Quitting the Law [A 6 Step Process]

career change process

A roadmap for turning your “big decision” into a “big success”

I often speak with lawyers who tell me they have made a big decision: that they have decided that they need a change in their career.

And then they tell me that they are now paralysed by not knowing what on earth to do about that.

Some of them have not been acting on that ‘big decision’ for several years before they work with me.

And I’m certainly not judging them – this was exactly what happened to me too before I left law.

Any career change should involve a defined process.

It doesn’t have to be complex – in fact, it is much better if it isn’t – but it should be gradual and considered in order to help you achieve an end result.

But remember, you’re embarking on a journey, one that could be quite long, and you may well not know your ultimate destination until quite near the end.

A 6-Step Process

A career change process should ideally be heavily tailored to the individual and shouldn’t simply be a “cookie-cutter” experience.

Nevertheless, I’m well aware that there are many lawyers out there who are completely stuck as to how to go about looking at their career options.

For people who need some guidance as to how to get started, I recommend following a simple 6-step process.

However, to get the full benefit from it, you need to make sure that you fully understand each step’s intention and the challenges and potential roadblocks that you will certainly encounter on the way.

Step 1 – Mindset

Not only is having and keeping the correct mindset the crucial first step in the process, it’s also vital to every other step along the way.

I’ve written about some of the mindsets you will need in more depth in an article here, but the key thing is to remember that the correct mindset will help you handle the obstacles and challenges that you will encounter.

By having an awareness of what might well be coming up for us we can more easily develop strategies to deal with it.

Understanding how powerful mindset is in creating our own reality is vital.

As is keeping a close eye on how we are feeling, and spotting negative influences early in order to manage them effectively.

Step 2 – Self-Analysis

You must understand that any decisions you make about your future career direction should be shaped by what is going to be the best fit for you.

Not you the lawyer, but you the person.

You need to really get to know who you are, and to get under your own skin to find out what it is about you that might be a help or a hindrance in this process.

For many people, this is a surprising and rewarding journey of self-discovery.

In the absence of a tailored self-assessment tool, there are many online self-analysis questionnaires you can take that can give you an insight into your personality traits, your strengths and your weaknesses.

I would be wary of using “free” services, however, and seek out scientifically backed and reputable analysis tools.

Step 3 – Preliminary Research

A broad direction of travel is a useful starting point for any journey.

When it comes to possible career change, not every avenue is open to everyone.

But remember step 1 – keeping an open mindset here is a great idea. After all, this is preliminary research, not shortlisting.

You must avoid the lawyer trap of over-analysing too early.

It’s far better to have a long list of options to explore and whittle down, than having only a few that all prove to be unsuitable when put under the microscope.

Step 4 – Brainstorming: Be Creative

Once you’ve researched some potential directions and have defined the broad parameters of your career search you need to let your mind roam free for a while.

This is something that many lawyers can struggle with.

“Left-brain” thinking makes you a good lawyer but stifles your creativity. Use brainstorming techniques to let your “right-brain” see the light of day.

This is the time to really let go, leaving any judgment to one side and completely avoiding filtering your thoughts.

This will allow you to come up with a much broader list of possibilities for your life and work than would otherwise have been the case.

After the initial free-form brainstorming comes the editing and filtering, and it’s vital you do it that way round.

In this way, you will find it much easier to think through and decide what it is you really want and that will frame the next parts of the process.

Step 5 – Advanced Research

Now that you have fully considered both your needs and the requirements of the careers you have shortlisted you need to delve much deeper.

You need to ensure that any potential career path is a perfect fit for your strengths and personal traits, and vice versa.

The best way to do this is via “field research”.

Meet people who do those jobs, talk through their lived experiences, speak to senior leaders, attend events or conferences, visit workplaces.

The goal here is to take a deep dive into the career possibilities you have highlighted and to fully understand how you will fit, and how a move in that direction will make you feel.

Step 6 – The Action Plan

This is the part where you need to actually do something about it.

This can be where even the most well-intentioned become stuck.

Lawyers like us tend to rather relish the analysis and research phases. Sometimes, this can lead to “analysis paralysis”!

By putting together an ‘action plan’ – and acting on it – you can overcome that hurdle.

Although I’ve listed it here as the last step in my simple career change process, that’s not strictly true. It’s actually the penultimate step.

The final step is to take the actions that the action plan requires.

This is where having a trusted friend, colleague, mentor, or career coach can come into its own. By going through this process with someone else to act as a guide, sounding board, counsellor, and cheerleader you can massively increase your chances of success.

Ready for a Change?

Career Coaching for Lawyers

  • Get unstuck and start taking action on your career change.
  • Gain clarity around what you want.
  • Generate ideas and explore career options.
  • Get support and guidance from an experienced career coach and former lawyer with 25+ years experience of the legal profession.

Matt Oliver

Matt is the founder of Law Career Plus and a former in-house lawyer (Sky Sports, London & Foxtel, Sydney). With over 12 years of experience as a career consultant & executive coach, he supports lawyers with their career development & career transitions. He does this through this website, a regular email newsletter and his one to one lawyer career coaching.

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