Be the Captain of Your Career

Robin D. Kardon
Managing Director
Major, Lindsey & Africa


The Captain of an aircraft has final authority over every aspect of a flight. She checks her flight plan, looks at the weather and always knows the condition of her vessel. She can see the successful outcome of her flight before she ever leaves ground because she has prepared for every contingency.

Can you say the same about your career? Are you truly in command?

By being the Captain of your career, you always know where youíve been and where you are going. You pilot your career.

My responsibility as a professional legal search consultant is to keep you on course. There are a few simple things you can do to make sure you are prepared to keep your career on course and be marketable, even if you arenít actively "in the market."



When I call potential candidates, Iím delighted to hear that they are happy with their jobs, getting along with everyone and doing interesting work. The problem is that most attorneys think their blissful state will last forever. But few attorneys join a firm and stay their entire career. Most people make at least one move (the average is five), and usually for very good reasons, such as a great opportunity or some change at their current firm that makes their position less appealing.

You must always be prepared. To that end, make sure:
  • Your resume is current: Your resume should include your current position, the work you are doing, current bar admissions and association memberships, and professional leadership positions you hold. Include the dates you have held professional positions: If you formerly served on a prestigious Bar Association committee, make sure you list the inclusive dates of your service. Donít simply list the memberships if you are not currently doing the work.
  • Your Representative Cases/Transactions list is up to date: Keep the last draft on your home computer. When you finish an unusually large or interesting deal, or handle a matter in which you are given significant responsibility, add it. This process will also give you opportunity to review the matters youíve previously listed and delete any that are out of date or pale in comparison to your latest victory. For example, if you are a litigator, the last time you edited your case list you may have included the first case in which you were permitted to examine a witness. Now, you have two significant second-chair experiences in bigger cases. Remove the less interesting experience in favor of the more significant recent ones.

Your resume is you, in a tiny package. Make that package as attractive as possible. Give some real thought to how you want to be perceived. Whatís the best thing you have going for yourself in your career? Did you go to a top-ten school? List your education first. Are you working for a prestigious law firm? List your experience first.

Make sure you explain your practice experience succinctly. If you have done the same type of work for more than one firm or company, list both firms at the top of your practice description and the dates you were at each. The more experienced you are in a specific practice area, the more attractive you will be to a potential employer who needs attorneys with that skill set.

Consider having multiple versions of your resume, each of which has a slightly different primary focus, to use in responding to different types of opportunities. Of course, each version should be accurate. In certain niche practices, such as intellectual property, Hatch-Waxman, ERISA, and the like, it pays to be specific in detailing your experience. In addition, highlight the different industries where youíve provided counsel. If you have significant practice experience in certain industries, emphasize that.

This recommendation should go without saying but, regrettably it does not- make sure your resume is substantively and grammatically correct and free of typographical errors. When I work with a new candidate who appears smart, professional and competent, it is disheartening to see basic spelling and syntax errors that most spell-check programs could have found! Even if you are an excellent proof-reader, ask a disinterested party to review your resume. I always ask non-attorneys - they are most likely to find typos and grammatical errors since they are not reading for content.

It is always a good idea to have a list of professional references up-to-date and ready to go. When you get your first job out of law school, the list may include a former Professor for whom you did research or employers in non-law related jobs.

As you gain practice experience, you will be able to add to the list lawyers who are familiar with your work. Make sure you maintain your relationships and stay in contact with attorneys who are favorably familiar with your work but are no longer at your firm or company. These people end up being your best professional allies - because you no longer work with them, you wonít be compromising the confidentiality of your job search by calling upon them for a reference when the time comes.


Take a moment. Think about it. What do you WANT? Look at your practice. Do you want more of a challenge? Is there a substantive type of work you are longing to do? Do you want to be a law firm partner? At the law firm youíre currently working for? What are the honest odds of that? How about in-house? Lawyers always talk about "going in-house." Thatís great, but do you really really know what in-house positions are all about?

There is a tremendous amount of information available about law firms and companies on the internet. Firm websites include attorney profiles, many complete with pictures and representative matters/cases handled. A Google search to find out more about firms and their attorneys is not considered prying, but take with a grain of salt the information you obtain there. Search engine executives themselves cannot explain this, but search results frequently list negative reports first!

If you decide you want to target in-house positions, what is your professional passion? Does the corporate leader in that industry have a legal department? If they do, how big is it? What is the culture? Where is the headquarters? How would you ever get hired by them?

You absolutely love law firm practice. Keeping track of your hours doesnít bother you a bit...but you want to work less and have more of a life. How do you find the right "lifestyle" firm? Or, you want more challenging, cutting-edge work in whatever your specialty is, and it is only available at the cityís top-tier law firms. How do you get in?


The best time to work with a recruiter is when you arenít looking. Thatís right; the best time to sit down with a recruiter is when you are happy with your current job. When you are happy with what you are doing, you are in the best position to consider your job and your career objectively. Itís a good time to take stock of where you are, and where youíd like to be.

Things change. Sometimes, despite everyoneís goals and best efforts, things donít go the way you planned. A "sea change" can happen literally overnight. Example: the partner you were doing great work for announced a great new client... which she will be taking to her terrific new firm!

If youíve piloted your career with expert advice and foresight, when itís time to go, youíll be prepared. Youíve already begun by keeping your credentials and references current. You should already be working with a search professional with global knowledge and local contacts. If you are considering a move, by all means do your own research. And then take advantage of the strong contacts your search consultant has with your targeted employers.

All job searches involve the same essential elements:
  • locating and researching suitable opportunities,
  • submitting your credentials,
  • interviewing, reviewing references and fielding offers.

If it sounds like a full-time job, it can be. Luckily for you, it is MY full-time job. It is incumbent upon you, the candidate, to be an excellent attorney. My job is to make sure YOU are in the right job.

By conducting your own search without consulting a search professional, you can diminish your chances of getting the job you want. Many firms and companies work exclusively with search firms to avoid reviewing thousands of resumes and/or dealing with the related follow-up calls. When you send a resume and cover letter to a firm on your own, you are an unknown quantity. When you are submitted by a recruiter, youíve been vetted by another professional. Many make the mistake of papering the town with resumes and then calling a search professional for help after. Youíve tied the consultantís hands, because submitting you a second time does not put you or your professional consultant in a favorable light. If you are going to send out your resume yourself, make sure to keep records of when and to whom.

Be particularly wary of working with multiple search consultants. Sending a resume for a recruiter to review prior to a personal meeting is perfectly acceptable and desired. But make sure that your resume is not submitted for any positions without your permission. Also, it is important to keep track of the potential employers that your credentials have been submitted to. Multiple submissions do not enhance your credentials, but in fact have the opposite effect of making you look desperate or disorganized.


You have done everything discussed in this article. You have reviewed, updated and revised your resume. You have taken inventory of your current position and honestly assessed it. What happens when you realize that there is nothing out there that will satisfy you professionally the way your current situation does. You are the one-in-a-million that hits it right the first time. In this instance, what do you get from a recruiter?
  • An honest assessment of where you stand in the marketplace;
  • The best, most up-to-date information about the legal community in your geographic area;
  • An objective review of your resume (just in case) and your transaction/case list;
  • Confirmation. Sometimes, the best thing search consultants can do for candidates is confirm that there is something else out there should things sour at a later date.

Always remember...if youíre prepared, thoughtful, and armed with the support of a professional search consultant, youíll always be ready for what comes next- the mark of any good Captain.

Contact Information

Robin D. Kardon
Managing Director
Major, Lindsey & Africa
35 E. Wacker Drive
Suite 2150
Chicago, Illinois 60601
(312) 372-1010 Ext. 125

© Robin D. Kardon.
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