?
  • Do you need a new goal?
  • What feedback from clients and supervisors have you received?
  • What major projects have you been involved with?
  • Do you need any stretch assignments?


Keep a ‘little jar of awesome’

A friend told me about this ‘self help’ tool she used and it is such a great idea I decided to try it myself this year! She keeps a jar on her desk and writes a note on a post it or other small piece of notepaper every time something good happens at work – achieving a new goal, getting good feedback from a supervisor or a client, nailing a presentation, learning a new skill, someone expressing gratitude etc.   Write the date down, the event and how it made you feel. At the end of the year you can look back on your ‘little jar of awesome’ and remember the many times you succeeded and felt great at work.

Make 2016 your whole year of awesome!

Going on parental leave? Plan your career before you do.

“How will having a baby affect my career”, is a lament we often hear, and it is such a difficult question to answer, as each person is different. The answer, though, is largely up to you. Of course when we hear men ask this question, we know that we really will have achieved a level playing field!the-need-for-paid-parental-leave-L-Edsji8

Having a baby is a big step in anyone’s life, whether mother or father, and for those with career aspirations, it is important to plan your career around any extended periods of leave you might be taking.

As with all difficult or perceived difficult situations, communication is the golden rule. The following are our suggestions for making sure communication in relation to not just your leave but your return to work remains open and that there are no misunderstandings:

Meet with your supervisor

As soon as possible after you advise of your intention to take parental leave, it is important that you meet with your supervisor to discuss your career intentions and how best to minimise the impact on your career. In the world we live in it is often easy for managers to make assumptions about what people expect or don’t expect from their careers once parenthood hits them. Things you will need to discuss including:

  1. How to stay in touch with the firm – decide how much you want to stay in touch with the firm and what is happening in the firm and your colleagues. You could request that information about your group and the firm be sent to a private email address or you could decide to keep your email operational for you to check emails from time to time. This is entirely up to you but be careful if you keep your operational email open that you don’t get caught up in doing work when you’re on parental leave, unless of course you want to. Make a visit for the usual ‘ baby showing’ and keep up regular visits or contact with colleagues, This can be via email communication, coffee or lunch catch-ups or a drink after work one night, with or without the baby.
  2. Salary – most organisations have a set program for reviewing salaries. If you are taking an extended period of parental leave, it is highly likely that salary reviews will take place while you are away from the office. Make sure that you continue to be on the list of salaries to be reviewed, particularly if your leave commences just prior to the salary review process. If your salary is not reviewed in the normal course of events, then on your return to work, salary bands are likely to have shifted upwards and you will be “behind the eight ball” in terms of your recommencement salary. If your leave starts just before salary review time, then it is imperative that you stay on the list of staff to be reviewed given that most reviews take place on the basis of performance over the last 12 months.
  3. Decide how much you want to know about clients and how much you want to stay in touch with clients – if you are quite senior in your career you have probably established very good client relationships. It is important that you let your supervisor know if you wish to continue to be invited to client social events and be kept up to date with what is happening with the client. Of course you can use your own research to keep an eye on what is happening with your clients in the press and through their website, and other outlets.
  4. Do you want to make yourself available for client work or not – while you are on parental leave, it is assumed that you don’t want to do any work, however if there comes a point where you are happy to be involved in work matters, make sure you let your supervisor know. This is also a good way for a gradual return to work on a limited hour’s basis.

By showing you are committed to continuing your career, your return to work will be a much smoother transition than if you are absent from work for an extended period of time with no contact.

Remember – out of sight is out of mind.

How to commit career suicide

The internet is full of embarrassing stories of people who have ruined their careers by either an inappropriate social media gaffe or by becoming the latest YouTube sensation in an embarrassing way.

No one wants to become famous in that way; least of all lose a job because of it.  However there are much simpler ways you can commit career suicide without going to those extremes:

Don’t keep up to datecareer suicide

It’s imperative in any industry but in particular in professional services firms, that you keep up to date with changes in practice and procedure.

According to Denning & Brown in A New Culture of Learning“The half-life of a learned skill is 5 years”.  This means essentially that half of what you learned 5 years ago is now irrelevant which could mean that everything you learned 10 years ago is likely to be irrelevant or out of date.  If you don’t keep up to date with what you need to, you too will soon be obsolete and irrelevant yourself.

Indulge in office gossip and politics

If you become known as a person who indulges in gossip, innuendo and office politics, it can be career ending, not career enhancing.  You might for example take the view that “knowledge is power” but if you use that knowledge against someone it may well come back to haunt you.  Be the person instead who people can rely on to confide in and keep their confidence.

Criticise management decisions

If you want to be promoted within an organisation, you have to be seen to be supporting management decisions, not criticising them openly.  If you have a problem with a decision management has made, it is your role to deal with that in an appropriate way, and quietly, rather than get on the “criticism warhorse” with more junior staff. Leadership comes in surprise packages and this is one way you can show your potential.

Put down your previous employer in interview

When asked “Why did you leave your previous job” the worst thing you can do is start criticising your previous employer and all the things they did wrong for you.  The person interviewing you will immediately start to wonder what your contribution was to that situation and also wonder what will happen in their  employment if that’s your attitude.

Say “That’s not my job”

People who “work to rule” and seek out their position description to decide if something they’ve been asked to do is part of it, will not be perceived to be team players or working in the best interests of the organisation.  Being seen as someone that can be relied on to get a job done and participate in a team environment is the best way to be.

Behave inappropriately at social functions

You can be forgiven once for becoming inappropriately drunk at a work social function.  Possibly twice.  But if you do this every single time you go out with work friends, you will develop a reputation and soon you will find that what was once considered funny will now be considered inappropriate.  And the invitations will stop coming or people will avoid you.

Not long ago we posted a blog about your personal brand (  Your brand is about your values and what you want to be known for.  It’s best not to be known as someone who is willing to commit career suicide.

How to tell if it’s time for a new job

If you’re no longer going into work with a smile on your face and a skip in your step and the thought of talking to your boss one more time makes you think about staying in bed, it might be time to look for a new job.

Understanding why you want to leave a job is important in terms of how to go about looking for a new one. Here are some of the signs it’s time to move on:changes ahead

  • You start being late to work every day – having trouble getting out of bed, unless there’s a medical reason, is a sign that there’s a certain lack of enthusiasm for going to work, and it might seriously be time to ask yourself why.
  • You don’t smile as much anymore – being miserable at work is not only no fun for you but it’s no fun for your work colleagues either. If you struggle to find enjoyment at work, even with your colleagues, then it’s not just a phase, it’s time for a new adventure.
  • You’re always critical – if you are constantly critical of management decisions or anything to do with work, then that is a big sign that you’re disengaged and unless you can find a way to re‑engage with your employer, it’s best you find that engagement elsewhere.
  • You find work boring – if you’re doing the same things over and over again, think about whether there is an opportunity to learn new skills or if you need to go elsewhere to do that. Oftentimes supervisors will take the “path of least resistance” and give you work because you’re a “safe pair of hands”. Try talking to your supervisor to get a different sort of work and if that doesn’t or can’t change then say farewell and head off somewhere else.
  • You actively dislike your work colleagues – if you have nothing in common with your work colleagues, including your supervisor, and you have started to dislike them as people, then it’s not about them, it’s about you. Don’t torture yourself with trying to like them or get them to like you – do yourself a favour and find enjoyment elsewhere.
  • Your values don’t align – this sounds incredibly deep but in fact it’s not. A good example is someone who cares very deeply about social justice, and would like to do work for the marginalised in society and really values pro bono work but the corporate organisation they work for, won’t give time to you to give back to the community. Your values and the organisation’s values do not align and it’s a recipe for disaster. You’ll become more and more miserable and need to find somewhere where your values are aligned.
  • You’ve been sitting on the same salary for three years – global financial crisis or not, if you’ve stagnated salary wise while the cost of living has increased, that’s a sign that you’re not being valued. Unless an honest conversation doesn’t fix the issue, you will in all likelihood receive a higher salary if you go elsewhere.

Everyone gets itchy feet from time to time – but you need to ask yourself if it is just itchy feet or something more serious. It is said that the current generation of young employees get those itchy feet sooner than previous generations. No longer are people with the same organisation their whole working lives. Like marriages, which end in divorce, employment relationships eventually tire and, like divorce, it may be as simple as “irreconcilable differences” rather than one thing that causes you to want to leave.

And of course, when you’re ready to move on, we would be delighted to help you!


Your Career – Taking Stock

Before you can commence writing a career plan, it is important to look at where you are now, and what brought you to this place, as well as where you want to go. ‘Take Stock’ of your life and career to date before deciding where you want to go.

Taking stock involves:

  • Looking at where you are now
    • How did you get here?
    • What decisions led you to be here?
    • Do you have any regrets?
    • If you could do things differently, would you?
    • What has been a highlight for you?strengths 1
  • What are your values?
    • What do you value most about your role and yourself?
    • What is most important to you (choose three things)
    • Is the balance between your work and other interests about right?
    • Do your personal values align with the firm’s values?
  • What motivates you?
    • Does what you do provide you with fulfillment and enjoyment?
    • What work activities give you the greatest sense of achievement?
    • What do you want to learn?
    • What does the firm you work for do that provides you with a sense of satisfaction?
  • What are your strengths?
    • Do you know what you are good at?
    • Do you understand what lies in their shadows (
    • Do you have any unique skills or gifts?
    • What feedback have you had from others about your strengths?
  • How do others see you?
    • What is your perception of how colleagues and clients see you?
    • What is your relationship like with others?
    • Do you have good self-awareness?
    • Are you able to act on feedback given?
    • Do you need to have a personality profile done to understand your personal preferences in terms of behaviour?
  • Where do you want to go?
    • What are your career aspirations?
    • What do you want to do in your life other than career?
    • What does your preferred work culture look like and is it where you are now?
    • Do you have a fall back position if your career doesn’t give you what you are looking for?

Get the most out of a career planning conversation

If you’re lucky enough to work for someone who wants you to succeed and help you develop your career, then you will at some stage be asked to participate in a career planning conversation process. To get the most out of this process you will need to:Career 1

  • Be honest and open. Talk about your career aspirations in terms of what you want, rather than what you think the person wants to hear, or what someone else thinks they should be.
  • Be prepared to ask questions of your supervisor. This is particularly important if your aspirations include partnership. It is important to ask pertinent questions about the path to partnership so you have as much information as you can get.
  • Discuss your current work in terms of your career path – are there any projects or work types you need to have experience with? Are there any clients or other partners to whom you need exposure?
  • Document your agreed goals as a career plan and diarise to follow up and check on your progress. If necessary, arrange quarterly meetings with your supervisor to check on your progress and realign your goals if you have gone off track. Your first career plan can form the basis of your next performance review and an annual career planning discussion.
  • Allow for change – life is evolving and so are careers. You need to be prepared to be able to make changes to your plan as things change. This can include your interests – just because you think in one direction at the age of 27 doesn’t mean you have to be stuck with that for the next 30 years!
  • Accept that responsibility for your career is yours – even if your firm supports you and provides you with lots of development opportunities, it is your responsibility to take advantage of them and develop a sustainable career.

Secondments are a good career move

Have you considered a client secondment as part of your career plan? If not, don’t dismiss it as something that will detract from your rise up the ranks in your firm. Secondments have many benefits – to you, your firm and also the client.Secondment

If you are offered the opportunity to take up a client secondment think about the following:

  • Is it a strategic client connection, ie. a client that the firm is trying to develop and which has good work?
  • Is it an area of work that interests you?
  • Will the work be challenging? Check the level of authority you will have to make sure the work is at a level that will enhance your skills or develop new ones.

If the answers to the above questions are ‘yes’ then a secondment will be very beneficial for you:

  • you will be exposed to the client in a way that enables you to understand, in more depth, the industry in which the client works
  • you will be exposed to broader work than what you are currently undertaking in the firm
  • you will develop an understanding of what a client expects from the legal advisers
  • you will also develop relationships with a greater number of people at the client organisation, and in doing so, within your firm as well
  • because of the relationships you develop, you are likely to have work referred directly to you on your return to the firm.

Before going on a secondment talk to your supervising partner and the partner responsible for that client (if they are different people) about their expectations of you from the secondment. In this discussion it is also important to make sure that the secondment fits in to your personal career plan and discuss that with them as well.

Find out as much as you can about the client, its industry, its needs and any relationship ‘red flags’. If there have been problems in the relationship, knowing about them makes it easier to manage them.

While it will be annoying to have to check two lots of emails, make sure you don’t miss out on training and CLE opportunities within the firm. Where possible, take someone from the client organisation with you – just as secondments themselves are a ‘value add’ for the client, so are training opportunities, with the added bonus of being able to introduce the client to more people in the firm.

During the course of the secondment, stay in touch with your firm and supervising partners.

If for whatever reason it is not working, speak to your supervising partner at the earliest opportunity, as small problems are better dealt with early before they become big problems.

However, most importantly, on your return, how do you capitalise on your secondment? These are the four most important things:

  1. Debrief with the client
  2. Debrief with your supervising partner and client relationship partner
  3. Revisit your career plan and make sure that what you learned while on secondment is not lost, and that it fits within your career plan – and your plan may need to be reviewed if you have developed an interest in a new area of law
  4. Develop a plan to make regular contact with those you worked with at the client

Structured well, a secondment is a unique opportunity to deepen client relationships, increase your industry knowledge and improve client and legal skills.

7 Ways To Truly Develop Your Career

Career Planning 101!

We have written before about what ‘the best’ do in developing their careers (read that article here).

This time we are talking about some of these things in more detail.

Internal RelationshipsDevelop your Career 2

Good professional and personal relationships within your immediate team are important – but so are relationships with others in the firm.  If you want your career to progress you will need others to back you, not just your immediate supervisor.  Developing these relationships can also expose you to new work, clients and opportunities, crucial to career development.

Develop these by friendly greetings and asking people’s names when you meet them. Remembering names is also useful!  Participate in firm social activities and educational programs, and get involved in firm committees.

Industry involvement

Get to know the industry in which your clients work in detail.  Become a member of relevant industry associations and read relevant industry magazines and newspaper articles.  Know who the centres of influence are in the relevant industry and follow those people on LinkedIn, as well as other thought leaders.

If you are considering memberships, make sure the membership of those organisations are made up of people across a broad professional group.

Business Development

Understand that you are never too young to be involved in developing client relationships and looking for ways to add value to those relationships. You can do this by attending industry events, writing articles, attending and participating in external as well as internal client seminars.  Most importantly, stay in touch – the friends you make at University and in the early days of your career may one day be clients or potential clients.

Identify your strengths and weaknesses – honestly

Be honest with yourself about what you do well and what you can improve.  Don’t like public speaking?  Learn to love it and practice every presentation.  Good at creative writing?  Consider writing a regular column or article for an industry magazine.  Accept constructive feedback and act on it.

An honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses is necessary in order to truly develop.

If you have not already done so, undertake one or more of the behavioural assessments which will not only give you an insight into your own behavioural preferences, but will enable you to gain insight into others.

On the Job training

Every matter you conduct, or are involved in will teach you something, whether it be new technical skills, client skills, drafting, negotiation, or a myriad of other skills. If you find, however, that you are continuing to have the same sort of work delegated to you, you should be prepared to speak up and ask for more challenging work. Which leads us to…

Stretch Assignments and secondments

Stretch assignments are those matters that you may not think you have the capability to do, really would like to do but which will stretch you and your ability, and potentially your confidence.  You will learn more from putting your hand up for stretch assignments than in doing anything else.  Don’t make the mistake of fearing them – they are challenges, but worthy ones.

Similarly, client secondments are career development opportunities that you should embrace. You will learn about how clients use legal services, what clients expect, and how clients perceive lawyers and their advice.

Track your progress

Decide what you want your career to look like, track your progress, and you will get to where you want to go faster.

Happy Career Planning!