Mapping a development plan

Lawyers love to learn. Throughout our training, and then our professional career, we are gaining, refining, and implementing knowledge, and placing it in the context of our work.

It has been said that ‘books are a lawyer’s tools’ – and the know-how that books (and increasingly, of course, on-line resources) bring are the foundation of a legal practice.

And what skills, exactly, do we need to have acquired to be able to achieve that? As our in-house careers progress, how do we begin to understand what to develop, and as importantly, how to develop? As we grow in experience, and look to move to new and more complex roles, how do we begin to map our development into a plan so we can see when should we develop particular skills?

What to develop

Self-evidently, as you grow in your legal career, you will need to develop your legal knowledge, but you will also need to develop a range of related skills. 

The Development Map attached, together with the related Knowledge and Behaviours Framework and Skills, Training and Activity Sets suggests a range of skills, training and activities which you can use to structure a development plan for your own use. Ideally, you should develop your individual plan together with your line manager and HR or learning and development staff. 

You will see that the Development Map suggests a range and hierarchy of skills, training and activities which you might develop as you grow in seniority and experience, while the Framework and Sets outline a range of things that you are likely to need to know, behaviours you can develop, personal and professional development tools, and suggestions for presenting yourself.

The Map suggests that there are particular skills, training and activities which might be appropriate at a particular stage of development – together with core knowledge which all in-house lawyers will need. Each will build on the earlier sets as you grow in experience and knowledge, so that you can tailor your plan to your needs, and ensure that it is focused and relevant to your role. You can’t – and shouldn’t try to – do everything at once.

You will see that many of the areas which you might consider go beyond the purely technical legal – there are business and people skills; strategy and planning; some psychology – and of course some numbers skills. Your success as a lawyer will not just be about your black letter legal knowledge, but about how you can make things happen in your organisation by using that knowledge as a foundation. Equally, although you will almost certainly have developed legal knowledge in a particular specialism, you should be aware that in general counsel roles – whether at assistant/associate, business group, or group general counsel levels – you will need to bring broad, generalist legal analysis skills to the role. You will need to spot particular issues outside your specialism which others might miss, to ask searching questions which get to the heart of the issue, and be willing to look beyond the obvious to ensure that the real legal issues and risks have been identified and dealt with.

You may also find that development comes through taking responsibility for the other ‘hats’ which lawyers may wear while working in-house. These may well include acting as the company secretary, and having responsibility for a company secretariat function. Lawyers with this responsibility may also consider qualifying as a Chartered Governance Professional with ICSA: the Governance Institute. You may also find yourself broadening your experience through responsibility for other professional specialisms within the organisation such as Communications, Risk and Insurance, Health and Safety, Environment Social and Governance, Investor Relations or Strategy.

How to develop it

Personal development is a matrix of formal training, personal continuing professional development, personal and professional interaction through daily work, mentoring, networking and the range of individual contacts, and an understanding of the ‘glue’ of psychology, skills and techniques which allow you to pull it together – all the time increasing your effectiveness as a professional.

As such, you’ll see suggestions for developing your own strengths in working with others – how to manage meetings and ensure your voice is heard, how to manage your time and to contribute effectively; suggestions for developing your business skills including strategy and planning, numeracy, and presentation; and suggestions for building your own profile, including working across the organisation and being actively involved in the management and development of your legal team.

Just because you are a lawyer does not mean you are restricted to learning more about the law. As an in-house lawyer, you will almost certainly have access to the range of opportunities offered by your organisation, its learning and development and HR teams. In a larger organisation these can be very varied, and often lawyers don’t take advantage of them. In smaller organisations, the offerings may be different but you may be able to tailor something specially to your needs. As ever, don’t hesitate to ask – you will often find that colleagues are more than willing to share their expertise and experience with you. Remember, too, that the organisation wants you to succeed – the better you are at your job, the greater the value you offer to the organisation.

And when?

People often want to see a clear framework to progress through an organisation. While the Development Map does present a hypothetical timeline, it is important to realise that in any organisation – even the largest – progression through specialist functions such as legal isn’t simply a matter of years of post-qualification experience. It has to reflect the structure of the organisation, the opportunities available – and the challenges which have to be met as legal frameworks alter. An organisation operating in a difficult market or with external challenges may in fact present more opportunities for a lawyer than one in calm waters. Equally, while years of PQE are a guide, they can be no more than that – one person may be ready to be a Group General Counsel at 12 years of PQE, another may only be at the stage of a senior solicitor at that point. 

It follows that personal development is a continuous – and evolving – process. Although we present a Map and Framework for you to work with, they can only be a guideline for your personal circumstances and your organisation. Different circumstances may present themselves at different stages – we suggest that you might take advantage of secondments to different parts of your organisation, or different international areas, or perhaps of involvement in special projects. What these are and when they arise will inevitably depend on your organisation at the time, but the chance they give to interact with other parts of the organisation and learn about the way it works are invaluable.

A word about personal development

Organisations will have different structures and terminology for their development and learning activities, but one thing that is common is that you should ensure you, personally, have a development plan – and that it is personal to you. You must own it, you must take responsibility to populate it, review it – and ensure that you treat it and your personal development with the same degree of seriousness and professionalism as you treat your day-to-day work. Your organisation, your manager, and those around you will want to see you succeed and to help you, but it is important to realise that your personal development is your own responsibility – and your career progression is down to you, not to others. 

We hope that the Development Map we have provided will help you to take your career forward, and give you ideas to discuss and develop as you grow as a lawyer working in-house.


All PDF attachments:
Development Map 
Skills, Training and Activities  Sets
Knowledge and Behaviours Framework
Model Personal Development Plan