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The first step in starting a career transition is to look within yourself. Many people make the mistake of looking only to the job market. They look through the classified ads or call head-hunters. They look for what "they can get." They don't spend any time thinking about what they really want-or how to figure out a way to position themselves so they can get it.
This is especially true in the realm of alternative legal careers. Attorneys come to me for counseling time and again, asking, "What else can I do?" as if there were an actual list of open jobs for lawyers who are unhappy practicing law. I don't blame them for asking-I would, too. But any type of job search, especially a transition out of law practices requires some self-assessment first. Without it, unfortunately, you may be heading right from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. Self-assessment exercises can help you determine your strengths and interests, and can actually be a lot of fun and not very time consuming. For lawyers, it's especially helpful to let the creative juices flow, as you have probably been working so hard lately that you haven't had much time to reflect.
EXERCISE #1: LAWYER REALITY CHECK
This exercise is designed to help you determine how the "reality" of practicing law gels with your expectations for yourself prior to becoming a lawyer.
When did you decide to become a lawyer?
Why did you go to law school?
How did you like law school?
How do you like practicing law?
What do you like about it?
What do you dislike about it?
What would you want to change?
If you didn't practice law, what else would you want to do?
If you had to stay in law, what changes in your environment, substantive area of practice, geographic location, employer, would you like to make? (Circle all that apply.')
Different substantive practice area
Different city or state
Work with different types of people
Completing Exercise #1 should: (a) help you figure out what went wrong and why; and (b) help you determine if you can fix it within law practice or by leaving for a new career. The responses could range from your realization that you never really wanted to be a lawyer, to a clash between your expectations of law practice and your current reality (which you may or may not be able to change to your satisfaction).
It is important to look back at your responses several times over a period of a week or longer to see if your feelings remain the same. You might want to add to or modify your answers. It would be helpful to discuss what you wrote with a friend, colleague, or a career counselor.
EXERCISE #2: BRAINSTORMING
Now that you have a greater understanding of your career in law, the brainstorming in Exercise #2, will give you an opportunity to think about and write down what you might like to do if you no longer practiced law. Really let yourself go. (I promise that it's not a binding document!)
EXERCISE # 3: CREATIVE VISUALIZATION
This exercise is designed to focus the brainstorming you did in Exercise #2 and give you a more concrete idea of your interests and values, while forcing you to think a little bit more about your choices.
1. A mysterious, anonymous donor has deposited $2 million in your bank account. Your money worries are over. What would you do if:
You quit your job and decided not to work for a year, but instead to enjoy a life of leisure?
You quit your job and are free from money worries, but you still want to work?
There has been a binding stipulation made by the anonymous donor that the money must be donated to the cause(s) of your choice?
2. The same mysterious donor has given you $2 million, with the stipulation that you use it to start up a business. It can be any kind of business, including nonprofit. You can use the money to rent office space, hire employees, buy equipment, or for any other purpose.
What kind of business would you start?
Where would it be located?
What would your office look like (your personal office space)?
How many employees would you hire? What would be their function?
3. The same wonderful donor has earmarked $50,000 of the money to be used to further your education. You can use it for anything from taking pottery classes at the local YMCA, to earning a doctorate from Harvard. What would you do with the money?
4. Something terrible has happened. You have quit your job in reliance on the donor's money. Somehow it has all mysteriously disappeared. No one is able to help you out. Unemployment is unavailable. You must find something immediately.
What steps would you take to support yourself? What other skills do you have to rely on?
After working out an estimated annual budget, what is the bare minimum that you could live on? Be specific.
How much would it take for you to live comfortably?
5. Ten years from now, you have recovered your losses, and are being honored at a large black-tie dinner, to be televised worldwide.
What are you being honored for? (It can be an artistic, academic, political, sports-related, or any other type of award.).
Who is the first person you call? (You can only call one person.)
6. After receiving your award, your chauffeur drives you to the airport for the long flight home. Your flight is delayed so you go to the newsstand.
You purchase three newspapers/magazines. What are they?
Which articles do you turn to first? (Try to think about subject matter.)
EXERCISE # 4: SUNDAY PAPER "HELP WANTED" SURVEY
This exercise is designed to take all of the brainstorming and if you have done above and apply it to the "real world," go to your city's major Sunday paper's classified ads section. Grab your scissors, some tape, and some blank index cards. Read the entire section, from A to Z, cutting out anything that interests you. Tape each ad that you cut out to an index card. Highlight in red ink any information about job titles, responsibilities, qualifications needed, etc. Place the index cards in the order in which the positions interest you. Look it over every few days to see if you want to change the order of the cards. This should provide a wealth of ideas and possibilities for your future career. Keep the cards as a source of specific information for later when you might be looking for a job in any of these fields.