Tuesday, 28 June 2011

How transferable skills help lawyers change careers

Many of the lawyers I work with believe their career options are limited when considering a career change.  They feel their existing legal experience is niche and therefore they have few transferable skills and limited alternative career options available to them.

Is this true? Are there limited career change options available for lawyers?

In answering this question, think about the skills you use as a lawyer. 

Firstly, identify what you do each day.  Perhaps you manage a caseload, go to court, draft documents, speak to clients or conduct negotiations.   

Once you have identified your list of activities, think about what skills these activities involve - use the following headings to assist:

·         Interpersonal skills
·         Communication Skills (verbal and written)
·         Drafting skills
·         Research and problem-solving skills
·         Technical skills
·         Flexibility
·         Commercial Awareness

You should now have a long list of skills you use each day.

Eliminate the skills you do not enjoy using and translate your remaining skills into those skills required for alternative careers that interest you.    Be creative and you will soon find that many skills can translate from one career option to another and your career options will start to expand.

So, is it true that there are limited career change options available for lawyers?

No, as a lawyer your career change options are not limited.  You have many transferable skills which make you employable and, as a lawyer, you use these skills to a very high standard.  All you need to do now is build your self-awareness, become aware of the skills you use each day and remain creative through your career change!

If you are a lawyer considering a career change and are stuck for initial career ideas, have a read of my ‘Careers and Jobs for Lawyers’ factsheet found here.

Monday, 20 June 2011

How will I know when it’s the right time to change career?

Jack didn’t know what to do.  He had been thinking about a change career for 2 years but could not find the perfect job.  Although he had found an area that he was really interested in, he said he lacked certainty that this career change was the right decision for him and so it was too risky to change direction at this time.

How will Jack know for certain that this career change is the right decision for him? 

Making the decision to take the plunge and change career can be daunting.  It is a difficult decision to make.  In an ideal world, the decision making process would be black and white, yet there are many factors to consider that simply get in the way such as:

-       Fear of failure
-       Believing you have no idea what to do  (although, we normally do have an idea and it is the fear of failure that prevents us from admitting it)
-       Parental expectations
-       Resisting change
-       Status and money
-       Waiting for someone else’s approval

Most of us are experts in resisting change and will delay decision making.  We think of all the reasons for not doing something.  Ultimately, the decision has to be perfect and so we will wait for that perfect moment....and wait.....and wait a bit more....

Is life really that straightforward? 

Is absolute certainty possible to achieve?

Unfortunately, life is not straightforward and often if we wait for certainty we are unlikely to ever make a decision regarding our career.   This is why Jack was waiting...and waiting...and waiting a bit more..... In fact, he waited for so long that his pending career change took over his thoughts and made his life stressful.

Jack now had two options:

1.     To continue mulling over a possible career change

Will he still be thinking about a change career in 2, 5 or 10 years time?  Is this how he wants to spend his time or is his life now slipping away?  If this relates to you, think of the consequences of feeling this way for a further 5 years.

2.     Accept that establishing certainty may be a long wait and make the decision to go for it

What happens how?  Having found an area he would like to work in, Jack starts making progress in finding the best job for him and moves forward into his future.  

Think about it - what’s the worst that can happen? If you decide to take this option and it doesn’t quite work out, learn from the experience and move on to the next step.  You will be better for it and you will be moving forward. 

Jack eventually made the decision to take option 2.  He stepped out of his comfort zone and moved from his current role into a role within his area of interest.  He is spending the next 2 years formulating his ideal career path and learning from the different experiences he encounters.  He decided that now was a good time to make the decision and is feeling a lot better for it.

Monday, 13 June 2011

What impact does perfectionism have on a lawyer’s career?

It concerned me to read recently that the number of LawCare cases being opened is still on the increase each year.  One of the reasons lawyers contact LawCare is for help with workplace stress, an issue that every lawyer must be aware of to enable them to look after themselves and others.

LawCare is an advisory and support service to help lawyers, their staff and their immediate families to deal with health problems such as depression and addiction, and related emotional difficulties.

In LawCare’s blog of 7th June, it was announced that a milestone had been passed with 200 case files having been opened so far in 2011.  Furthermore, it was reported that over 500 people a day are looking at www.lawcare.org.uk and that these statistics were not a good thing.  LawCare is not playing a numbers game and the preferred scenario is for the organisation to not be needed at all.

The reality is that LawCare is needed and one of the reasons for this is workplace stress.

Workplace stress affects many lawyers.  This can be for a variety of reasons such as risk of redundancy, heavy workloads and lack of control.  Through my experience of coaching solicitors, I also believe perfectionism, a common characteristic of lawyers, can also contribute to workplace stress.

How is perfection expected of lawyers? 

Through their studying, training and practise lawyers are competing everyday with high achievers.  On a personal level, many lawyers want to be the best at what they do and naturally see perfection as the way to achieve this.

Alongside this competitiveness, lawyers are required to work every day with precision to provide optimal results.  Each word in a document has to be correctly placed, all advice must be accurate and every argument has to be persuasive.  Again, perfection may be seen as the only way to achieve this.

Perfection is therefore a good thing, isn’t it?  Surely it creates the best lawyers?

Unfortunately, this focus on perfection has some less desirable side effects. 

It is very common for lawyers who have become perfectionists to develop behaviours which ultimately cause stress.  They begin to avoid risk taking (read my blog of 7th June), they fail to speak up for fear of getting something wrong or they work unnecessarily long hours to ensure their work is spot on.  Take a moment now to think of the stress this pressure can cause an individual.   Ultimately, as their fear of failure escalates, their self esteem will diminish.

What can be done?

Every lawyer’s training and personal development needs will be different and there are many techniques and tools that lawyers can use to assist them through their working day to alleviate the stress that they may feel. 

In the first instance, I am suggesting that lawyers recognise the impact workplace stress can have on an individual.  Even if you are not suffering from stress yourself, there may be others around you who are.  Awareness of this issue is the first step towards finding the solution.  Although perfection can be seen as a good thing, there must be recognition of the negative impact it can have on some lawyers.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Risk Taking and Careers

I know many people who are unhappy with their career.  They perhaps feel stuck in a rut and want a career change or are unsure about how to progress within their chosen field.  However, when it comes to making a decision to do something about it, they often disregard various career options because of the risk involved.  So, what exactly is this risk? 

Is the risk worse than the risk of spending the rest of your life feeling unhappy at work?

We all know of James Caan from Dragon’s Den.  He is an extremely successful entrepreneur and took some calculated risks to get there. One of the biggest risks he took was at the beginning of his career when he decided to leave school at 16 with no qualifications.  At this time, he chose not to pursue a career in the family business, as had been expected of him, but to pursue his passion to become an entrepreneur. 

Having left school at 16, James began to make a successful career in recruitment and subsequently founded recruitment company Alexander Mann which grew to in excess of £130m turnover.  During this period of his career, he also launched Humana International which established in 147 offices in 30 countries.  Both businesses were sold in 1999 and James’ success continues today.  Not a bad outcome as a result of the risk he took at the age of 16.

I am not now suggesting that you jump hastily into making a risky decision about your career.  Nor am I suggesting that you continue to disregard options to change career or make developments in your chosen field when you believe it is too risky. 

What I am suggesting is that you do some risk management when making decisions about your future career.  Spend time considering whether the risk is worth taking.  What are your options?

Then ask yourself the following questions:

What’s the worst thing that could happen?

James Caan had assessed that if he failed in his mission having left school at 16, he could always fall back on the option to take a job in his father’s business. 

What is the risk of doing nothing? 

In 10 years time, will you be feeling even more disheartened by what you are doing?  Often people are averse to taking a risk in their career, yet subsequently regret the things they didn’t do. 

What’s the best thing that could happen?

You may enjoy work and pursue a really successful career.   You may get the promotion you have always wanted or succeed in a really fantastic career change.   

Is the risk worth taking now?

What is stopping you from pursuing a fantastic career?  Do one thing today towards making your decision.  To assist, see our free resources at www.tessaarmstrong.co.uk.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

If you change career, do you have to retrain or work up from the bottom of the ladder again?

If I was given £1 for every time someone said to me that they would like to change career but can’t face retraining or going to the bottom of the ladder, I would be earning a very decent side income with no retraining involved!  This may be good for me but so much opportunity would have been lost by those who thought in this way and this is the reason why....

A year or two ago, I met Jessica who worked in the financial sector.  She was 28 years old and desperately wanted a career change.  However, she had worked really hard over the last few years, training and developing in her career, and did not want to go back to square one through her career change. 

Jessica had a desire to work in the charity sector and she assumed that to succeed she would either have to work as an intern, do work experience or complete a course to equip her with the necessary skills.   She was wrong!  To get where she is today, she did not do work experience, she did not apply for an internship and she did not complete a course.

What did she do instead?

She closely examined her transferable skills from her career to date and personal life and matched them creatively to job specifications. She also networked within the charity sector to find out about other people’s experiences within the sector. 

What was the end result? 

She obtained a job with a charity and loves it!  Furthermore, she only had to accept a slight decrease in salary in comparison to what she had been expecting.

During a recent catch up with Jessica,  she said that some of the best advice she was given a year ago included:

1.     Don’t set your sights too low; and 
2.     Remember to use your existing skills and experience to your advantage.

There are of course some professions where formal training is necessary such as law and teaching.  However, there are also many jobs that don’t require this.  So remember, you may already have the transferable skills, experience and network to be able to change career in the direction and at the level you want.  All you need to do now is ensure you sell yourself well and go for it!  Don’t set your sights too low.

A career change can be made through the good use of your existing skills, experience and network.

See our free resources at www.tessaarmstrong.co.uk