Bill Wilson spent over 20 years in legal departments at corporations large and small, from high tech to brick and mortar, and is writing about various topics while trying to find that next great career opportunity.
It’s very hard to pinpoint when exactly you instinctively know that the answer to the question, “when is it over?” is “now.” You will probably get to that point gradually, not in giant steps. But it may come. What do you do when it comes?
Most lawyers follow a fairly linear path. You do very well in college, get into law school, find a job and start practicing. Sometimes it goes according to a pre-ordained plan, with others it’s serendipity and little else. You find a job you like, you do well at it, and you like it well enough. You continue to do it because you get used to the income, you have a passion for the law, you enjoy the intellectual challenge, you like the social or professional status that comes with saying “I’m a lawyer” or some combination of all or none of these factors. But then it’s gone, and your efforts to find another job in the law run into macroeconomic dislocation, a changing legal landscape, or naked discrimination, or something else, and you realize, “I may never get another legal job.” While that realization comes for older lawyers today more often, it can happen to anyone.
Fortunately, lawyers are reasonably intelligent people with a variety of skills. It’s important for you to grasp that those skills are transferable to many other professions, and that with some salesmanship and honest self-evaluation, you can move in another direction that may be equally rewarding, personally, professionally or economically.
Inventory what you did as a lawyer. You wrote lots of different kinds of things. Speak publicly in front of small and large groups. Locate arcane information. Investigate and dispute facts. Evaluate the veracity of conflicting accounts of events. Take large amounts of information and distill it into sensible, digestible portions. Simplify the complicated. Prioritize, organize and plan numerous projects to meet sometimes unyielding deadlines. Persuade others. Work with complex financial data. Develop and use advanced computer skills. Educate clients’ employees. And don’t forget what you learned from your clients – you may already be a near-expert in some very interesting areas because you had to learn it in order to give advice to your clients.
Don’t forget your hobbies and your past jobs before the law. What skills do they contribute? I was an athletic trainer in high school, and I am sure could still tape ankles and knees to help prevent injuries, and provide first aid. I worked for six years in a restaurant, ultimately becoming a traveling training assistant, who taught personnel in new stores how to prepare and serve food according to that restaurant’s policies. I learned a lot about great customer service and how to get people to deliver it. Sometimes these skills will be great as they are, sometimes they might need some validation or enhancement through additional training or certification, but shouldn’t be ignored as another advantage.
Once you have this inventory done, learn what other jobs require those skills. There are a number of tools available on the Internet or in your local library that can aid this process. In short, while you are often stymied initially by the box that you’re currently in, you need in this changing economy to be flexible and capitalize on how your skills may be transferable.