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Top 5 Strategies to Optimize Lawyer Career Change
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
– Mark Twain
Since I decided to leave BigLaw–yes, a lawyer career change–a lot of people want to know how I made the decision. And, the honest answer is that it happened both slowly & all at once.
I gradually fell out of love with the practice of law.
About two years ago, for the first time in my career, I felt itchy. That’s really the only word to describe it. I found myself exploring coach certification programs for my “second act.” I found myself spending more and more time on my passion projects within the firm – specifically editing the Women’s Initiative Newsletter and mentoring young lawyers – than I had previously.
I became OBSESSED with financial freedom.
I really thought that my work had lost its meaning, so I sought meaning outside the law by becoming a foster parent. At the time, it seemed like a good solution. I would continue to work at a firm that I loved, with people I respected, and I would find my meaning outside the four walls of the law firm. But, when our foster twins left, the itchy feeling returned with a vengeance. And, this time, it wouldn’t be ignored. After a particularly contentious phone call with opposing counsel, I called my husband and told him that I was DONE being a lawyer.
Then, in an instant, I knew that I wouldn’t be practicing law by the end of 2019.
As soon as I got a break in my trial schedule, I gave notice to my law firm, knowing that I might not have the courage in six months. Looking back, it is clear that I was exploring potential new career paths much earlier in the process than I realized. By looking at coach certification programs online, devoting my time towards passion projects, and becoming a foster parent,
I was trying on new identities and imagining a new path forward for myself.
If I had realized it, I would have explored more potential career paths, optimized my experiments, and started networking much earlier. Here are the tips I wish I’d known to optimize my career change:
It’s OK to be multi-passionate. Explore as many different possible paths forward as possible. Always wanted to teach English in Korea? Take your Series 7? Become a Human Resources professional at a Fortune 50 Company? Open a coffee shop?
Inside each of us, there are many possible selves and many possible futures. Explore each one and decide which paths are better left as daydreams and which paths deserve further experimentation.
Take your time. The middle is messy, so allow yourself some space to explore your options. Like me, you might have several years where you continually fall back in love with aspects of your current position only to find yourself disillusioned again. When you finally do leave your position, you will have no regrets because you gave yourself and your current position every opportunity to make it work.
Experiment. To the extent that you can launch a side hustle or take a part-time position that allows you to explore some of your many passions, DO IT! Think about these experiments as low-commitment ways to explore your passions – kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure! Using the multi-passionate examples from above, I’ve designed some experiments you could try to decide whether this is the right path for you.
Always wanted to teach English in Korea? Travel to Korea. Learn Korean. Research companies that employ English teachers overseas and the terms of such employment. Go to job fairs for international English teachers.
Take your Series 7? Research the prerequisites for taking the Series 7 Exam. Buy a Series 7 study guide and take some practice tests.
Work for a Fortune 50 Company? Network with people who work at the company. Research job openings to see if your skills are a good match or if further education is needed. Hang out in the company lobby and see if people look happy coming and going from work. Attend industry conferences for the Society for Human Resource Management.
Open a coffee shop? Start working part-time at a coffee shop. Learn as much as you can about the business of running a coffee shop. Brainstorm ways that you would do things the same or differently if you were the owner.
Find Your Flock. Join professional organizations for the industry you want to join and attend their events. Get involved. Look for people who have the career of your dreams and research how they got the position. What path did they take? Then, reach out to them and ask for an informational interview. I know, I know, it’s bold. But, these are the people who can give you a front row seat to this new career you are striving towards. They might accelerate your journey or keep you from choosing the wrong path. Either way, it is worth the time investment.
Carpe Diem. Windows of opportunity do not open often. When they do, you need to be ready to act. If you linger too long, they will close back up again. Each of us go through periods when we are highly receptive to change and other times when even the slightest deviation from routine can knock us off-kilter.
If you need help navigating this tumultuous time of a lawyer career change, give me a call.
Remember, anything or anyone who doesn’t LIGHT YOU UP is too small for you.
Career Coach & Strategist