Making a career change is hard in any field, but lawyers in particular have a tough time pursuing a new line of work. And rightfully so – after many grueling years of law school and countless hours spent preparing to take the bar exam, it can be hard to walk away from a title that you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
There is a status and prestige associated with the practice of law, because the background and education of lawyers gives them a very unique and valuable skill set. But lawyers themselves tend to undervalue their skills outside the context of law.
Often, lawyers are beautiful writers and thorough researchers; eloquent, confident and articulate speakers, problem solvers, analysts and counselors. All of these skills can be translated into other careers.
If you’re a lawyer considering a different career path, here are three steps you can take to get started.
1. Identify which lawyering skills you enjoy and excel at.
It’s important to note that the skills you enjoy and the skills you are good at might not be the same. As a lawyer, it’s likely that you already make use of the abilities you excel at — but they might not be the tasks that you actually enjoy doing.
If you’re going to make a career change, you’ll want to be clear about what kind of work you really like to do, so take the time to really think about what you enjoy doing. One of the easiest ways to identify this is to think about what you’re working on during the times that your day seems to fly by. Keep in mind what other abilities are involved during these times as well. For example, you may love client counseling because you enjoy helping clients make a decision about how to proceed with a case, and explaining what potential outcomes you see panning out. Counseling is the most obvious skill here, but some of the other qualities that are coming out of this process are wisdom and knowledge, as well as speaking, teaching, advising and analysis. All of these skills have the potential to be translated into other careers.
2. Research other career paths that would encompass these skills.
Luckily, most lawyers and law students are very good researchers, which can be put to use while looking for career paths that align with the skills in which they excel and enjoy. A good place to start would be to have conversations with people who work in the fields you are considering. Ask about the work they do, and what their day-to-day looks like. There are also many online tools for doing more targeted research, such as LinkedIn. While you’re researching, pay attention to how people in the roles you’re exploring describe their jobs. Is there an overlap with the skills that you already have? With the ones that you like doing? If there’s someone in your network that can make an introduction, take it a step further and reach out to these people. Ask for an informational interview, or if they’re in your area, offer to buy them a cup of coffee in exchange for information about their line of work. Be sure to ask what skills and experiences are needed in order to be successful in their field.
3. Brand yourself through your skills, not your roles.
Here’s an opportunity to be a creative, persuasive problem solver. Position yourself as someone who can fit into a role based on the skills that you’ve already gained – even though your role was different. There is so much value in having a legal education and experience; it’s just a matter of leveraging it properly.
Life’s too short to continue to work at a job that is no longer fulfilling you. There’s no need to feel bad about walking away from a career in law to pursue a different path. In fact, so many of the skills you’ve honed during your time working in law can be easily leveraged into a new role for a different industry.