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.
My first post to this blog was entitled “Who Am I?” In looking it over recently, reflecting on my own job search and life in general, I thought some further exploration was in order.
That question needs to take into account your values. What makes you who you are? What is important to you? And most importantly, are you going to be happy working for a person or entity that is not who you are, or what’s important to you.
Now the conundrum for lawyers is that our profession has always required something of a disconnect between who we are and what we do. I think of John Adams defending British officers accused of murder just prior to the American Revolution. We may be Christians representing a pornographer because we are defending the principles of the First Amendment. We may personally be opposed to the death penalty, but nevertheless work as a prosecutor because combating crime is important to us. We put aside our beliefs because our client’s interests demand that we do so. There are hundreds of attorneys who seem to never have an issue with this potential divergence. They compartmentalize, and that’s the end of the issue.
But at some point, whether or not you compartmentalize, you have to ask: Is there a price we pay? If the conflict threatens to interfere or compromise your ability to represent your client, then the answer is clear that something has to give and it probably will not be your beliefs, so you withdraw from the representation. It still, however, begs the question: What if the conflict means only that you are at war with yourself, and what toll will be exacted?
The relevance of this tension to your job search is alignment. Numerous studies looking at job satisfaction and career success suggest that where there is synchronicity between what you do and who you are, the greater the chances are for both to happen. If you passionately believe in privacy, going to work for a credit reporting agency may not be your best choice. If your bedrock principle is the fight for human rights, choosing a private paramilitary security contractor as your employer may not be a wise course. These are obviously extreme examples to highlight the issue, but there are hundreds of such comparisons that can be made. While there may be something to be said to trying to change an organization or cause from the inside for the better, and that may be laudable, you have to ask if you have the strength of character and principle to weather that battle. Or do you direct yourself more in line with your internal compass? Only you know the answer.
I encourage you as part of your prep work, addressing the “Who am I?” questions, to include principles as well as personality, and decide whether you need to seek alignment between them and your employment targets. This advice may be especially difficult in the current sluggish market, where any opportunity may seem like a gift from the Almighty, but in the long run, I think you have to ask the question. You should also keep asking it periodically, as principles evolve with age, experience and understanding of the world. Though some of my principles remain unchanged from my days in high school, others have undergone considerable transformation and will probably influence how I want to spend my working life.