Advance Your Legal Career by ‘Upskilling’ and ‘Reskilling’

Woman sitting at table and taking notes at home office. African woman working from home.

For the past five years, LinkedIn Learning has produced a Workplace Learning Report, which collates survey data from thousands of learning and development (L&D) professionals, managers, and learners. In 2022, L&D professionals indicated that “upskilling and reskilling” were their top priorities when it comes to workplace learning.

There are always hits and misses in reports like this, but upskilling and reskilling feel especially on the money when it comes to professional development for lawyers, especially given the last two years and The Great Resignation (or The Great Renegotiation?).

What are upskilling, reskilling, and internal mobility?

To start, let’s define upskilling and reskilling. I’m also going to add “internal mobility,” as it’s related.

Upskilling is the process of upgrading the skills used in your current role. For example, learning new ways to use technology, applying project management processes to your workflow, or acquiring soft skills, such as managing difficult conversations or recognizing bias to better understand the position of a diverse range of clients.

Reskilling, on the other hand, relates to preparing for a different role or new responsibilities in your current role. A key element of reskilling is that it requires skills you haven’t focused on before. This process is often overlooked in organizations; if someone is successful in one role it’s often assumed that they will be successful in another. But being a great litigator doesn’t mean you’ll be a great manager. These are two very different jobs that have two very different skill sets. So, reskilling is key.

Internal mobility is often an outcome of successful upskilling and reskilling, but it can drive it too. As the name suggests, internal mobility is the movement of people to different positions within an organization. But it goes beyond hiring or promoting from within. Organizations that benefit from internal mobility have a clear understanding of the benefits of promoting from within, a strategy for both vertical and lateral movement, and transparency with their employees around the application.

The benefit of professional development in areas that support your career may seem obvious. However, when it comes to upskilling, reskilling, and internal mobility, the important part is that you’re intentional about it.

While the physiological and mental health benefits of learning are well documented, not all learning benefits you professionally. So, take joy from learning the piano, but get ahead through upskilling and reskilling.

How does this apply to lawyers?

Regular readers of my blogs on the Commission’s website and in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (I know who you are, and I appreciate you both…) know that I recommend taking 30 minutes once a year to pick a topic to improve on, then selecting CLE courses that help you move toward that goal.

Well, here’s another 30-minute challenge: Use that same approach when thinking about upskilling and reskilling.

As I wrote in the (subscription required) Law Bulletin, if you aren’t sure what to focus on, try this simple “back of the envelope” activity:

  1. List all topics that you would be uncomfortable discussing with colleagues. (These are your top priority topics.)
  2. List all areas in which you seek advice from others. (These should be your secondary priority topics.)
  3. List all areas in which people seek advice from you. (These should be your lowest priority topics.)

Importantly, get into the habit of reflecting on how you want to develop as a lawyer, a colleague, and a part of your community.

As we gain experience and move up the proverbial ladder, we can face fewer challenges when it comes to our decisions, our processes, and our direction, so it’s important to stay humble and prioritize honest reflection. Remember, the environment we are working in isn’t – and will never – standstill.

What does this mean for CLE?

Finally, let’s not forget the CLE providers. The expanded interpretation of what qualifies for professional responsibility CLE gives you a lot of leeway to be innovative in exploring new topic areas and methods of teaching.

We encourage CLE courses that are focused, purposeful, and provide lawyers with real-world tools that they can apply in their practices with ease. By being clear in your course’s goals, you can help attorneys make informed decisions when upskilling and reskilling for their next set of challenges.

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