Why a smaller career change can trump a bigger change


For many lawyers (myself included) attempting to make a big change to their careers can be difficult.

There are many reasons for it.

One main reason is insufficient knowledge and experience of other areas and a lack of time and energy to acquire it.

So, rather than trying to make the big leap in one go, it can often be helpful to look at a smaller change in the first instance.

I call these stepping stone options.

Why a stepping stone option can be better?

Making a smaller stepping move has benefits that are often critical to making a career change:

  1. Time, energy and motivation to explore the bigger change
  2. Invaluable real world experience of another area of work
  3. Less competition for roles

1. Time, energy and motivation

One of the biggest challenges for lawyers wanting to make a big career change is time, energy and motivation.

I see lots of people vow to make a career change.

They look at job boards and speak to recruiters but soon they run out of steam.

Their time, energy and motivation is hard to sustain alongside the high demands of the day job.

If this is the case for you then a stepping stone change may be just the thing you need.

I benefitted from this when I moved my career to Australia. I secured a temporary in-house maternity leave contract for four days a week.

Having every Monday to work on my next career move was invaluable.

By making a stepping stone move, many lawyers find this gives them more freedom of mind in work, less stress and more head space to work through the longer term job/career change they are considering.

All of this whilst still paying the bills. 🙂

2. Invaluable real world experience

In my experience, searching the internet for career options and scouring job boards rarely gets people very far.

One of the keys to making a career change is to get as much experience of other areas of work as possible.

One great way to do this is with a stepping stone move.

You will need to identify for yourself what other areas you are interested in experiencing.

Common areas for my clients are one or more of these:

  • Work types
  • Organisation/company
  • Sector
  • Working environment
  • Working practice

My stepping stone role in Australia gave me the experience of a different corporate culture and what it’s like to live and work overseas. This was always something I had an itch to find out.

You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it. The same should go for different career options.

3. Less competition

When looking at some stepping stone roles, such as temporary contracts, you can find there is less competition for them.

Therefore, you may find there is a greater potential to pivot from where you are.

This is because temporary work is seen as being less secure so many risk-averse lawyers won’t apply.

As a potential career changer, however, you may want to see this temporary nature as giving you freedom rather than a lack of security.

What stepping stone options are there?

Any change that gives you more time, energy and motivation to explore your bigger change can be a great stepping stone option.

This might be getting out of a toxic working environment to a similar firm doing similar work. Lowering your stress levels will give you more energy for exploring your career change.

Or you could move in-house as a temporary measure if you find the nature of private practice is draining you of time and energy (which can often happen).

Other effective stepping stone options are where you significantly change your working days/hours in some way. Whilst many lawyers will convince themselves it’s not possible where they are, if you ask you might be surprised at what you can get.

An increasingly popular choice of stepping stone is the consultant lawyer route. This usually comes with the freedom to choose how much you work and how you manage your time.

Finally, as already mentioned, I recommend temporary contracts and locum positions in law firms and in-house legal departments.

They are great ways to test drive another type of job, a different practice area, another organisation and/or different working practices.

There is also very often a different more positive mindset at play when you’re not fully tied into an organisation and its politics on a permanent basis.

Is it time to find your stepping stone?

So, if you’re finding it hard to make progress with a big career change maybe it’s worth considering a stepping stone option.

The key to a stepping stone option is it should give you the time, energy and motivation to be able to work on that bigger change.

The added benefit is it gives you some great experience of different work, a different working environment and potentially other factors you might want to add to your career criteria going forward.

If you want to explore the stepping stone options available to you I cover this in my one to one career coaching. Find out more and book an initial free consultation call here >>

Career Coaching for Lawyers

  • Get unstuck and start taking action on your career change.
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  • 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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