YOUR CAREER STRATEGY?
you’ve made the RIGHT JOB DECISION and maybe you haven’t,
either way, now is the time to begin mapping out LONG-TERM plans
By Alexandra Duran
New York Law Journal Magazine
It's your first day at work and you are thrilled
that the selection process is over. It can be an exhilarating moment
to walk into the office that first day. At the same time, it is
not unusual to feel overwhelmed or full of self-doubt.
What might prompt these feelings? Is this job the result of a clearly
defined, well thought out career strategy? Was it the first offer
you received? Is it a good match for your skills, interests, and
passions? In other words, why did you take this opportunity instead
of others? And, are you sure it was the best choice?
By the time an attorney begins practicing law, so many resources,
financial and otherwise, have been invested that it seems too difficult
to acknowledge that this first opportunity may not be perfect. For
so many reasons, attorneys often become personally identified with
their professional role, making it difficult to even contemplate
tinkering with their employment. The result: a strong desire to
hold onto, rather than improve, the present circumstance.
Here's Your Goal for Now
Maybe you did make the right decision, maybe you didn't; however,
you probably won't know for a while. Either way, now is the time
to begin designing a long-term career strategy. Planning of this
type means identifying an end goal and determining the necessary
steps in reaching it.
It is difficult to think about this when you are in the midst of
a job search. We often accept our first offer based on quick results
and short-term goals rather on a long-term perspective. The whole
notion of fit seems vague and uncertain when trying to find that
first position while weighing both the risk and the opportunity.
What constitutes a good fit? Work that captures your imagination
while adding joy, meaning, and purpose to your life, as well as
using your knowledge, skills, humor, and passions. Beyond that,
how do you determine what is an excellent career choice for you?
There are no hard and fast rules for how one goes about achieving
ultimate career success. There are several things, however, that
you can do to improve your chances of successfully reaching your
ultimate career goals.
Step is to 'Play'
Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the future. Where will you
be and what will it look like? Do you see yourself involved in high
drama? Or with a practice that is more low-key? Are you focusing
on abstract ideas or concrete issues? Are you a member of a large
legal team or a solo practitioner?
Give yourself permission to be imaginative and be free from that
nagging judgmental voice that assumes anything you might actually
enjoy will be wrong or somehow not "good enough." These
work fantasies are often closer to our interests and general nature
than we know.
To be truly successful at imaginative career play, it is imperative
that you draw upon those ideas that you have when you think no one
is listening, judging, or observing you – when you are alone
with your own thoughts. Do not discount any fantastic ideas no matter
how outlandish they may seem to be at the moment.
If your fantasy involves an activity or subject that seems impossible
for you to fully incorporate into your life, perhaps there is some
way to involve yourself in it tangentially. For example, you don’t
have to be a firefighter to work in the fire department: they have
many employees handling different and interesting issues, several
of them law-related. It’s possible to involve yourself directly
in a world you enjoy and experience the satisfaction of work that
captures your imagination and interests everyday.
Finding Your Path
You must strive to define what elements will
constitute a life that you will feel in the end was worth living.
This type of evaluation must be personally tailored for each of
us – one size does not fit all.
Often our insights about ourselves happen so quickly, with such
clarity, that we feel they are almost too easy and therefore unreliable.
Resist discounting these insights and instead, acknowledge them
and perhaps postpone evaluating them until you can consider things
in a broader context. Incorporating what pleases you into your working
life will encourage you to use your best skills everyday, and will
help add meaning and purpose to your professional life. When this
combination occurs, your law practice can be fulfilling and truly
The Substantive Work. The key is to determine what
subject matter captures your imagination, contains sufficient depth
and breadth, and has a minimum of dead-ends. Also take into account
that the marketplace is always changing, presenting new and unforeseen
Is there a subject that you always return to, or keep up with, whenever
the opportunity presents itself? Do you read about it, participate
in it, talk about it, or think about it whenever possible? It may
be an idea, principle, or process – whatever it is, it is
worth investigating as the essence of your legal career. How you
become involved in it will depend on various other factors, such
as your skill set and financial needs.
The Skills You Enjoy. Each of us develops different
skills and we enjoy using them in diverse and unique combinations.
A close examination of our achievements provides insight
into these skills – noting what you do with ease, eagerly,
and often first, is a solid place to begin this evaluation.
There is a great temptation to discount those things that are fun
and effortless as merely "hobbies" and not "jobs."
For example, if you love to ski, being a corporate or patent attorney
for a ski resort or equipment manufacturer might satisfy your love
of the sport and your legal interests.
Working Environment. Everything other than the substantive
work itself constitutes the environmental issues. Sometimes we overlook
these in making career choices, and they are the things that can
drive us, over time, absolutely around the bend. For example, if
you require privacy to think and be productive, cubicle life is
not for you, and the odds of your prevailing over this aspect of
your environment are miniscule. Environmental issues can be industry-wide,
or employer-specific. Either way, they affect your sense of well-being
on a daily basis and need to be given great weight when making a
Tweaking Your Career for a 'Good Fit'
If you decide that you would rather practice in another area of
law, it is imperative that you begin handling those types of matters
as soon as possible lest you become too identified with your current
practice area. It may not be easy to accomplish, but it’s
not impossible. It takes persistence, determination, and an eagerness
to do the entry-level work of the new practice area.
As a solo practitioner, you have an advantage because no one will
stand in the way of you reestablishing yourself; however, under
these circumstances remember that you will be the sole rainmaker.
If you work in a firm with others, you may straddle various practice
areas, perhaps as a volunteer or pro bono, to gain new knowledge
and experience. The difficulty is that you must persuasively demonstrate
what value you will add by learning this new area versus billing
in your current practice.
Perhaps you enjoy your practice area but the specific work assignments
don’t match your specific skill set or excite you. Internally
marketing yourself, with persistence and enthusiasm, to those who
may give you these types of assignments will usually result in the
small beginnings of potentially larger rewards.
Look Beyond Yourself. Get involved in the world
beyond your law practice. Who are the business leaders? What are
the current economic, geopolitical, and social trends? Take
action. For example, you can volunteer in your community: become
a member of your local school or museum board; take an active role
in professional and extracurricular associations. Through these
activities, you can make and keep connections with others that will
enhance both your private and professional life. Use these opportunities
to gain insight and experience, learn new skills, and evaluate your
interest in various substantive areas. One of these may prove to
be a good fit and you will gain impetus into a new area of practice.
Yes, Carpe Diem
Now that the first day is behind you, what do you think the third
week, the eighth month, or the fourth year is going to look like?
The answer to that is not in a crystal ball, but is yours to determine.
Identify what you would consider to be a successful legal career
and then work backwards in considering your options to attain or
reach that goal. The more fluid you remain in considering your options,
the more enjoyable the journey will be for you and the greater the
possibility that you will attain your long-term career objectives.
Duran, a former general counsel of Fashion Institute of Technology
who first began practicing law with a large New York firm as a summer
associate, is founder and principal of Career
Transitioning and coaches attorneys in advancing their careers.
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