Attorneys and law students have both requested straight-off-the-shoulder information about how to repackage themselves for non-law careers. The minority are ready to take that leap into uncertainty. The majority treat it as a knock on wood, but sense they can function better in law if they have a feel for their options. This is the first in what will be a continuing series. It reflects what I have discovered in already coaching more than 400 career-changers, some of them attorneys.
How difficult is it to transition to a line of work unrelated to law?
The framing of the question reveals the professional naivete of the asker. In any career change, we harness what we can from the earlier one. That means we analyze what bodies of knowledge, skills, accomplishments and more can be leveraged as assets in the new roles. Often to do that we have to research what is needed and wanted in other jobs or self-employment. Thanks to the Internet, that can be done by retrieving help-wanted and distilling what the ideal applicant would present to the employer or vendor to a prospect.
Once that homework is done, the difficulty of the transition lessens. We are now ready to translate our strenghts into other kinds of concepts and language.
One more thing: What helps in transition is experience we might have had before our current career path. We might have worked for 10 years in the family retail or landscaping business or for five years as in loss prevention in college and law school. That part of our professional life is often overlooked.
What about a resume?
We never know what path we pursue will pay off in paid work. Therefore, our mindset is resumes. We put together a number of possibilities. All a resume is is a sales pitch, on paper. We tell the buyers stories they want to hear. It might require trial and error to find which buyers are most inclined to value what we can offer.
But all versions represent complete translations of who we were professionally into the new field's language and requirements. There can't be any vestige left of a former career identity. That screams ambivalence and really-not-qualified. Of course, that's the hardest part: Giving up who we were.
Usually we assume we have mastered that feat, only to have our resumes tossed or an employer or prospect bluntly say to us, "Hey, you are a lawyer, not a public relations expert. I don't need that."
In situations where there is plenty of resistance to creating another story - yes, we are our stories - I recommend those I coach read Chapter 8 of "The Wisdom of No Escape" by Pema Chodron. The title of the chapter is "No Such Thing as a True Story." In the first paragraph, Chodron observes, "The truth you believe in and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new." In years of coaching it became very clear that many of us can excel in any number of career paths. We don't try to hard enough because we are stuck in our comfort zones. There we grieve about what might be taken from us or has been taken from us.
Next article: That Cover Letter.