Q: I’m dissatisfied with my current job and firm, so I’m considering making a career move. The thing is, I’m not sure whether that’s really the answer. And if it is, I don’t know what my options are. Can you help?
A: Whether you’re an entry-level legal professional or a seasoned veteran, it’s natural for career goals to change and to explore new opportunities. When you’re contemplating a legal career transition, asking yourself the following six questions can help you focus your job search and determine what next steps to take.
1. Why do I want to move on?
The reasons behind your desire to make a change can help you determine which avenues you should explore. You mentioned you are dissatisfied, but why exactly? Does your present work leave you unfulfilled? Do you dislike your colleagues or boss? Is the office culture not what you expected? Is your legal career overpowering your personal life? Have you hit the ceiling in your current firm?
- Would a change make a difference?
Once you assess your current situation, ask yourself whether you can do anything about these pain points. And, if so, whether you’d want to stay with your current employer. If you determine that the problems with your current position are not easily resolved, a new job could be a positive legal career move for you.
3. What do I like and dislike about my present legal job?
Make two lists: One that lists the parts of your current job that you truly enjoy, and another with the parts that drive you up the wall. Consider recent projects that have really sparked your interest and the tasks that you dread facing each day. This exercise will help define the kind of career move to make. If, for example, you’re a paralegal who was really excited by working on a conservation and sustainability case, you could target your legal job search in that direction and even look into a law school with an environmental law program.
4. What are my overarching legal career goals?
As with any career change, it’s important to consider your ultimate goals. Seeking more autonomy in your legal career? Look into boutique firms with their fewer levels of management. If you’re after a wider range of cases and additional opportunities for professional development, a large law firm could be a good fit. Want to make more money? Move toward in-demand and, therefore, lucrative fields such as compliance, litigation, intellectual property and commercial law. Do you desire to make a difference? Consider human rights, immigration or family law and look into firms that do pro bono work.
5. What are my strengths (and weaknesses)?
Analyzing your skills is an important part of any legal career change. If you don’t already have one, start keeping a running list of your major cases and projects to show potential employers your history of delivering results. Take time to highlight or hone any in-demand skills you may have, such as business acumen, technology expertise and foreign language proficiency.
6. What are the emerging hiring trends?
You want to position yourself and your resume for the jobs of tomorrow, not the jobs of yesterday. This means being well versed in legal software, information technology, global issues, government regulations/compliance, data privacy and security, and more. See how and whether your skill set intersects with current hiring trends. Staying abreast of important trends such as those highlighted Robert Half Legal’s Future Law Office research project can help you align your legal career search goals with the expertise law firms are seeking.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.