The biggest challenge most lawyers face when trying to leave a law firm is figuring out how to go about choosing their next career goal. Should they focus on what would allow them to make the most money? This often points to in-house positions or management consulting. Should they focus on what will be the easiest transition, and provide an immediately easier lifestyle? The first thing most lawyers think about in that respect is working for the government in some capacity. Should they look for something geographically close to home? Something that doesn’t require much thought? Something that they know many other lawyers have gone into before them? Should they focus on a particular area of interest, and try to get a job in that field? Trying to figure out which factor should be dominant in their job search can, all by itself, cause the kind of analysis paralysis that would send anyone into a tailspin.
My approach to changing careers focuses on something entirely different: figuring out the confluence of (1) what you are good at and (2) what you enjoy being good at. I believe that career satisfaction comes from doing what you love being good at, for and around people who value your unique skills. It’s not that hard to know what you are good at, but your talents are not the crux of the issue. What matters most is what you like being good at. What gives you a sense of flow, of time stopping? What feels motivating and enjoyable at the same time? For many lawyers, figuring out what they like being good at is far more difficult than it first appears because it requires understanding when they are genuinely happy. Being a successful law student and/or a successful lawyer often involves putting your personal happiness on the back burner. Many people, including me, grew up thinking that happiness was something you had, if you had it at all, only before and after work. As I often heard growing up, “That’s why they call it work!” When you know what you like being good at, whether or not it is something you have been paid to do, you have the most important piece of information you will need for your career transition.
The process doesn’t end there, of course. I encourage my clients to take a creative look at where they might use those skills outside of a law firm, and then I help them translate the experiences and skills they already have into a format that non-legal employers can not only understand but appreciate. The world of career possibilities for lawyers should only be limited by their intrinsic skills and joys, not by any preconceived notion of what lawyers can and cannot do. Lawyers generally have a wide range of talents that businesses value. Each lawyer, however, has a subset of those skills that truly brings her joy. It is that subset, unique to every person, that will kickstart a truly successful, realistic and long-term career change.