being lawyers · professional life

The thing about job titles

… is that it’s just a title. Job titles do not describe the work that you’re actually doing and what value it has to you and your development.

Take the title “Administrator”. I’m not necessarily speaking of an Administrator in the legal industry, but any type of industry.

What is an Administrator? Do they “administer” stuff? What does that even mean?

Whilst I appreciate that the title may give you some “idea” of what work that is, and many people would make assumptions about what that job entails, it doesn’t truly give an explanation of the tasks, responsibilities involved in the job nor does it speak of the skill sets of the person who holds the position.

For the record, Administrators are exceptionally talented people. They can, and often do, embody many (and in some cases all) of the following other tasks or responsibilities within their job:

  • personal assistant (don’t get me started on how broad that title can be!)
  • project manager
  • accounts receivable
  • accounts payable
  • appointment setter
  • client liaison officer
  • receptionist
  • typist
  • transcriptionist
  • procurement officer
  • office manager
  • contract manager
  • purchasing officer
  • IT consultant
  • multi-tasker
  • fire putter-outer

What the above list is designed to demonstrate is this; the title alone doesn’t tell you much of anything about what the person who holds that role does, what skills they have or their experience.

Thinking back to the legal industry; why is this important? Thinking the above through for a moment, gives us a glimpse and perhaps encouragement not to judge a book by it’s cover and also to redirect your focus on the fundamental job responsibilities, skills and experience it offers.

Whether your searching for a first job, fresh out of uni, or you’ve been in law a while, this is a meaningful and valuable thought process to undertake.

If you’re a person in the “first job” category of this thought process, think about what the job may offer you in developing your skill sets, giving you experience in the industry, how much exposure you may have that industry, the workplace, the culture, and how valuable that could be.

If you’re a person in the “been in it a while” category of this thought process, the process of considering the work may come a little easier because you’ve had the experience in working in the field, so you know what kind of things to expect in terms of the work. However, when you’re looking at a title, the work description is going to be all that more important.  It can be hard for people to leave a certain title behind, particularly when people associate titles with importance. It’s also impacted by ego. It’s ok; “ego” isn’t a dirty word; we all have one. I think the more we acknowledge that we have an ego, the better we are able to understand it and [possibly] keep it in check, when necessary.  It’s fair to say that leaving behind a “senior associate” title or “director” title can be pretty hard, having regard to these things. While the title may feel like a ‘backward’ step in your career, if the work is good, challenging, exciting, and gives you a chance to really grow, develop and ticks all your boxes, what real difference does the title make?

I think this thought process is important for two reasons:

  1. a constant reminder not to judge a book (i.e. a job) by it’s cover (i.e. it’s title) ;
  2. to provide an insight into the value of a job opportunity even if the title doesn’t say what you would prefer.

For the non-lawyer titled jobs, there can be so much valued gained in experience in jobs that are not technically legal practice that can place you well for further development. This is particularly so for those that have finished uni and have found it difficult to find the right graduate role.  This is particularly so where the non-practice job is within a legal environment. (A common example may be a paralegal or a legal assistant role; these jobs are exceptionally valuable to a law student or graduate looking to learn about working in law). The kinds of opportunities that can present themselves from such an experience can include:

  • on the job experience;
  • exposure to legal practice;
  • learning from new colleagues who are lawyers and non-lawyers;
  • networking;
  • exposure to and experience in marketing;
  • upskilling and professional development seminars (internal and external);
  • opportunity to be considered when new jobs become available in the business;
  • experience in dealing with clients/customers;
  • working with individuals and different size teams;
  • working on projects with others;
  • understanding the business of law works.

Administrative roles in law can be the most valuable thing on your resume and also the thing that makes you stand out against the rest of the candidates vying for a job as a practitioner.

Some employers even value experience like this over the value of exceptional grades. The reason? Because the practice of law is so wildly different to the theory we learn in uni. A person can be an exceptional law student, with the best possible grades, but could have real difficulty in dealing with clients and/or colleagues or managing a file. Conversely, a person can have great real life experience working within law but have mediocre grades. Grades are absolutely important; there’s no doubt about that. However, what is important to remember is that there is incredible value in other attributes outside of grades.

Experience is invaluable to standing out and demonstrating your point of difference when you are advocating and selling yourself in the job application process.

This same approach can be useful when you’re been in practice a while as well when tossing up between practising roles that have different titles, like “associate”, “senior associate”, “director/partner” etc etc. Whilst once upon a time, these titles indicated a certain level of seniority, but there is starting to be a shift in this line of thinking. There are many practitioners that have been in practice for 10, 15, 20 years and hold the title of “lawyer”.  A person’s title is not the valuable part of their role, it is the years and breadth of their experience that speaks to their quality of work and skills in providing exceptional legal service to the public.

It is easy to say, but don’t be worried about what other people think, either. At the end of the day, your career is yours; not theirs. Fundamentally, it is the work itself that makes a difference to our growth, development and happiness in what we do.

Be flexible and open minded. Taking on new opportunities, new challenges and something different can provide you with rewards that you never contemplated. You never know who you will meet in the process. Connections and networking is an absolutely essential part of the success of any individual in business (and in law) and is also a separate topic of it’s own, for another day.

Titles, are just that; titles. They are not job descriptions nor are they an all inclusive demonstration of the value of engaging in that job or learning the things that job/workplace/experience will provide.

My two cents = consider the title, sure, but don’t let that be the deciding factor of any opportunity you consider. What will you learn? Who will you meet? How will this contribute to my development? Where could this lead me?

2 thoughts on “The thing about job titles

  1. Thank you so much for this blog. I am a pastor but I also have an administrator who does tons of things for me & the congregation that the board & members don’t even “recognize” & sometimes I feel they are unappreciative of her work. I make it a point to share with them in meetings “all” of what she does as well. Mind you. This “job” is volunteer (no pay). We also are are bivocational & we have families too. Also with “titles” I have discovered many people want the “title” or position but when they discover it’s more to it. They either don’t want it anymore or either do less than half of the work. Thanks again Michele!


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