I’m a lawyer, get me out of here!
Despite the recession, it’s been a busy 2010 for some of us. The long hours haven’t gone away … they are just less profitable. And this means that for many the pressures of work have increased … and job satisfaction is moving in the opposite direction. There is less time in the day to practise the law among all of our other responsibilities, and clients expect more and more for less and less.
So when you do grab a moment to reflect on things in between the mince pies and relatives this festive season, will the prospect of returning to the office jungle in the New Year be an exciting one full of challenges to be overcome and prizes to be won? Or will it feel more akin to chewing through a meal of antipodean creepy crawlies?
Are you missing your colleagues and clients already? Or would you cheerfully send them all into a pit of snakes?
We work with many legal professionals who, given a brief respite to consider the future, draw the conclusion .. “I don’t know if I want to be a lawyer any more. If partnership is as good as it gets, get me out of here!”
The first problem many confront is that they often don’t have anyone to talk to about this – someone who really understands the issues and options open to you. Colleagues and HR directors in the firm present obvious issues in terms of confidentially and ongoing working relationships. Family members are supportive but, particularly if you have reached partnership or a senior role in your firm, can often offer limited practical advice. Recruitment consultants often want to put square pegs back into square holes.
One way to overcome that anxiety and be confident in regaining control of your career direction is to talk to a specialist career counsellor experienced in the law. Having worked with many professionals in this position, we can quickly pinpoint the issues which are causing you unhappiness or frustration and provide you with a plan for moving forward. Our starting point is to help clients understand:
- Your values – what is important to you in your career and outside work
- Your strengths – technical legal expertise and skills but also your management, commercial and leadership qualities and potential
- Your key achievements – personal as well as work-related and what these reveal about your strengths, motivators and personality
- Your career needs – what do you want most? What kind of environment do you prefer? And finally,
- What are your future goals?
It is important to remember that the grass is not always that much greener on the other side. Training often teaches legal professionals the value of caution, and this is a great asset when considering your future. The reality is that the law is a well paid profession in which you have invested a lot of time and effort. Do you really want to go down “a few rungs” in the seniority and rewards stakes to start again in a new field? Are you willing to give up aspects of your lifestyle you currently enjoy? Are you prepared to retrain and take further professional qualifications?
Because of this caution people often feel they have few options but return to camp in January, face the next round of bush tucker trials and avoiding being voted out. But it is important to be positive in your outlook … in reality there are many options open to you:
1) A change of jungle - Practising the law in a different environment
We do come across individuals who come to us seemingly at the end of their patience with the legal world, but who, after an initial discussion, clearly do want to stay in the law but simply need to move from their existing environment. In an industry which is so diverse in terms of the personality of different firms and the roles on offer, the key to a fulfilling career is often about knowing what kinds of people you want to work with and where you will thrive. The recession has created new demand in areas from debt restructuring to divorce. Regulation is increasing in financial services. Getting advice on what other markets may exist for your legal skills can be the first step to a successful change.
A wide range of options also exist to move to a different size or differently structured firm, or to find a fresh challenge through a move “in-house”, into the public sector, into advocacy or even to the bench. Within some of these fields the degree of change is also vast. Some in-house counsels spend around 95% of their time handling legal issues, others may have a more mixed role spending as little as 25% practising the law.
Alternatively you may want the freedom of starting up your own practice or reducing your hours. Technological advances mean that you can work more flexibly, including keeping your career going while bringing up a young family.
2) Using your legal skills and knowledge to work in a related industry
Areas as diverse as banking, publishing and academia offer opportunities to benefit from the skills, experience and even contacts that you have built up, while achieving a significant change in career direction. We have successfully helped, for example, a Structured Finance Partner move to an in-house debt restructuring role with a major bank, a Commercial Property Lawyer to abandon the law to become a Speech & Language Therapist, and similarly a Head of Litigation in a City law firm transition to Dean of a Law School.
To make this kind of a step strong interpersonal skills, experience of managing processes and people within organisations, and a demonstrable interest in the new field are musts. We spend a lot of time helping clients understand exactly what a move to a different but equally demanding role would be like, and whether they are suited to this..
3) Get me out of here!
If you want to make a complete break, the starting point is to build a real understanding of what you do want to do and then look at whether you have the skills needed, or the potential to develop it. Psychometrics are useful but more so is the evidence from your working and personal life to show you can achieve the new challenges. Most people we see can make a significant change in career direction. Its not so much about ability, its do I have the will to do this and to go through what it will take to move from where I am now to a fulfilling and remunerative job in another sphere. And when I get there will it be as intellectually stimulating as legal work?
If you are thinking twice about so radical a change what else can you do? It’s not uncommon to feel “trapped” by a difficult situation and not be able to see how to change it. Particularly if you are still developing your career, it is worth taking time to openly discuss your career issues and thoughts and decide your next steps. . We have helped clients find a more satisfying and meaningful role in their current firm or to buy the time to plan and make a move in a new direction. The sense of relief they have felt when they can see a way forward was palpable.
The pace of change in the legal sector shows every sign of continuing in the first six months of the New Year, with teams moving from one firm to another, and more mergers. Concerns over job losses and caution about moving will remain. However the demand for legal skills will still be there and our clients are getting interviews and moving into new roles.
And so if you really do feel that its time to walk out of the jungle and face Ant and / or Dec, have a think about what else you would like to do. Don’t be frightened to dream. We strongly advocate change in the right circumstance and can equip you with the passion and determination to become king or queen in a jungle of your choosing in 2011.
If you would like to arrange a consultation to discuss your options in 2011, please contact Simon Broomer LLB in confidence on 020 3051 1054 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Simon is a qualified solicitor who now specialises in career counselling and career planning for lawyers.