LAWYERS CAREERS -
2021 BEST PRACTICES AND ACTIONABLE TIPS
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Lawyers Careers and lawyers career paths are taking more and more unexpected twists and turns.
This page has tips, tools, tactics, techniques, tweaks, and hacks you can use today to supercharge your lawyer career planning.
The legal profession and legal industry are transforming before our eyes. Terms like Alt Law, New Law, Alternative Service Providers, Legal Project Management, Alternative Fee Arrangements and Electronic Discovery were barely known ten years ago.
I hope this page will spark action for you to revitalize and transition your career, whether in or out of the law.
LAWYER CAREER PLANNING TO CREATE YOUR IDEAL LAWYER'S CAREER
Do you have a good job? Is your compensation OK? Not too many 80-hour weeks?
So why are you reading a post about attorney's careers and attorney career planning?
Because you are smart! You know it may all end tomorrow through no fault of your own.
You feel your career (and life) could be better. A gnawing anxiety that your current career path will not result in your ideal career.
How do you ease your anxiety and prepare yourself for unanticipated events that affect your career?
How do you increase the odds that your career path will result in jobs that make you happy and lead to the ideal career?
By formulating a long-term career plan and periodically updating and revising the plan.
Your plan may even include exploring alternative careers for lawyers.
Lawyer Career Planning
And The Legal Industry
You already have a sense that lawyer career planning is not a one and done thing.
The legal industry is in a period of transition.
Attorneys careers are in a period of transition.
Disruption is in the air. Competition from other lawyers and non-lawyers is increasing.
Unbundling, Alternative Legal Service Providers, Alternative Fee Arrangements, Contract Attorneys, Legal Tech and New Law, terms rarely used a decade ago are now part of the legal industry lexicon.
Legal Industry And Lawyer’s Careers Today
Lawyers careers are evolving at a fast pace.
The demand for lawyer’s services as traditionally delivered is decreasing.
Lawyers are exiting and entering jobs much more often.
Because of the disruptions in the legal industry, the role of an attorney will need significant rewrites of the traditional legal career story.
Whether you call it Free Agent Nation, Freelancers United, Uberization, or the Gig Economy, the implications are the same. Lawyers and other professionals will not escape this global trend.
The legal industry and attorney’s jobs are already experiencing the effects of the early stages of these trends. From the rising use of contract attorneys to the frequent moves of rainmakers.
The world is changing rapidly. Our profession is being transformed. Some lawyers who thought they had a great job, and clear career path in early 2008 quickly discovered otherwise. Their jobs disappeared in a heartbeat and with it, their bright career path.
On average, lawyers change jobs every 4.2 years, sometimes voluntarily, other times not.
Each time a lawyer changes jobs the probability the next job will be more like an independent business than as an employee increases.
Many lawyers see the current situation as a threat and fight against the disruptive forces. They attempt to defend an outdated system that no longer serves many of those it’s meant to serve.
A few lawyers see it as an exciting opportunity. I hope you are one of those.
Legal Industry And Lawyer Career Revitalization
Lawyer career revitalization is not a one and done thing.
What was your first career plan? Until recently a typical lawyer’s career plan was:
1. Went to law school, got a job as an associate and became an equity partner after 8 or 9 years of hard work.
2. If you didn’t like the work or the firm, you bailed out after a few years and went to another firm or in-house.
3. Then, worked for the next 30 years advancing up the firm or corporate latter.
Career plan, done. Next.
That method of career planning worked well for many lawyers for a long time. The legal industry was growing fast, opportunities were abundant, and compensation levels were hitting new records every year. You either followed the traditional career path or took one of the other opportunities available if they were not satisfied with the traditional path.
Then, the Big One. The Recession of ‘08. Oh, sh__. A significant part of the legal industry and many individual lawyers were decimated.
Many lawyers’ career paths reached a dead end or at least a dangerous curve in the road. Crisis mode took over, and lawyers’ focus became short-term. It was an economic necessity for many.
Nine years on, the legal industry has become a little more stable. But, statistics can deceive. Corporate spending on traditional Big Law services is still trending down. Lawyers at all levels face increasing competition from other lawyers and non-lawyers.
The legal industry will never be the same.
Lawyer’s careers will never be the same. Your legal career plan will never be the same.
It’s time for you to go through a career revitalization process to create your ideal career.
The Future of Your Lawyer's Career
As a lawyer, you have the opportunity to be an entrepreneurial business owner.
Seize the reins now and take control of your future.
You can create the career of your dreams by adopting the mindset and practices of an entrepreneur in a growing business.
Much of the stress and disengagement from your work results from not feeling any sense of control.
By operating as an independent businessperson, you feel more in control of your career and life. While, at least at first, you won’t be working any less the sense of control you feel will reduce your stress and increase your engagement.
You can create a business, in law or in an alternative career for lawyers, which could produce more financial rewards than any Big Law equity partner receives. You can have the flexibility to live your life the way you want to live. If you want to travel, you can do so. Have time to spend with your kids and spouse or partner. Time to enjoy life.
You don’t have to leave the law to have this future. Remember, all the goodies in lawyer’s careers come from viewing your career as a well-run business and having an entrepreneurial mindset.
You control your future.
You have an ever-increasing set of tools to help you control your future. You also have opportunities never before available. Your future is unlimited if you adopt the mindset of an entrepreneurial businessperson. Yes, your world will differ from the world of lawyers in the past. And, it will be better.
Unless you desperately want to climb the Big Law Mountain, you can create your career path without being beholden to an extended apprenticeship system. A system where only a small percentage of associates ever become Big Law equity partners. Even if you are a mountain climber, entrepreneurial processes and tools will make your climb easier and more enjoyable.
You can achieve success, prosperity and personal fulfillment by revitalizing your career today.
Why You Should Create A Lawyer Career Plan
How can you have a fulfilling career and happy life?
By formulating a lawyer career plan based on your strong skills and interests, in line with your beliefs and purpose in life, and designed to lead to your envisioned dream job.
“Ugh that sounds like a lot of work and I’m busy right now, maybe next year. Or the year after?”
The problem with procrastination and delay is that without using the lawyer career planning process, you will not dictate your own career path.
A career plan will help you avoid the disruptive forces now prevalent in the legal industry.
You also need to engage in the career planning process to prepare you to seize fortuitous opportunities appearing in your path that will lead to your dream job.
Do you want to leave your career up to forces you don’t control? Wouldn’t you feel better if you took control and had a plan to help you mold the path to your ideal position?
I thought so.
For more perspective see "Creating a Written Career Plan" on the Loyola University Chicago School of Law website.
How To Create A Lawyers Career Plan
Once you take control of your legal career, the first question is usually “Where do I start?”
Wise men (I don’t recall which ones) say, “Start at the beginning.” Other wise men say, “Always have the end in mind.” OK, go do it. That’s it.
While the previous paragraph may sum up career planning, you need guidance and structure.
Legal career planning comprises two phases:
- Assessing where you are now and envisioning your ideal career; and
2. Creating a strategic action plan with tasks, goals and accountability to achieve your envisioned ideal career.
In the first phase, you assess and evaluate where you are now in all areas of your life and career.
In addition, you focus on defining your core beliefs and purpose in life.
Finally, you envision your perfect career and life at different times.
In evaluating yourself today, the focus is on your knowledge, skills, experience and personality, particularly your strengths in these areas.
Defining your core beliefs and purpose is to help pinpoint your passion. Doing things you are passionate about provides the zest in your career and life as well as laying the base for success, prosperity and personal fulfillment.
Envisioning your perfect job in your ideal career with specificity gives you a target. A target that will inspire, energize and motivate you because it is the picture of your dream job in your ideal career.
Your Lawyer's Career
The second phase of career planning is a rigorous process of creating an action plan to get you from today to your ideal career.
Unfortunately, this page will not cover the second phase (it's already long enough as it is).
However, the process of how lawyers find the perfect job is briefly summarized below.
The "how lawyers find the perfect job" phase of career planning consists of acquiring knowledge about jobs you think may be a good fit for you, setting specific, measurable goals you can achieve within a set time, and taking discrete actions to move toward your ideal lawyer's career path.
First, you will identify various career options where your strengths, purpose and vision converge.
By this time in the career planning process, you may believe you have a good idea about next jobs that would be perfect. While you might be right, more research or expert advice may be beneficial.
Next, you identify goals you will need to achieve to move forward on your selected career path. These goals will have different time horizons to complete and will relate to various areas of your career and life.
Finally, you will need a detailed action plan to specify the actions you will take to reach your goals and create your ideal career.
Accountability is necessary at this stage of the career creation process.
Your work in this phase never ends. You will be periodically reviewing and revising your action plan based on your growth, experience and increasing clarifications of your career vision.
SET THE STAGE,
OR GET OFF
Even if you like where you’re at in your career, you must always look forward.
Early (or later) in career, stay two years to make sure it’s the job
Unlikely to get better where you’re at
Is it your job or lawyer’s career that sucks?
Unlikely to get better just doing the same thing at a different firm.
The Gig Economy
For more perspective on this topic see the Harvard Business Review article “Reaching Your Potential."
HOW TO TELL IF YOU'RE READY FOR A LAWYER'S CAREER REVITALIZATION
Body Tells You
You’re Doing Stuff You Hate, Even If Your Very Good At It
Job too limiting
Salary doesn’t compensate for stress or boredom
You’re pleasing others, not yourself
Want more autonomy and creativity
Stopped working on personal brand
Let contacts stagnate
For more perspective on this topic see “Seven Signs You’re Wasting Your Talent.”
INSPIRATION AND MOTIVATION ON YOUR LAWYER'S
If you are inspired and motivated, your career planning will be much quicker and smoother.
Whether you are exploring how you can (re)create your career as a lawyer, or transition into a non-traditional or alternative career for lawyers, being inspired and motivated with go a long way in helping you move along your lawyer’s career path.
Watch A Few TED Talks
“Yes! Let’s watch videos. I sensed that Yates guy might be someone to pay attention to in my lawyer’s career planning efforts.”
Well, it’s not all TV and Cheetos on the sofa, but it is the first step.
Inspiration and motivation are needed to get you moving to take action in your lawyer career planning efforts. Yes, let’s get inspired and motivated to take action.
Watch these Ted Talks. All are under 18 minutes, and you will get a shot of inspiration and motivation. Repeat as necessary.
Larry Smith: "Why you will fail to have a great career." The hilarious talk takes aim at people and the incredible excuses they dream up for not pursuing their passions
Susan Colantuono: "The career advice you probably didn’t get." This one is for the ladies but has universal appeal.
Shawn Achor: "The happy secret to better work." Shwan examines why we falsely believe we should work hard to be happy when it’s the other way around. Happiness inspires us to be more productive.
Although not a TED Talk per se (hey, I can still use those lawyer words), also see Steve Jobs’ Inspiring Stanford University commencement speech: "How to Live Before You Die." It is a powerful and enlightening speech for shaping your career and your entire life’s direction.
Listen To Some Podcasts
“OK, now we’re making progress. I can lay here, close my eyes, and listen my way into my ideal lawyer’s career.”
Well again, not exactly. However, you will get more inspiration and motivation and maybe even a little guidance and information.
If you can’t watch a TED Talk when you’re driving or running (neither excellent ideas), here are a few resources for finding great career-focused podcasts.
CLARITY AND FOCUS IN YOUR IDEAL LAWYER'S CAREER JOURNEY
Clarity And Focus.
Do you know where you’re at in your lawyer’s career?
Are you unsure of where you want to go?
First, you to need to assess where you are in your career.
Next, you must get clarity on your ideal career.
And, you must stay focused on the actions you should take to evaluate your present career, and then envision and create your ideal career.
You do that by taking the actions laid out in these sections.
Establish A Career Journaling System
Keep notes on information and ideas around your career.
And, have a system of keeping your lawyer career records organized and close at hand.
Pull out or buy a comfortably sized notebook you can keep with you. If you want to be a little more sophisticated, buy a Moleskin notebook.
The main thing is to have an accessible and convenient way of capturing your thoughts and information about lawyer careers.
You also must have a system to organize your notes so you can access them later.
You might consider a notebook to write ideas on the fly and then transfer the useful and relevant ideas and information to a digital system later.
The forced review of transferring your handwritten notes will help you get clarity.
Also, having your lawyer’s career records in digital form will make the notes much more convenient to search later.
How Are Your Contacts Doing?
Don’t know how your contacts are doing? Don’t even know how to connect with your contacts?
Then, you must update and use your CRM (Contact Relationship Management) system, or get a CRM if you don’t already have one.
Use the CRM to update and organize your existing network of contacts.
Your connections will be a valuable source of information and ideas about your lawyer’s career now and may be useful when you go into job search mode.
Also, use your CRM to track the new contacts you encounter in your lawyer career planning process.
You can use Outlook Contacts (People) or Google Contacts. They’re just fine for most contact management purposes.
Are You On Task?
Use a task system to keep track of and manage the items on your lawyer's career to-do lists.
Efficiency and productivity are critical to an effective lawyer’s career planning process. You must stay on top of your tasks, plans, and commitments.
You can use the Outlook Tasks or Google Task if you are using those email or contact environments.
If you want to check out standalone task managers, check out Todoist a traditional but robust task manager that now integrates with Google Calendar.
Trello is also worth looking at as a task manager although it shines as a visual Kanban-style project manager. Both are free.
Lawyer's Careers And The Future Of Law
Do you fear your job and career will be harmed by changes in the legal industry?
Would you like to anticipate and judge how developments in the legal industry will affect your future?
Are you curious and intrigued by the evolution of the legal industry?
Do you get excited about the opportunities created by disruptions in the industry?
Would you like to be “in the know” and prepared to revise your career path as necessary to be at the top of your chosen field?
Either way, I have a simple solution for you.
It will require a little work to predict the future of law.
But, I will show you how to minimize the time and effort you need to spend on the solution to the difficulty of staying abreast of where the legal industry is headed.
Before I reveal the little secret, let me respond to some of your concerns.
Lawyers’ first response to most things requiring a little work is that they don’t have time.
That’s fine, understood. But if you don’t make time now to consider the future of law, the future of your career might allow you plenty of time later.
Yep, your future and the future of law is unpredictable. You’re right. Oh well, let’s just get back to drafting confidentiality agreements or motions to dismiss. No use wasting billable time trying to see into the future.
Well, be ready for the future to smack your career into oblivion.
The future is unpredictable, but you can make educated predictions based on current information.
Isn’t that what lawyers do for a living? Is that deal going to close, or that case going to settle?
To prepare for a successful career as a lawyer, either in or out of the law, you must know what is happening now, anticipate the future of law and judge how that might affect your future.
Listen to and read knowledgeable commentators on the future of law, and then make your own judgments about how to manage your career.
Identify good sources of information and commentary on the future of law and the legal industry.
Most information is on the internet in one form or another.
Even the good stuff behind paywalls or in proprietary databases can usually be accessed in summary form by reading posts, articles and reports by bloggers, journalists and organizations.
When you read something online that is useful, knowledgeable and trustworthy make a note of the author and source. That’s work for you, but do it over time as you take your usual break-time excursions into the land of Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon.
Create A Lawyer's Crystal Ball
To better navigate the choppy waters of the legal industry you must look into the future. Having a sense of the future will assist you in creating your lawyer’s career, whether inside or outside the law.
Many websites and blogs publish useful information about the future of the legal industry, the future of work, and career planning. These websites and blogs allow you to subscribe to feeds of their posts or other regularly updated information. These feeds are your look into the future.
RSS subscription feeds are your crystal ball into the future of lawyer's careers. Your own "Magic Eight Ball."
After you subscribe, you will need an RSS reader to access your subscriptions. I find Feedly to be the best of the readers, but other good ones are available. Feedly is free and easy to set up.
When you find a site that is an excellent source of information, click on the RSS symbol. It will be on the right side of the address bar of the site you want to subscribe to. The post or article is added to your Feedly page. The RSS link may be grouped with the social media buttons on the page.
As an extra-special bonus, you can view my curated collections of Feedly subscriptions by clicking the link. You click on the feeds you want to subscribe to after you get to my Feedly and they will be added to your Feedly. Neat and super convenient, huh?
Couldn’t you subscribe to a site’s newsletter or other email notification system? Sure, if your inbox is not already full, go right ahead.
The more efficient tactic is to check all newsletters in your inbox and determine if there are RSS feeds for those newsletters. If so, subscribe to those feeds and direct them to your Feedly account. Then unsubscribe.
I’ve just helped you with one of life’s annoyances, an overflowing inbox. That’s another bonus here, no thanks needed. I’m all about sharing information to make your lawyer’s career and life more enjoyable.
Read the items in Feedly at your leisure or save them to Pocket (see below) for later reading. You will soon develop a better idea about the future of law and how it will affect your lawyer’s career.
For more perspective on the future of law and lawyers see:
Richard Susskind's books The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts and Tomorrow's Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future 2nd Edition.
The Adam Smith, Esq. blog by Bruce MacEwen and his book Tomorrowland: Scenarios for Law Firms Beyond the Horizon.
Mark Herrman's column on the Above the Law site and his book Inside Straight which is a collection of this columns.
Mark A. Cohen's blog on Legal Mosaic.
Benjamin H. Barton's book Glass Half Full: The Decline and Rebirth of the Legal Profession.
Steven J. Harper's book The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis.
George Beaton's book Remaking Law Firms: Why and How.
The article "What will lawyers be doing in 5 to 10 years?" in the ABA Journal.
What's In Your Pocket?
Set up a Pocket account.
Pocket allows you to save posts, articles and other items you see on the internet in a convenient form to read later.
You can use a browser extension on your desktop or cell phone to save the items. The material is cleanly formatted for reading on the internet or a Pocket app, and the original link is preserved.
Pocket also allows you to save an article you see on your Feedly page (see above) and read them later. If you see something interesting when scrolling through your Feedly subscription, click on the Pocket button and it is saved.
Pocket is free to use although there is a paid option with more features. The free version is fine for most lawyers. You can add tags to organize the posts and articles for later reference (you might use “lawyer’s career” as a tag).
Pocket has apps so you can read saved items on your cell phone or tablet. Pocket also has a search function, and you can archive items after you have read them.
PERSONAL FULFILLMENT IN A LAWYER'S CAREER IS HOLISTIC
Success, prosperity, and personal fulfillment in your lawyer's career is directly related to fulfilling your purpose in life.
You may have a purpose or multiple purposes in each area of your career and life.
In your career, you may strive for professional recognition and high income.
In your personal life, you may want close relationships and the freedom to pursue non-work-related activities.
Success, prosperity, and personal fulfillment are reflected in your ability to achieve your goals not only in your lawyer's career, but in the rest of your life. The holy grail of the work-life balance.
We all know professionals who appear very successful in their careers by any measure of success, but whose personal lives are a mess. These professionals have not prioritized and focused on areas of their lives outside of their careers.
In planning your ideal career path, you need to consider all areas of your life, not just your career.
Your focus, time, and effort may be concentrated on your job for certain periods of time in the career revitalization process. But, if this continues for too long, success, prosperity, and personal fulfillment in your life will be derailed.
What areas of your life are most important for you to consider in working through your lawyer's career revitalization process?
Besides areas relating to your career, look at your relationships with family, friends, and members of your community.
Examine your physical, emotional, and spiritual life. Your physical life comprises your nutrition, fitness, and sleep. Your emotional life relates to how you manage stress, anxiety, boredom, or other troublesome emotions. Your spiritual life – and this is not synonymous with religious life – comprises your values, beliefs, and purpose in life.
What areas are you neglecting most? What areas will you focus on to increase your personal fulfillment in your lawyer's career and life?
WHAT ARE YOUR PRIORITIES?
Most of us want it all.
I hate to be the one to break the bad news. You can’t have it all (never could and never will) in your career or your life.
You must make choices in your lawyers career planning. And, not making a choice is a choice. There are trade-offs.
In your career, you may strive for mastery, status, power and high income. In your personal life, you may want close relationships, family time and the freedom to pursue hobbies and other non-work-related activities.
In setting career goals and planning to achieve these objectives, you must consider not only your career but also the other areas of your life.
While the holy grail for many lawyers is a work-life balance, this is seldom accomplished without prioritizing career and life goals.
Your success, prosperity and personal fulfillment are determined by how closely your career and life are in alignment with your purpose, passions, interests and career vision.
Do you want a huge income? If so, you will work many, many hours with loads of stress. And you must climb the Big Law ladder to equity partner or hit it big as a PI plaintiff’s lawyer.
Do you want to go home at 5:00 every night and never work on the weekends? If so, the law may not be a great career choice (except a few government positions).
What are your priorities?
Is It A Need Or Is It A Want?
Needs are something essential and necessary to sustain your existence.
Wants are a feeling for something you believe you lack.
In prioritizing your dreams, focus on your needs first and then your wants.
Prioritizing is a subjective process for every lawyer, and there will be significant interrelationships between needs and wants. The tricky part is distinguishing your needs from your wants.
For some people, an income of $60,000 satisfies their needs (although they may want much more); while others insist that they need an income exceeding $600,000 just to meet their needs.
Your expenditures are a proxy for a bundle of many of your needs and wants. It is helpful to look at those needs and wants down by creating a budget (see below).
It is often useful to start this prioritizing process by using your budget to consider which items are needs and which are wants.
After considering financial matters, you will want to prioritize your needs and wants around your work environment and colleagues.
You must also prioritize your needs and wants about your family, relationships, community activity and personal time.
Trade-Offs In Creating Your Ideal Lawyer's Career
Trade-offs are required to create your ideal career.
The balance in one person’s life may look much different from the balance in someone else’s life.
The key is to make informed, intentional decisions on the trade-offs that are right for your life and career vision.
We all know lawyers who appear successful by any measure of success, but then we learn they are unfilled and miserable. Why? Because the trade-offs they made between their work and personal life resulted in a failure to focus on any goals other than their goals and career vision.
In planning your ideal career path, consider all areas of your life, not just your work.
Your focus, time, and effort may be concentrated on your job for limited periods.
However, if this singular focus continues for too long, your success, prosperity and personal fulfillment will be derailed.
What Constitutes Career Prosperity?
A recent study of over 6,000 lawyers published in the George Washington Law Review looks at what makes lawyers happy.
The study found the strongest predictors of well-being were autonomy, relatedness to others, feelings of competence, and choosing work for internally motivated reasons.
These data consistently indicate that a happy life as a lawyer is much less about grades, affluence, and prestige than about finding work that is interesting, engaging, personally meaningful, and focused on providing needed help to others.
One most startling finding is that money had a negative correlation with happiness among the respondents.
We all dream of our ideal careers and lives. We should have a specific career vision. Our own champagne wishes and caviar dreams.
Now it’s time to stop dreaming and prioritize your goals.
No matter how much we dream or desire, we can’t have it all.
Develop a career vision and decide on the goals that are most important to you.
Focus your action and energy on your career vision to create your ideal career.
None of us would refuse a little (or a lot) more income.
We could always use the excess to satisfy our unsatisfied wants and desires. If our needs and most of our wants are met, donating the money to others would make many of us happy.
There is a minimum level of income we all must have to survive and live a reasonable lifestyle. There are many variables in ascertaining the amount necessary for each of us. Factors such as our spouse’s income, our wealth, our debts, our lifestyle, the number of children we have, and where we live affect the income to meet our needs.
We all need a place to live. For some, a basic apartment or house will be okay. For others, they believe they would be miserable without a large house in the best part of town. What accounts for the difference? Not needs, but wants and desires.
Once your basic need is satisfied, individual desires are the predominant factor. These desires spring from our backgrounds, our aspirations, and our relative positions compared to our family and friends. Our spouses can also influence our desires.
The same analysis applies to other categories of expenditures and investments, from food to recreation to travel to savings. You have needs and wants.
What are your essential needs?
A Priority Budget
Since you don’t have unlimited financial resources, you allocate those resources to cover all of your essential needs first.
Then, you divide the remaining funds to your wants in a way that provides maximum satisfaction.
Preparing a budget is a priority setting process.
Once your basic needs are satisfied, do you eat out every night, take expensive vacations, send your kids to private schools, or increase your savings and investments?
Your choices are your priorities. What are your priorities?
Schedule a time to consider your finances and sketch out a rough budget at your current income. How do you allocate your funds? What are your basic needs? What are your most desired wants?
The budgeting process is a way to help you think about your priorities in a concrete way.
Are there different allocations of your income that could produce greater overall happiness?
Is what you’ve thought of as needs wants instead?
Is there a way to reduce your expenditures in certain areas while maintaining your current level of satisfaction?
The Nitty Gritty Of Prioritizing
To start, two caveats in using a budget to help clarify our priorities.
First, scientific studies find we overestimate the satisfaction we will receive from satisfying our wants. We may believe with all our heart that the big house on the hill will complete our life and produce never-ending ecstasy.
That high-level satisfaction may last for a few months or years. But much sooner than you might think, the glow wears off. The reality sets in, and you realize your satisfaction level has decreased. This occurs because you desire an even bigger and more gorgeous house, or because you realize there are fewer funds to spend or invest in other areas.
Second, the principle of diminishing marginal returns in relation to our spending. While eating at the finest restaurants is a great treat and can add significant levels of satisfaction to your life, doing it five nights a week is less appealing. A nice simple spinach salad or greasy burger provides a greater amount of pleasure.
The moral is to be careful when considering your needs and wants and attributing various levels of satisfaction to spending funds in a particular area.
Some people may derive a continuing high level of satisfaction from buying the big house; others are more satisfied spending those funds on exotic vacations or putting money in the bank for education or retirement.
Research is showing that expenditures for experiences, as opposed to possessions, give a bigger bang for the happiness buck.
What are your top priorities and wants?
MARSHALL YOUR RESOURCES
Attorneys must use their resources to create their ideal legal career.
Attorney’s careers are not created in isolation.
Attorneys should get a mentor to help guide them on their attorney’s career path.
Lawyers should also form a mastermind group to get support, feedback, and ideas, and to help hold them accountable for their lawyer’s career and mob search commitments.
Enlist A Mentor
Guidance and advice from more experienced hands is a godsend.
Find a mentor today! Ask a trusted more experienced colleague. Ask a personal acquaintance you respect. Just ask. It’s not a marriage. If it doesn’t click after a few weeks or months, try again.
If you cannot find someone to act as a mentor today, get a virtual one.
Find a writer or blogger whose work you connect with in your reading. One is good, a couple better, but no more than a few. Follow that person closely. Go through their older writing. Connect with them on social media.
With any mentor, live or virtual, keep an open mind. Listen attentively. Consider their ideas. And, don’t be afraid to question or disagree after you have considered their opinions.
If you’re stuck in getting a mentor, subscribe to one of the following now:
If all else fails, see this article:
And, consider the last sentence, “Plenty of successful careers are made without mentors, but none are made in a vacuum.”
LAWYERS CAREER ASSESSMENTS
Even if you already know where you want to go, you had better know where you are starting from.
The path to Chicago is much different depending on whether you are starting from New York or Los Angeles.
This section is devoted to lawyer career assessments.
These assessments help you get a much clearer picture of who you are from many dimensions.
The assessments will also help you to see the “why and how” of your future, the perfect job, and your ideal career.
Start Reading A Lawyer's Career Planning Book Today
Start Reading A Lawyer’s Career Book Today
Most attorneys career (and general career) books have sections devoted to different career and personality assessments.
There are many excellent career guides available. Look in your library or take a trip to the public library (or your law school’s career services office if you are still close).
If you don’t have access to a career book in your library and don’t have access to a public library or another free source, buy a book. You can get the Kindle version of most books within 30 seconds. Once you’ve bought it, read it.
Yes, read the book. It will spark ideas and give guidance. It should motivate and inspire you. And, it can provide a framework for thinking about and working on your legal career and in your job search if you are looking.
Take notes and follow up on action items. The important thing is to take action.
Here are a few of my favorite books, both classic and newer books, on general career (and life) planning and job search.
What Color Is Your Parachute? 2017: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers by Richard Bolles. The classic career and job search guide.
Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. A more holistic approach to career (and life) planning.
The New Rules of Work: The Modern Playbook for Navigating Your Career by Alexandra Cavoulacos and Kathryn Minshew.
Targeting a Great Career (The Five O’Clock Club) by Kate Wendleton.
And, here are a few career books focusing on lawyer’s careers. These books are for lawyers who want to climb the ladder to success in the practice of law and for those considering alternative careers for lawyers.
The Right Moves: Job Search and Career Development Strategies for Lawyers 2nd Edition by Valerie A. Fontaine.
The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law by Nancy Levit.
The Business of Being a Lawyer (Career Guides) by Pamela Pierson.
The Lawyer’s Career Management Handbook, 2010 ed. by Marcia Pennington Shannon.
The Inequality Equalizer Hardcover by Jena Abernathy.
In-House: A Lawyer’s Guide to Getting a Corporate Legal Position by David J. Parnell.
Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks (Career Guides) by Grover Cleveland.
The New What Can You Do With A Law Degree: A Lawyer’s Guide To Career Satisfaction Inside, Outside & Around The Law – Dr. Larry Richard And Tanya Hanson.
And a shameless plug for my first book —
Take A Free Career Assessment
Who Are You?
I know. You’re a lawyer or law student.
However, who are you? In all your unique and splendid glory?
You must know who you are before you can create your ideal lawyer’s career.
The career and personality assessments profiled in these sections can assist you in plotting your future lawyer’s career path. Whether your lawyer’s career path is as a practicing attorney or whether you pursue an alternative career for lawyers.
In Dick Bolles (the author of "What Color Is Your Parachute?") post "Figuring Out a Career Through Taking Tests" he describes most of the major career assessments. The post also includes Bolles's very helpful “The Seven Rules To Keep in Mind About Taking Career Tests.”
Get A 360-Degree View Of Yourself
You see yourself in a certain way.
Sometimes your picture matches how the world sees you. Other times, not so much.
Ask a few of your colleagues, partners, associates, staff, clients, friends and family to give you an honest view of how they see you. Both as a person with assets and liabilities and as someone in a professional career.
They should provide their impressions of your work, skills, personality traits and any other information that may be useful for you to see yourself as others perceive you.
The feedback and information obtained in these informal assessments will be invaluable in helping you identify your strengths and weaknesses. It gives you the information you can use later in building your personal brand, one key element of a lawyer’s career transition process.
The evaluations may be uncomfortable, but sometimes it takes a little bitter medicine to cure the patient.
What Do You Know?
Knowledge is the foundation for your skills and interests.
You know specific areas of the law. You may be knowledgeable about civil procedure or criminal law. You know more about commercial real estate than bankruptcy law. Or, you might know more about contracts than you do about torts.
You also know industries outside the law. This industry-specific knowledge has become much more important to clients over the past few years.
You may be knowledgeable about venture capital or financial markets. Or, about the construction or transportation industries? Or, you might know more about software than you do about aerospace?
You learned about many other subjects while you were growing up, going to school, and from your previous work experience. Everyone has their own unique body of knowledge.
Now, write down and categorize your knowledge.
This information can help you as you think about your lawyer’s career path. Certain career paths may appear that you hadn’t considered before. Other career paths may require you get more knowledge in specific areas.
This information will also be useful when you draft your resume and LinkedIn profile.
Continual learning is one essential skill in today’s legal career environment.
Sign Up For An Online Course. Today. And finish it.
Strategically build your knowledge and skills for the future.
Whether you will stay on your lawyer career path or veer in a different direction, you must continue to develop your knowledge and expertise.
Continual learning is now a vital career skill for everyone. Not just satisfying mandated CLE requirements, but real strategic knowledge in many areas to advance your career.
Gain new knowledge and skills. Many courses are available online for free or low cost.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free online courses available for anyone to enroll. Platforms like edX are gateways into the MOOC world. Courses from Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, Georgetown and other schools are available.
When you take your CLE courses, be strategic. Don’t just take whatever is available in the last week before your current requirement window closes. Plan to take courses that will help you move toward your future career vision.
For more information and inspiration, see this list of the “50 Top Online Learning Sites.”
Your Skills Are The Foundation Of Your Career
Skills are the practical application of knowledge. You might be knowledgeable about civil procedure, but do you know how to draft a Motion to Dismiss?
Knowledge is knowing; skills are doing. Skills are applied knowledge.
While being knowledgeable about something is great and can be its own reward, employers are interested in your skills.
Employers want to know if you can do something, not just talk about it knowingly.
Lead With Strong Skills That Interest You, Or Die (Emotionally)
You may have strong skills, but you hate using them. They are not skills you want to build your career around.
One of the most prevalent and saddest of all career failures is a lawyer who has a strong skill set and develops a successful career around it, but hates their work.
Although successful to the outside world, they are dying inside.
If you don’t like using specific skills or participating in certain activities, even if you are great doing them, don’t build your career around those skills.
Or, you may have a keen interest in an area or activity, but a weak skill set for the work.
In some ways, this is the easier situation to address. If you have an interest in something, you may develop skills necessary to work in the area. But even if you have great interest, you may not be able to acquire those skills or do so quickly.
It may make sense, particularly early in your career, to try to develop the strong skills required for areas that interest you. But be attentive and let it go when it becomes clear you cannot attain a high level of strength using those skills.
A principle followed by great businesses and successful entrepreneurs is to build on your strengths.
One of the key management philosophies of Jack Welch, while he was running General Electric, was only to be in businesses where GE was one of the top 3 market leaders.
Give your efforts at new skill development a little time and lots of effort. But if it becomes apparent you can’t play in the big leagues, whatever that is for you, follow your strengths and interests.
Whatever your strengths, use them in work that interests you. Create new and innovative ways to use them. Continue to refine them.
While traditional career management advice is to try and develop strong skills in areas where you are weak, that is a loser’s game.
The reason you are weak in a particular area is that you don’t have an interest or never spent the time to learn and develop those skills. Know your weakness.
But, instead of wasting time and effort to develop those skills your are weak in, look for ways to compensate by collaborating with others to fill in the gaps in your skill set.
Successful people use their strong skills in work that interests them. You can’t be great at everything. Show the world your greatness and lead with your strengths.
What about the professional who has not yet developed strong skills? The advice still holds with slight refinement.
If you are still building your strong skills, focus your efforts on those skills you naturally gravitate to and you enjoy.
You need enough exposure to an area to know what it is about and the skills necessary to excel but work on building your strength in areas where you are instinctively drawn.
If you want to find your perfect job and have your ideal lawyer's career, start today by making a list of all of your strong skills you have an interest in using in your work.
For more perspective, see "How to Play to Your Strengths."
What Are You Skilled At?
Make a list of all the professional skills. From taking depositions to drafting a motion for change of venue to getting a zoning variance. List specific skills.
Add to your list by including non-legal skills like working with pivot tables in Excel, constructing a WordPress site, or coding.
Include non-work skills you learned in other occupations in your list. Even include current or former hobbies and activities such as fishing, hosting a dinner party for 30 people or climbing mountain peaks.
Then rank your skills on two scales.
First rate your skills by how you excel in performing the skill.
Then rank your skills by your interest in using the skills. Compare the two lists to find where your strengths and interests coincide.
Make a third list with your top ten skills on a combined strength/interest scale.
Your sweet spot is on the third list. You want to create your ideal lawyer’s career where you are using skills you both excel at and like using.
How To Build Your Skills
Work on special or side projects.
Volunteer to build your skills.
What Are You Interested In?
Your career takes much of your time and energy.
While you can succeed in legal jobs or on a career path that doesn’t interest you, you will not prosper or be fulfilled.
No matter how successful you appear to the outside world. If you don’t feel prosperous or accomplished in your legal career you will never be satisfied, content or happy.
The legal industry is full of lawyers who appear successful and even prosperous, but are not fulfilled and are miserable. Do you want to be one of those lawyers?
Make a list of all your interests.
What interests you about the jobs you’ve had? What did you like to do? What were you doing when you had those periods when you were in the flow and lost track of time?
Don’t limit this exercise to your legal jobs. Examine your non-legal jobs. Look back at your interests in your life. What subjects interested you in school? What hobbies have you had in your life?
Once you get a comprehensive list of your interests, see if there is any pattern to them.
Do some fit well within a broader group? Are certain skills used to engage with those interests? Do your interests come and go, or remained consistent?
Rank your interests according to what is most interesting to you now.
If you had done this exercise five years ago would it the list be similar? Or, is your pattern to develop interests where you are fixated for a while and then move on to other areas of interest?
If your interests are stable and constant, you will be fulfilled in a job that allows you to work in those areas of interest.
If your interests evolve, you must create a career that allows for that evolution. Or, realize that you may be someone who will change jobs on a more regular basis than the average lawyer (which today is already often).
For more information and recommendations on interest assessments, see “The “ABCs” of Interests and How You [Lawyers] Can Know Them.” [http://www.psycholawlogy.com/2014/09/08/abcs-interests-lawyers-can-know/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Psycholawlogy+%28Psycholawlogy%29]
How Does You Personality Impact Your Career As A Lawyer?
How Does You Personality Impact Your Career As A Lawyer?
A big factor in whether you are successful, prosperous and fulfilled is whether your lawyer’s career is a good fit with your personality.
In evaluating your personality, you want to examine who you are as a person. The real you without your professional persona.
The more aligned your personal and professional personas, the less friction and discomfort you will have in your career and life.
By the time we are in our professional careers, it’s hard to change our character traits. It is important for us to appreciate our traits, both the positive and negative traits, so we can emphasize or moderate them where appropriate.
The situation many lawyers grapple with is acknowledging and accepting who they are with their unique personalities and character traits.
Once you have a clear perspective of yourself, consider how well your personality and character traits fit with your lawyer’s career path.
How does the work you do, where you do it, and who your colleagues and clients are fit with your personality and character traits?
Consider what type of law or function will fit your personality best. A lawyer who does not like conflict and confrontation may be a better fit for the role of a tax planning lawyer than as a front-line litigator. A lawyer not too detail oriented may enjoy the role of a. .. . (?), well maybe they should consider a job outside the law. A lawyer quick on their feet may enjoy being a trial lawyer.
Consider where you practice. Are you in Big Law or a solo practitioner? Is your office in the central business area of a large city or the suburbs of a smaller town? Are you in an in-house lawyer or work within the government?
Your personality will fit better in some organizations and settings than in others. Different personality types gravitate to different settings to practice law.
Driven achievement-oriented lawyers who value high incomes gravitate to Big Law while purpose-oriented collaborative lawyers move toward the government or public-interest settings.
If you are not practicing in an area aligned with your personality, you may move away from your ideal career path. You may be setting yourself up for big problems.
For more discussion of how lawyer’s careers are affected by personality see:
Finances (Isn't It Always Finances?)
You must know what your minimum financial needs are and what your financial needs would be were you living your ideal career (and life).
Revise your budget (what, you don’t have one!) or make a new one that shows the minimum income you could live on without drastically affecting your lifestyle.
The objective is two-fold. First, to have a clear picture of your financial needs if lost your job and had to make do for up to a year with freelance, part-time and odd jobs. Worst-case scenario planning.
Second, to have a clear vision of what it would take financially to have your ideal career and live the life of your dreams.
Nothing too elaborate here. A pen and paper, Excel spreadsheet, or the free Mint app is just fine. What you are after is a good financial baseline for (relatively comfortable) survival and a goal for your dream lawyer’s career and life.
It should take just a few minutes less than an hour.
On the income side of the ledger, determine any income other than salary. That includes a spouse’s income and any investment income.
On the expense side, record all required fixed expenditures. This includes the minimum payments on loans, housing, utilities, food, transportation, phone/internet and other essential expenses required for you and your family to survive for up to a year.
Next, exercise your imagination and get a rough idea of what your dreams will set you back.
You might scale back your dreams, or you might decide you must be more dedicated to creating a career that will reward you better financially. But, be prepared for the downside of many of the highest paying careers.
Are You Healthy?
Without your health, your career and life will be severely affected.
How ya doin’ there, Sparky?
Health issues compromise your ability, energy, and motivation to take charge of your lawyer’s career and rejuvenate your life.
Is your job causing health problems?
I suspect you are not getting enough sleep.
Are you keeping physically fit and maintaining healthy eating habits?
How are you managing stress?
You might need a comprehensive physical exam to gauge your health. If you haven’t had an exam in the past year, schedule one today.
Evaluate your mental, emotional, and spiritual health for a complete picture.
Be honest with yourself and solicit feedback from close family members and friends.
Relationships Can Be Supportive, Or Not So Much
Your relationships may provide much-needed support for your efforts to revitalize your career.
But, relationship issues can torpedo your efforts to create your ideal lawyer’s career.
After our health, our relationships are the most important factor in a satisfying and well-lived life.
Do you have a life partner? Are they supportive? What are their views on your job and possible career paths?
Can you count on family and friends to support you emotionally?
How broad are your personal and professional networks? How strong are the relationships? Has it been a while (or ages) since you connected with them?
Review and update your contacts in Outlook, Google Contacts, or your contact relationship manager of choice. This will help you get a better idea of the breadth and depth of your connections.
CURRENT AND FORMER EMPLOYMENT
Your past and present employment can provide clues to help you create your ideal lawyer’s career path.
Review what you like and don’t like in your job. How about in former jobs?
Put together a list of the best and worst parts of your current and of former jobs.
You will want to look for your ideal career in places that will allow you to have more things you liked in former jobs and less of those things you didn’t.
Where Are You In Your Job And Career Now?
You must get real, real quick. Brutal honesty with yourself is crucial in the lawyer’s career revitalization and transition process.
What is your employment status?
This seems like a simple question. You are employed or unemployed. Next. Not so fast.
If you’re employed, your biggest insights from answering this question will come from looking at your employer and considering its future.
Not by taking a quick look at the Am Law 200 or Fortune 500 rankings, but by examining how prepared the firm and its leaders are for the future. Your future.
You must also do the same analysis of your practice group.
How stable is the group and its leaders within the firm? Is your practice area growing or contracting? Are new competitors, either traditional firms or alternative service providers, competing for your client base? What are the prospects for the industries your practice group serves?
Do you see a clear career path at your firm? What obstacles do you face on your career path? What is the realistic probability of getting to your desired level within the firm?
Remember, brutal honesty not optimistic hope is required for your answers to these questions to be useful in revitalizing your lawyer’s career.
One last question. This is extremely important! Do you want to be on your current career path in the first place?
If you are not employed, doing this analysis for your last employer will enlighten. You can use the exercise as a post-mortem and learn a few lessons.
PURPOSE AND PASSION IN YOUR LAWYER'S CAREER
Purpose and passion are crucial to satisfaction and prosperity, in all of its dimensions, in your lawyer’s career. However, maybe not in quite the way you guess (see the section, “Practice Passion” for more insight).
Do you know what your purpose and passion are?
Purpose And Passion
(Re)Discover Your Purpose And Passion
You’re a lawyer. You may be early in your career. Or, you might have been practicing for a long time.
Unfortunately, you don’t like your job or career path. The long hours and stress are killing you. Your work is not engaging, and you are bored. You are not making an impact in the world. You don’t make enough money. People you work with (either your colleagues or clients, or both) are jerks.
Whatever your particular reasons, you’ve reached the point where you are reconsidering your job and your lawyer’s career path.
Wonderful! But, where do you start?
By looking at your past. Specifically, by looking at you past to rediscover your purpose and passions.
Look at these three videos (”hey, more videos; great”) and see if they spark ideas about your purpose and passion:
Adam Leipzig’s TedxMalibu talk “How to know your life purpose in 5 minutes.”
Scott Dinsmore’s TedxGoldenGatePark talk “How to find and do work you love.”
Robert Steven Kaplan’s "Talks at Google" talk “What you’re really meant to do.”
What The Heck Is Practical Passion?
I firmly believe practical passion is essential to success, prosperity, and personal fulfillment.
What is practical passion?
Practical Passion In Lawyer's Careers
I see slogans like “follow your passion and success will follow” or “follow your passions and the money will follow” regularly. These slogans are spouted by respected career experts and printed on tee-shirts. They are ubiquitous.
Unfortunately, this advice about passion, at least in a lawyer’s career context, is incomplete at best and just plain wrong at worst.
The passion in your ideal career must be something positive, something relating to serving other people.
However, lawyers focusing on using their passion in creating their ideal lawyer’s career must focus on a necessary and crucial corollary.
That corollary is, “and your passion must be expressed as something other people want and will pay you to provide.”
I’m passionate about college football. But at this point in my life I doubt I could build a career around it by creating a service or product others want and will pay me to provide.
The corollary — your passion must be expressed as something other people want and will pay you to provide — is what I call “practical passion.”
Practical passion is found where the activities you enjoy and skills you excel at intersect with what other people want and will pay you to provide.
Two elements are necessary for practical passion. Skills you excel at and activities you enjoy doing, and someone who will pay you to provide a service where you use those skills and activities.
To discover your practical passion, identify activities and skills you both excel in and enjoy.
Then, use your knowledge and creativity to brainstorm ways you can use those activities and skills to offer valuable services other people want and will pay you to provide.
The exercise is more powerful when done in collaboration with others, including mentors, advisers, consultants or coaches, than when trying to do it in isolation.
Entrepreneurial Vs. Employee Mindset
Do You Have An Entrepreneurial Or Employee Mindset?
In today’s world, lawyers and other professionals are more like entrepreneurs or freelancers than traditional employees or partners.
To create your ideal lawyer’s career and achieve success, prosperity, and personal fulfillment, you must think more like an entrepreneur than like an employee.
Expressing your practical passion in your career requires an entrepreneurial mindset.
If you continue with an employee mindset, even if you work in a corporate environment or are an equity partner in your firm, you will limit your career opportunities.
The attorney with an entrepreneurial mindset is always looking for opportunities to satisfy their passions in service of their employer or its clients. To find their practical passion, even as an employee.
The employee mindset is becoming less and less viable for a successful legal career. Today, if your services are not valued, whether your market is your firm, an employer, or comprises individual or corporate clients, you’re in real trouble.
Use the skills you excel at in ways that interest you, and that other people will pay you to provide.
Take control of your career with an entrepreneurial mindset by expressing your practical passion.
Purpose, Passions, And Interests
I talk to many lawyers who are unhappy and looking to transition to a new job.
One of the first questions I asked is a multi-part, open-ended question. “What would you like to do, what are you passionate about, and what interests you?”
Many reply with some variation of, “I don’t know. I can do a lot of things. I just want another job.”
I then ask them, “If I could deliver the perfect job, what would it look like for you?”
It seems like it should be an easy question for someone unhappy with their current position to answer. But, most lawyers can’t answer it.
There are a few unhappy lawyers who can instantly tell me what they like to do and talk about their passions and interests.
They seem to have more life and drive than many lawyers, even if they are in situations more dire than many others.
Typically, they also find jobs, jobs they are happy with, much quicker than other lawyers.
What’s the difference between the two groups of unhappy lawyers?
The first group that is much larger has lost their passion. They’ve forgotten how to be excited about anything in their career, and even in their life. They just want the fear and pain of their current situation to go away.
The second group starts in the same predicament. They are unhappy in their current job or have no job.
The key difference is that they express passion for something.
They are running to something they believe will interest and excite them, not just away from something.
An energy drives their activities in finding a new job, and possibly new lawyer's career, where they can express their interests and passions.
They are much more likely to find their perfect job. And find it more quickly.
Once you’re clear on your purpose, passions, and interests, you can use that knowledge to craft a career that aligns with your dreams.
Refocus On Purpose And Passion In Your Current Job
How do you incorporate your purpose and passions into your current job and life?
By focusing on them and looking for opportunities to express your purpose and passions. Awareness and intention are the watchwords.
If one of your passions is helping others, seek opportunities to work with individuals instead of businesses. Even Big Law represents individuals. If representing individuals who can afford Big Law rates still doesn’t stir your passions, pro bono work may be an alternative.
If your passion is adventure, but you are a deal jockey, seek work on deals that involve startups or cutting-edge ventures. If you’re a litigator, seek high-risk and long-shot litigation projects.
Are you passionate about learning and knowledge? Write that book or article you’ve thought about for years. Find opportunities to explore different areas of law that interest you.
Take small actions now. These actions will improve your satisfaction with your current job as you continue to work through and implement your career revitalization process.
Identify work more engaging and in line with your purpose and passions. It will do wonders for your state of mind. You will have more energy. You will explore different work, clients, or ways to work.
Some of these might not be a great fit. But some experiences, no matter how small, will lead to ideas about what your perfect job and ideal career path will look like.
While you are working on finding the perfect job and creating your ideal career, continue to explore opportunities to incorporate activities in line with your purpose and passion into your current work.
Whether you get brownie points for your initiative or a stern rebuke for squandering billable time, you are moving toward your ideal lawyer's career.
WHAT IS YOUR CAREER (AND LIFE) VISION?
What is your career vision?
In your career, you may strive for mastery, status, power and high income.
In your personal life, you may want close relationships, family time and the freedom to pursue hobbies and other non-work-related activities.
In setting career goals and planning to achieve these objectives, you must consider not only your career but also the other areas of your life.
While the holy grail for many lawyers is a work-life balance, this is seldom accomplished without prioritizing career and life goals.
Your success, prosperity and personal fulfillment are determined by how closely your career and life are in alignment with your purpose, passions, interests and career vision.
If you now know where you are, the next thing you must determine is where you want to go.
What is does your ideal career (and life) look like?
What are your dreams?
Specificity in your vision is crucial to creating your ideal lawyer’s career.
Envision Your Perfect
(And Work Backward)
Many attorneys focus entirely on their career when doing career planning.
Sounds logical, but is it the best way? No.
Start your long-term lawyer career planning (and you must always start with the long-term) with your preferred ideal lifestyle.
Do/will you have a family? What will your family look like?
Where do you want to live?
What kind of stress are you willing to live with?
How much time do you want to devote to your family? Your friends? You? Your job/career?
Do you want power? Prestige? Recognition by colleagues? Wealth? Autonomy? Creative freedom? Internal satisfaction?
How much income do you need for your preferred lifestyle?
What kind of issues, problems and challenges do you want to confront?
Who will your colleagues be and what will they be like?
Who will you serve? Who are your clients?
Most of us will want more of most everything if it is possible. But, it is not. There are trade-offs. Sometimes difficult trade-offs.
If you haven’t come to grips with the fact of trade-offs yet, see the “Priorities” sections above.
Envisioning your perfect lifestyle and working backward will help you in deciding on your priorities and in confronting the trade-offs head on.
Taking a long-term perspective initially will also help you make many of your shorter term decisions easier.
For more on this topic see Call Newport’s post “The Most Important Piece of Career Advice You Probably Never Heard.”
What did you want to be when you grew up? A doctor, lawyer or Indian chief? A rock star, firefighter, video game designer or professional athlete?
Remember what you wanted to be when you were younger. It will give you insight into your ideal career path. Nope, this doesn’t mean you should quit your job and pursue a career as a rock star or professional athlete.
The real benefit in considering what you wanted to be when you grew up is to identify your purpose in life, your “Why”. Not focusing on the “what” you wanted to do when you grew up, but instead focusing on the “why” you wanted to do it.
For some lawyers, they wanted to be a lawyer when they grew up. Why? Because they saw television shows or movies about lawyers and thought lawyer’s lives looked fun and exciting. Now you are a lawyer and know the TV and movie versions of lawyers are not reality. Far from it.
Other lawyers wanted to be lawyers when they grew up because their family decided that was the right career for them. Again, this rarely works well since you followed someone else’s dream, not your own.
But I guess even those lawyers who always knew they wanted to be lawyers also had periods where they wanted to be something else. If you didn’t always want to be a lawyer, you wanted to be a teacher, rock star, or policeman. Why? You wanted to help other people? You wanted excitement and adventure? You wanted to wear a uniform?
Did you want to be an archaeologist or an astronomer? Why? You liked to learn and explore new ideas. You wanted to experiment and discover new things.
Life History Exercise
Go back to your younger days and remember what you wanted to be when you grew up. You wanted to be different things at different times. Remember them all. Now, think back and identify the reasons you dreamed about those occupations. What were you passionate about? What motivated you?
Was you purpose fame, fortune, adventure, freedom, knowledge, discovery, power or a desire to help others? Or, something else? The key is to remember what turned you on, what you were passionate about, what motivated you.
How did what you want to be change over time? Did you have a clear idea from an early age you stayed focused on? Or, did you change your idea of your dream career as you got older and gained more knowledge about yourself and particular occupations? Continue searching for why you changed.
Stop this inquiry into your past when you reach the point where your “why” became “it was practical.” While practical is worth considering in creating your ideal layer’s career path, it’s not relevant at this stage of the career revitalization process.
We all must have food and shelter. But it’s your purpose and passion that lead to a career path where you are energized and motivated. Where you will find success, prosperity, and personal fulfillment.
The whole point of considering what you wanted to be when you grew up is to identify your purpose and passions. The things you get jazzed about. Things that interest and excite you.
Do thoughts about what you wanted to do when you were younger still excite you? Do you think “what if”?
Is so, you have a starting place for building a foundation to revitalize your career path. Ideal lawyer’s careers incorporate your purpose and passion. Energy and motivation result. Without those elements, your job is just a way to earn a living with the stress, drudgery and desperation that go with that career path.
This exercise may help you tease out your purpose and passions.
Favorite Stories Exercise
Write about some of your favorite stories when you were younger. Write about your memories of at least ten events in your life you remember vividly.
These stories should be about times you were happy and engaged. Where you enjoyed what you were doing.
When you have finished writing, review what you have written. See if there are any common themes. People, places, activities or other elements that form a pattern.
Look for commonalities related to why these events and stories resonate with you. Examine them to discover any purpose or passions that surface.
Hobbies And Interests
What are your hobbies and interests outside work?
What were your hobbies and interests when you were younger?
List your hobbies and interests, both now and in the past.
Do you see any patterns?
Why these hobbies and interests and not others?
Do the hobbies or interests suggest your purpose or passions?
Who Are You Attracted To?
If you are still having trouble rediscovering you purpose and passions, or just want to consider them in a different way, ask yourself these questions:
Why did you become a lawyer?
You weren’t ready for the “real” world, but medical or business school didn’t interest you?
You wanted to make tons of money and have social prestige.
You felt pressured by family or friends.
You wanted to make a difference in the world and help other people.
Do these “whys” help explain where you are today?
More important, what is your “why” now?
Why do you get up in the morning?
Why do you go to work?
Why do you have your job and career path?
For many lawyers, their primary career purpose is to make as much money as is possible. That goal drives their actions.
However, the question to ask yourself is why you want to make money. What is your purpose in wanting a surplus of income after paying your debts? Is it a measure of success? To provide a particular lifestyle for your family? To buy bigger and better toys? To get freedom or power? To support causes you believe in?
Your answer to these questions will help you clarify your purpose and passions. It will help you identify the reasons for your dissatisfaction. The answers will give you clues about jobs and career paths that will allow you to achieve success, prosperity and personal fulfillment.
Take some uninterrupted time over the next few days to think about these questions. Do it while you are in the shower or taking a walk. Jot down the answers. Your thoughts are valuable and will slip away if you don’t write about them.
Unless you know what is important to you on a deep level, your purpose and passions, your “why,” you will continue to be dissatisfied with your job and career path.
Career Visioning Exercise
Imagine your ideal career and life at three points; say 5 years, 15 years and 30 years from today.
This is the time to be open and non-judgmental.
Let the ideas and images flow without censoring whether you think they are realistic.
What do you see?
Why are you doing what you envision? What are you doing in your job and life? Where are you doing it? What gives you pleasure and how do you measure success? Who are the people you are closest to in your family, local community, professional community, and life? What do you do for fun?
Describe a typical day.
The more you can get into the picture of your life the better.
Envision seeing yourself, hearing people around you talking, and the feel, smell and touch your surroundings. This vision will have a significant impact on your career and life.
Write about your vision.
Use stream of consciousness as your guide. Avoid using an eraser or editing your writing. Let it all out. Get it all down on paper.
The clearer your career vision is, the more useful it will be in your career transition process.
Envision your career. The more specific, the better. Every sensory perception you envision is vital.
This step is important for you to get everything in your ideal career specified.
Don’t filter yourself now. You must eventually prioritize and consider these items through a more realistic lens. Not now. Let your imagination run wild.
Write About Your Career Vision
Write more about your career vision.
Again, this exercise is important and specificity is the key to later realization of your ideal lawyer’s career.
These questions may help you get started.
What do you do during the day?
Who are your clients?
Who are your colleagues?
Where are you during the day?
What are you wearing?
What are your client’s problems?
What skills do you use to help solve your client’s problems?
Do you sense any smells?
What are your clients wearing?
What do you see when you look around?
How do you communicate with your clients?
How much money do you make?
What services or products do you offer?
How do your clients find you?
How are you compensated?
What sounds do you hear?
What do you do in the evenings?
What do you do on the weekends?
What tastes do you sense?
Where do you live?
What are your hobbies?
What recreational activities do you participate in?
What does your family look like?
Who are your friends?
What are your interests?
How are your physical condition, nutrition, and sleep?
What is most important to you?
What items are close to you when you work?
What things relate to your job?
Spend time with your vision of an ideal career sharply in focus and write about everything that comes into your mind. Don’t censor yourself. Just write.
Use the questions above to spark more thoughts.
Write about them.
This is an important step. Take it seriously.
WHAT DO YOU WANT YOUR CAREER STORY TO BE?
What Do You Want Your Story To Be?
DECISION (AND ACTION) TIME
What are you going to do today to create your ideal career?
ABOUT GREG YATES
I am a Keynote Speaker, Author, Business Owner, and Lawyer Career Transition Expert.
I started a career consulting practice serving lawyers and other professionals after a successful career as a practicing attorney.
Before starting my professional career consulting business, I was a:
• Equity partner at two of the largest law firms in the country
• Rainmaker who developed an annual book of business of over $3.5 million
• Winner of the Turnaround Management Association Turnaround of the Year – Large Company 2011
• Lawyer in a small boutique firm
• In-house counsel for a publicly-traded investment firm, and
• Manager at a Fortune 500 company and several small businesses
I now work with other lawyers and other professionals to help them find their perfect job and create their ideal career to achieve success, prosperity, and personal fulfillment.
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