The words “career change” are often accompanied by a whole host of feelings that run the emotional gamut. We oscillate between anxiety and uncertainty to excitement and enthusiasm for a new life chapter. Much of the anxiety surrounding a career shift is tied to how we go about actually tackling this life change. For lawyers, the prospect of a professional change may be especially daunting given the years of investment in a specific area of practice. Thankfully, you can take comfort in the knowledge that you are not the first lawyer to embark on a career change and there are clear steps to follow to meet your end goal. These 5 steps will not only provide clear guideposts on your journey, but are tailored to the natural skills lawyers possess, regardless of specialty.
The first step en route to a career shift is the Transition Process. This stage allows us to become acquainted with the idea of a professional change. Sometimes this change has a definitive timeline if your current job is on a temporary basis or you are scheduled to end articling, for example. For others, the transition process involves more of an emotional shift where an individual feels that their career no longer suits them. In either case, taking this initial time to transition our mindset from our current work situation to beginning something new sets us on the right trajectory to move forward.
Where the transition stage breaks the ice to start thinking about a different career path, the next stage invites us to personalize our plan with a Self-Assessment. Defining our value structure is a great exercise to show us what matters most personally and professionally at this moment of our lives. If you are at this juncture, there are likely multiple aspects of your current work life that are incompatible with your personal and professional needs. Start by listing your top priorities in both work and home life. An organized way to assess what comes next is to examine your skills, workplace values, what type of work environment you need, subject matter you care about and types of people and support you need to thrive. What are the roadblocks that your current role puts up that keep you from attending to those priorities fully? The answers to these questions will help inform the steps to follow.
This first research pass is an initial sweep to get the lay of the land. It may have been years since you’ve scoured the pages of job sites, so applying a broad stroke to the first research foray is the least intimidating approach. Research is not confined to google search results either. Reaching out to friends and colleagues who work in fields of interest to you can lead to solid connections and fruitful insights. If you come across specific placements that interest you, flag them for later but allow yourself time to widen your lens before dusting off your resume.
The Focused Search stage allows you to sharpen your proverbial pencil and whittle down the bulk of research accumulated thus far. While many people feel understandably overwhelmed by sifting through large amounts of data, this stage fits right in an lawyer’s wheelhouse. Distilling pages of research to focused points is at the heart of legal work. The synthesizing part comes from revisiting the emotional and mental work completed during steps 1 and 2, and applying those results to your focused search. As you’re browsing job listings or networking with other professionals, keep the priorities and values you identified at the start as your viewing lens for every opportunity. Continue to ask the question - “Does this job or work environment align with my values and priorities?” If the answer is no, the search continues.
After the necessary work of the stages above, the only step left is to start applying. The opportunities you’ve whittled down are pre-screened from your focused search. The application stage carries much weight as your internal plans are suddenly open to current colleagues, potential future employers, and personal contacts. The application stage will differ based on an individual’s professional level, but feelings of anxiety and excitement are felt from the greenest associate to the most seasoned litigator. If you are in the latter category, the application process might take the form of professional recommendation rather than a sent resume to a job posting. However the process looks, there will be a waiting period to see if the new position will be the right fit for both parties.
Take these 5 steps as the precedent you need for the case of your career change. Treat yourself as your own client, with the winning result being the instalment of yourself in a fulfilling new career.
In Part 2 of this series, we'll go over how to build a strategic support network to help you on your path to a new career.