"How a Senior Lawyer Can Redirect a Career"

By Celia Paul
Reprinted from New York Law Journal

After having established a successful legal career, many lawyers have many healthy active years ahead and will begin to think about finding fulfillment in those years. In The Longevity Factor: The New Reality of Long Careers and How It Can Lead to Richer Lives, Lydia Bronte has uncovered a "second middle age" from 50 to 75, which can be a period of productivity and growth.

Knowing Priorities

To focus on types of activities that might be satisfying. One must first examine his or her own priorities. What is wanted from life now? More money? More leisure time? More control? More opportunities to develop mastery in a specialized area? Or making a contribution to society? And is one willing to give up other interests to gain these? For example, does one want regular work hours, such as in a legal position in a corporation, even if it means sacrificing a high income? Is there interest in going back to school to learn a new area?

To help weigh these factors and implement the critical decisions, specialized evaluation instruments have been developed. One evaluates career health, career well-being, resilience and flexibility. A career consultant can help clarify goals; one can begin by asking what the most important criteria are for success and satisfaction. If most of the criteria are not being met in a current career and lifestyle, then substantial changes are needed. If most are being met, then fine-tuning the allocation of time can create an even more satisfying situation.

In addition to values, one needs to assess skills. Since law is basic training in analytical thinking, the skills are broad enough to be applied to many fields. Negotiating, persuading, thinking on one's feet, writing clearly and concisely are all valuable. As with values, the question becomes one of focusing on desires: what enjoyable skills are being used most? Careful evaluation of strengths will help build on your past success.

One way to assess skills is to analyze a recent average working day. Tasks are to be listed, beginning each with a verb and not using technical legal language. For example, interpreting complex data for a client, convincing a witness to testify, assimilating a large body of information, developing and arguing an opinion based on certain facts? Then the question is asked, which skills gave the most satisfaction when they were used. Identifying expertise develops a clear sense of most enjoyable abilities.

It is also important to distinguish those aspects of the practice of law that are enjoyable from those that are not satisfying. This will help focus combine skills and interests. Alternatively, a decision to remain in the law, either full or part time, while pursuing other avenues, can involves those interests that lawyers does not satisfy.

A clear presentation of skills will help define a new path and implement the change. When applying for jobs in other areas, the ability to present persuasively and clearly what the individual know show to do will determine whether he or she is selected. Even in pro bono activities, lawyers often find to their surprise that they have to present themselves effectively to be chosen for a project of interest.

Examining Options

Becoming an Entrepreneur
Lawyers have many of skills necessary for becoming successful entrepreneurs. They know how to organize their time and determine priorities; they learn new skills quickly, think independently and follow through on plans. They also know how to promote - or even sell - a product or a service, although their professionalism often prevents them from using - and appreciating - their selling abilities.

Nevertheless, lawyers may need assistance in developing their entrepreneurial strengths and confidence in their choice. While all career changes involve some personal risks, entrepreneurship involves monetary risks as well. It also offers the opportunity to earn much more than in the legal professional. It is especially critical to plan to finance at least one year without income when beginning a new venture.

A wide variety of businesses interest lawyers. Sometimes the choice is based on an individual's legal background. Sometimes, it can also be based on a side interest, such as a clothing store. It may encompass a creative field, such as theater production of art dealership. Restaurant ownership, or inns and nightclubs, are also popular choices.

Specialized tests of entrepreneurial potential are available. But the lawyer must also be very interested in a business of his own.

Nonprofit Work

Strong organization skills and an interest in socially useful work can make involvement in a no-profit attractive, either as a volunteer, or a paid employee, lawyers are very marketable to nonprofits because of the skills mentioned above.

On the other hand if the counselor aspect of lawyer and the wish to help others on a one-to-one basis appeals more than any other, counseling may be the appropriate field. Although counseling is not the primary alternative of many lawyers, an increasing number have shown interest in some area of this field.

Additional education beyond legal training is normally required; the amount of schooling will vary depending on the particular area, from a few courses to a full doctoral program. Some attorneys begin training while practicing so counseling can become a second career when they are ready to leave their practice. One way to explore the field is to discuss the different graduate and post-graduate training programs with admissions staff from various schools and to contact some graduate.

Volunteer work as a counselor can also give a deep awareness of whether the field is the right one - before investing in further training. Most social agencies have active volunteer programs with professional supervision. Counseling can accommodate a part-time schedule, since one can have an independent practice and control of one's own hours.


The wish for autonomy and flexibility may lead to consulting. Consulting firms often hire senior lawyers to work on a team with business experts and to use their contacts in helping build the business. These teams assist law departments of corporations and law firms in solving a wide variety of problems: financial, marketing, staffing, Analytical abilities, combined with expertise in a specific area, such as tax law, enable a lawyer to make a contribution in these fields. These firms can be an excellent training ground for learning how to provide consultation services independently, or for creating a business of one's own with a team of diverse colleagues.

A Writing Job

If writing is one of the strongest and most enjoyable skills, there are opportunities with heavy emphasis on written communication.

A growing field is public relations, where the responsibility is to obtain publicity for the client. Legal contacts and knowledge can be used to develop business. Specifically, the work involves writing press releases and other materials and persuading editors and radio or television producers to use them in their various media. Other activities include: organizing public events that bring positive attention to client organizations, determining the best "spin" on an issue, writing brochures and direct mailing materials, preparing speeches and arranging public appearances. There is work both for public relations firms that have various clients or as free-lancer on specific assignments.

Lawyers in public relations enjoy using both their writing and their verbal skills. However, they do report that the writing is not as analytical as legal briefs, and sometimes they miss the challenge.

Another writing area that often interests lawyers is journalism. Investigative skills, as well as written communication, are used extensively here. Articles, or even books, can be written on a free-lance basis. Compensation comes only when the work is sold; yet there is the flexibility to write on subjects of interest, as long as they are marketable.

Publishing houses and magazines also employ skilled writers as editors. Many lawyers use legal publishing as an intermediate step to other types of publishing because the expertise facilitates getting assignments. Gaining credentials as a writer may first entail volunteering for a nonprofit organization or a local publication.

Gathering Information

The process of career change can be both exciting and frightening. Taking risks is essential to the transition process, but the decision needs to be well supported.

One of the best ways to explore new areas is by informational interviewing. This process requires making contacts in the new area, which often leads to opportunities in this country come through personal contacts. For career changes, the numbers are even higher. Formal channels such as newspaper advertisements and executive recruiters will not work for this type of transition. Sending out large quantities of resumes or form letters is even less effective.

Changing to a new area requires presenting oneself in a positive fashion; this is best done in a personal meeting. While it is easier to change into a field where expertise relates directly, such as consulting in one's specialty, other career changes are possible with effort and the right techniques.

In an informational interview, the lawyer arranges a meeting with someone (the target) who works in a fields or organization being considered as a possible career or job choice. The lawyer is the interviewer and therefore structures the interview by asking appropriate questions that will provide important career-choice information.

One can generate dozens of informational, or "contact," interviews at the highest level in any organization if the proper approach to the target is used. These are not job interviews - the lawyers are asking most of the questions. He or she may call or write to each person, although telephone contact offers the advantage of immediacy and directness, and - compared to a letter - usually improves the chance of securing an interview.

To elicit help, one needs a very short version of the reason for the call, which may include the phrase, "I am not seeking a job, but information," or better yet," I wish to discuss [the target's] article in the 1989 Biophysics Journal (for example) on (subject)." In other words, it should be made clear that one wants to talk about the field.

While conducting informational interviews, research should be conducted on new career possibilities by reading trade journals, other articles, and books. An excellent source to help get started is the Encyclopedia of Business Information Sources, which indicates major periodicals and recent books in each field.

This transition process should be considered an exciting opportunity to learn more fully about oneself and one's dreams. Even though extremely busy and under time pressure, the lawyer must define goals and begin to take small steps toward them now. An effective transition may take a number of years to complete, and a plan with a realistic timetable and definable tasks is essential. Taking a risk as a senior lawyer can result in enhanced self-esteem and life satisfaction.

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