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Convincing Your Job to Financially Support Professional Development Opportunities

Something that brings me a lot of joy professionally, is getting involved in professional developmental opportunities like leadership programs, board membership, and participation in affinity bar associations. Through these opportunities, I have made wonderful friends, learned a lot about working with others in different fields and professions, learned to approach problems differently, and have become more involved in my community. I really believe that through these programs, I have become a better and much happier attorney. These programs, however, involve time and money. Many larger firms have written policies that explain exactly how much time and money the firm will approve for associates that want to participate in such opportunities. But what do you do if your firm, like mine, doesn’t have such a written policy?

First, determine who the appropriate person at your firm would be to ask about participating in these kinds of activities. For me, I approached the managing partner of my firm since I work with him the most, and I knew, of course, that he had authority to approve any expenses. If going straight to the managing partner feels daunting to you, speak to a partner at your job that you have a good relationship with about the program you want to participate in. You can see if they know how to best approach the request with management. Not only would they know who to approach, they may also be willing vouch for you to make sure your request is approved.

When preparing to make your request to participate in said opportunity, look to see if there is a schedule of events or meetings dates with designated times. This will give you an accurate look at the time commitment involved. Make sure that meetings or events work with your schedule, and don’t forget to take into consideration your office’s busy period. For example, since I work at a school law firm, I tend to avoid any program that has a huge time commitment right as schools start in August or after the end of a Texas legislative session, as those are always very busy times for our firm. Ultimately, your job will just want to be sure that you can still get your work done while taking on any extra obligations. Showing them that you’ve taken your duty to your clients into consideration before adding more to your plate, could make them feel more comfortable about approving time away from the office.

If you have a billable hour requirement, estimate the amount of time you believe you’ll spend on the outside obligation. Also be ready to articulate how you believe the program may benefit the firm, so that you can explain how any hours not spent billing, are still beneficial to your job. The benefit may be something as obvious as the ability to expand your network that could ultimately lead to client development. Another potential benefit could be increased name recognition for the firm, which could be especially enticing for a smaller firm. Building connections within your community is important not only for the potential monetary benefits for the firm, but also because it can give you a greater sense of purpose, leading to increased job satisfaction, a better work life balance, and overall improvement in your personal well-being.

The opportunity you want to participate in will likely involve some kind of cost, like membership dues or program fees. Don’t hesitate to ask your firm to pay those for you. If you’re at a law firm, they very likely have a budget for client development that they could tap into for this. If your participation will promote the firm or lead to potential client development, then your firm should seriously consider paying for it. Some of the more expensive programs even offer payment arrangements to make the large payments more manageable. You may have the opportunity to ease into the request for funds because some programs, like the leadership programs I have participated in, have an application and selection process. You can inform your firm that you would like to apply for the competitive program, and that if you are accepted, there is a certain cost for it. Letting them know of your intentions and getting approval beforehand can make the whole process less stressful. Then, when you are ultimately accepted into a competitive program, that acceptance itself is prestigious for you and the firm. The firm may be glad to cover the expense for that reason alone.

Some government and nonprofit jobs may not be able or authorized to spend funds for employees to participate in these types of opportunities. If that is the case, for the more expensive programs, you should check to see if they offer reduced rates for applicants in those sectors. Sometimes, they may also have discretionary funds that can be used to cover the fees of certain applicants. If financial assistance if not available but you believe the opportunity is worth the expense, for the more expensive programs, check to see if they allow payment plans. Think of the cost as an investment in yourself. Do additional research by speaking with others who have recently participated in the program. Ask them what they got out of it and if they’d recommend it to you. Remember, no matter how the fees are paid, you should still be sure to check with your employer to confirm that they will allow you time off to attend program events, if necessary.

Once your employer approves your participation in any professional development opportunity, be sure to keep them apprised of how things are going. Don’t hesitate to toot your own horn here! Let them know of any special recognition you receive in the programs or what special projects you have undertaken or have been asked to help with. Also, don’t forget to ask your employer to update your bio on their website to reflect your acceptance into leadership programs and membership or offices held in affinity groups. Bring up your professional development accomplishments during your evaluations. Self-advocacy is important and necessary! Share with your employer how these opportunities have helped you improve as an attorney. You will be putting a lot of work into these opportunities, so be sure you reap all the benefits they provide!

- Jasmine G

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