Maybe you’ve made the RIGHT JOB DECISION and maybe you haven’t,
but either way, now is the time to begin mapping out LONG-TERM plans
and goals.

By Alexandra Duran
New York Law Journal Magazine
September, 2004

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.

First 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 rewarding.

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 options.

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 examina
tion 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 career choice.

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 econo
mic, 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.

Alexandra 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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