By James Morgan, Managing Director and the Co-General Counsel for EMEA at MUFG
A couple of weeks ago, like many others around the country, I tuned in to watch the London Marathon and saw Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Amos Kiputo, Catherine Debrunner and Marcel Hug all triumph, not to mention the thousands of others taking part – the colours, the costumes, the music, the tears, the laugher all contribute towards an amazing spectacle! The following Monday I was scheduled to host a Legal Department team meeting where I intended to talk about in-house careers – development opportunities, highs and lows, and the path to be a GC. Watching the marathon had me considering some parallels with work.
Train, train, train….
Firstly, training is key. If you begin a 26.2 mile run without it you’ll struggle to complete it and likely get injured along the way. The same is true for a career in law; you don’t begin one unless you’ve done some preparation, whether that is some form of legal qualification or experience gained in the legal industry. That is your basic training to begin the race but each milestone requires further development to make it to the next one. Attending law firms seminars, conferences and roundtables; signing-up for training focussed on soft skills – communication, presentation, negotiation; and reading around the law and your industry, all help get you fit for the endurance task ahead. Elite athletes go a step further – they seek regular constructive criticism, absorb 360 feedback reviews, look back at their last performance and consider lessons learned, and most importantly embark on new challenges. As the renowned sports psychologist, Michael Gervais notes: ”the reason we grow is because we get uncomfortable and we embrace being uncomfortable”. Staying the distance in a legal career, like a marathon requires stamina and versatility; continuous training and development helps to build this up.
Focus on forming good habits not the end result
Appreciate the process and the journey! Marathon runners pace themselves and set mini goals….getting past the first five miles; getting past the first 12 etc. Setting off from the start line with a focus solely on where you place at the finish line will not help you in this endurance challenge. Being less focussed on the result and more concerned with setting the right pace and forming the right habits along the way, will ultimately ensure you are set for sustainable success. The same is true in your career journey: set incremental goals, adapt to new circumstances as they arise, don’t be in a rush to the finish line but do identify and embrace new opportunities that may arise along the way – on occasion there may be times for short “sprints” and other times to slow things down a little.
Life is a team sport
Every runner has a team behind them supporting them along the way – the thousands that line the streets with banners cheering the runners on, the physios, coaches, nutritionists, friends and family all play a critical role in the runner’s success. The same is true in your career path. It is important that you identify supporters and leverage their help. Finding one or more people willing to mentor you (including reverse mentors as you become more senior), having your company support you by sponsoring executive coaching programmes, working closely with and learning from experienced colleagues, and making sure you have loved ones around you to provide emotional support, are all vital to success. Additionally, whilst lawyers are generally very competitive people, don’t fall into the trap of viewing your work colleagues in this light. We spend more time at work than at home, so good relationships and a professional support network are invaluable to your happiness and success.
Manage your emotions
A marathon is an endurance sport, not just physically but mentally too. Uncontrolled emotions, tiredness and stress can all negatively impact your mental health and resilience. A legal career can be incredibly demanding. There are times when late nights, weekend work and cancelled holidays may be necessary to deal with urgent issues and panicked clients. Regulating your emotions, maintaining a calm and collected approach and pausing to consider your response, will produce the most positive outcomes. Taking a step further and recognising and reflecting on your own emotions will accelerate you to higher levels of empathy and resilience – something deeply valued in GC leaders.
Finally, be passionate about what you do. Really good marathon runners deeply love running. They love the sense of freedom; they buy running magazines; join running clubs to socialise with like-minded individuals; obsess about trainers, vests and watches. This passion shines through; it translates not only into success on the running track but also into more general fulfilment and positivity. The same is true of lawyering. The most successful lawyers I know are those who have a real love of the law – they read legal rags, journals and books covering a wide variety of topics, not only ones focussed on their area of expertise, but also beyond. They build rounded legal generalism. This serves them well when issue spotting, but even more importantly their passion inspires and motivates others around them.
The legal profession presents a number of challenges which can limit growth and prematurely end legal careers. Like marathon running, applying a growth mindset, seizing opportunities when they arise, finding the right role models and setting yourself the right pace are all critical factors to sustainable career progression.
James is a Managing Director and the Co-General Counsel for EMEA at MUFG, managing a team of approximately 80 lawyers based in ten countries in the region with oversight over transactional and non-transactional legal work including litigation, investigations, regulatory matters and corporate governance. James is a member of the bank’s Executive Committee and Executive Management Committee, as well as being a sponsor of MUFG’s disability network for employees. Outside of MUFG, James is a fundraising board member of the social mobility charity, the Aspiring Solicitors Foundation.