Career wise, you have come a long way on a journey marked with milestones of achievement. Having survived law school and long hours articling, you’ve passed the bar. Before there is time to take a breath and compute the debt from your student loan, you have landed a full-time job as an associate. As a highly qualified young associate, your life is set … or is it?

It’s surprising that even the most diligent lawyers sometimes pay insufficient attention to the interconnection between two fundamental areas that require planning: career and finances. In this article, we highlight the importance of taking a proactive approach to balancing the interconnections between your career and finances to build the future you desire.

Designing your career path

A lawyer’s career is a long-term endeavour involving years of education, training and developing technical expertise. A career plan is crucial to ensure you make the most of your long-term investment.

As recruiters who specialize in the legal sector, The Counsel Network has noticed a cyclical progression experienced by lawyers as their knowledge, expertise and comfort zone within the profession develop. We have identified four phases of the cycle, each with a unique impact on the lawyer’s life, family and future. There is no set timeline for one to travel through the four phases – in fact, a lawyer might experience the cycle or portions of it several times throughout their career.

  1. Educational
    Like anything that’s new, you face a steep learning curve. The work is challenging and there is excitement in your new role. You may feel overwhelmed, but you are taking it all in.
  2. Engagement
    You’ve got some time on the docket, so to speak. You’ve learned the ropes, feel confident and are motivated. You are achieving targets and making a valuable contribution.
  3. Cruising
    You’ve established your place, so your foot eases off the gas. You’ve hit a plateau. You begin to experience boredom and declining motivation. Your mind wanders to thinking the grass might be greener on the other side.
  4. Disengagement
    You’re feeling frustrated and unhappy. You start seeing a lot of negatives in things that did not bother you before and may be heading for burnout.

An effective career plan must take these developmental phases into consideration. It is not just about developing a rigid, step-by-step blueprint for your path to partnership. Rather, it’s about proactively seeking out learning opportunities that combine your talents, values and aspirations as you navigate the four developmental phases. Critically, this means recognizing the tell-tale signs and laying the groundwork for new learning opportunities before you hit the cruising phase – or worse, slip into disengagement. A misstep here could trip up the long-term health of your career and your life outside of work.

Building your financial future

While career planning can help you achieve your professional aspirations, financial planning can help you protect and provide for you and your loved ones – both now and in the future. A good financial plan is much more than simply a tool for maximizing wealth. Instead, it involves taking a holistic view of your life and goals and customizing strategies aligned with the future you envision for your family.

For some associates, choosing the legal profession is at least in part motivated by a desire for financial independence. And it is true that lawyers can build a profitable career – especially when they manage their finances well and start early.

For newly appointed associates, there are specific needs to consider within a financial plan. For example, while you probably have disability insurance through your firm’s group coverage, it is likely insufficient to meet your needs should you ever be unable to work. With an individual top-up, you can easily obtain supplementary coverage to close the income replacement gap that likely exists under your group plan.

As an associate early in your career, you may be feeling invincible. Unfortunately, the unexpected can happen to anyone. The reality is that young associates face countless hours and the mounting pressure of delivering in their new role, making burnout a possibility along with the risk of other disabilities and illnesses. You would no doubt face significant financial challenges if you were suddenly forced to drop out of your associate program due to a long-term disability. However, you can mitigate this risk with a disability insurance top-up of approximately $100–200 per month, keeping mind that the premiums will be higher the older you are when you start.

Of course, financial planning is not a one-time effort, and it is never too soon to start on the right financial foot. You may be an associate today, but your financial needs, priorities and opportunities will evolve over time as you progress on your path to partnership. Adjustments will be necessary along the way to ensure the best outcomes. Everyone’s situation is unique, but the following are examples of the key considerations to address in your financial plan as a newly minted associate and as you ascend to become a senior associate:

  • While you earn a guaranteed base salary as an associate, do you understand your cash flow and are you living within those means to ensure a healthy financial future?
  • Are you making regular contributions to registered investment accounts like a tax-free savings account (TFSA) or registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) to use time and tax advantages to help your money grow?
  • If your firm offers a match of your RRSP contributions, have you signed up to take full advantage of the maximum available?
  • Do you have a strategy for paying off any student loans or credit card debt, if applicable?
  • Are you making smart decisions now to put you on track for buying your first home, or perhaps upsizing from a condo to a house?
  • If you have a child, are you investing in their education with a registered education savings plan (RESP), within which your contributions can grow tax free?
  • If you are in your first year of practice, are you taking advantage of the discounts in insurance premiums offered to new associates?

Ultimately, financial planning is about optimizing your financial resources to build the life that you desire while ensuring the flexibility needed to accommodate any personal, family and career changes that emerge along the way.

Optimizing your outcomes

While planning your career path and your financial future are distinct, they are intertwined and complementary processes. As an associate, it is advisable to develop plans for both to proactively create the life you want for yourself and a family, if that too is in your future.

An experienced mentor or trusted advisor can help. Career planning and financial planning are both highly personal, so there is great value in working with trusted individuals who can act as a sounding board and guide you toward choices fully aligned with your needs. And while it’s beneficial to start developing both plans as early as possible, it’s never too late to begin tackling these important issues.

In your legal work and more broadly in life, there will always be a degree of uncertainty. But with sound planning and the same hard work that has gotten you this far, you can stay on track toward a bright professional and personal future.

Dal Bhathal is Managing Partner at The Counsel Network a Canadian legal recruitment firm specializing in legal talent management strategies covering all levels of lawyers and practices for both corporate legal departments and law firms. Dal can be reached at dal@thecounselnetwork.com or 416.364.6654.

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Elke Rubach is a former lawyer and President of Rubach Wealth , a Toronto-based firm that supports lawyers with tax-efficient wealth, retirement and estate planning so they can focus on developing their careers. Contact Elke at 647.349.7070 or by email at elke@rubachwealth.com.