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Paris partner Dessislava Savova heads Clifford Chance’s Consumer Goods & Retail sector worldwide. Dessi’s advice is to be clear about what makes you tick when planning your career, and believe that you can make it work.

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photo of Dessislava Savova

The choices you make as a young lawyer are not final – and you may need to go through different phases during your professional development. But at all points, it’s important to think about what you want and where you imagine yourself a few years down the road.

When you are young, sometimes you think, “I have this fantastic opportunity to go there and I should go, even though I don’t feel naturally attracted to, say, finance law.” This is indeed one way of building your career: being open-minded about opportunities. But it’s equally valid and important to think, “What do I want?” I have found that you realize over time how important it is to do things with desire. It is important to define your passion about the job you are doing. What is it that fascinates you?

I had an incredible opportunity at the beginning of my career to be seconded to a client. Being seconded is a great way to better understand your clients, but it also made me realize that you don’t need to wait to become a partner to develop relationships.

When you are a young lawyer, you develop relationships at your own level with younger in-house lawyers; these contacts then rise through the ranks and, in turn, become senior lawyers. So begin building your own network very early. When starting out, your priorities center around being technically excellent, but it’s also important to start working on business skills early. If you don’t, it may be less natural and therefore harder to do at a later stage.

Lawyers are perfectionists, so they naturally work on improving their own skills. When it comes to managing others, having authority while maintaining very good relationships can be complicated. That was something I felt I had to consciously think about and work on to be able to progress to the next stage.

You need to put yourself in others’ shoes. Take into account the differences between people, and be sincere. When you tell people honestly what you think, and when you care for them, people trust you. My advice is to have your own management style, and listen to others. These skills don’t come in one day, but you must jump in the water.

It limits us to think, “I can’t do that. I can’t become that. That’s not for me.” The questions should be, “What do I want? Do I really like it?” Provided you have a positive answer, work in that direction, and really trust yourself. Anything is achievable.

My primary advice in seeking success is to be yourself, which will not necessarily mean that you look like the person sitting next to you. We each have our own bent, and we face our own difficulties, so it’s important to trust yourself as you are – not just fulfill a list of criteria.