Ask the Career Counseling Expert: How Do I Change Careers?

I’m a 36 year-old attorney with twelve years’ experience, including the last six with my own law firm. I HATE PRACTICING LAW!!!!! I want a new career but have no clue what to do: I have no real interests or passions, but desperately want a steady paycheck again. However, potential legal employers balk at hiring me because they can’t imagine why I’d want to return to firm life; and non-law employers think I’m crazy for wanting out of law. I’m at my wits’ end. Help!

If it makes you feel any better, there is nothing new or unique about your situation.  When I received your question I had to laugh; I thought it was from a couple of friends who are also attorneys and hate it!  You are not alone.

What does it mean, “I HATE PRACTICING LAW!?”  If you hate it, why are you looking to work at a law firm?  You are sending mixed messages.  My guess is that you hate having to deal with crazy clients, from whom you have a hard time getting paid, which means no steady income stream, and you are not a big fan of the administrative side of running a business.  Actually dealing with the challenges of legal situations must still appeal to you because you are willing to work at a firm.

My first suggestion is, if you want to work at a firm, when you meet with the partners, focus on the positive aspects of your practice and not running an office.  Obviously, make certain that there is no negativity in your voice when you have the meeting.  Focus on what you can bring to the firm, including your clients and, most importantly, your reputation.

But let’s look at the more complicated situation.  You really do hate practicing law and want out.  This means changing careers – sort of…

First, you can apply for administrative/managerial positions and point out that, as a licensed attorney, you can save the company money by, in addition to your managerial duties, acting as an in-house counsel.  That is the added value you would bring to a new employer.

Second, the key to career change is networking.  You have to find people who, after they get to know you, will be willing to recommend you to persons they know who are looking to hire.

Third, seek “shadowing” opportunities.  When you decide on what new profession you want, meet with people who currently are in that profession.  When you have established a relationship with them, ask them if you can follow them around for a day, shadow them, to see what it is they actually do.  Explain that you want to have a realistic appreciation for the job before you pursue it.

And finally, fourth, volunteer.  Don’t ignore non-profits.  Find one with a mission about which you care and do what you can to help them.  (I doubt that you have “no real interests or passions.”  My guess is that your frustration is masking them.)  Serve on at least one committee where your talents will be exploited.  It’s almost a certainty that the other members of that committee will be in a position to help you with your career change.

As with everything else, it comes down to networking.  Put differently, it’s still true today – it’s not what you know that counts, but who you know!

Thanks for writing.

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If you have any questions you would like answered, send them to me at bh@hsstaffing.com.   Anonymity is guaranteed.

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