I graduated law school in 2008 – by December of 2012 I was making a transition into my fourth (and final) legal position. I had been the Goldilocks of Maine law firms. I started with Papa Bear (a 120+ lawyer firm), moved to Baby Bear (a boutique firm of less than 5 lawyers), and then tried Mama Bear on for size (a firm of 15 lawyers). What I didn’t realize about myself in any of the career changes was that what I really wanted to do was to work for myself. None of the settings, firms, or opportunities that I had experienced gave me that chance, and so none were a good fit for me although they were each amazing opportunities in their own right.
For me, it’s a good thing I realized I wanted to work for myself, and that my husband was game to have me join his previously established law firm in a very autonomous capacity. It made sense for us financially and based on our lifestyle goals and priorities. And it was a good thing, because the reality was that while I was figuring out what I wanted in my career through ad hoc transitions, I was making myself un-hirable and unmarketable. If I had not taken the time to really do some digging internally, about what it was that I was looking for, I might have sought out yet another transition and added another 1-2 year job stint on my resume that would be hard to explain away later.
Asking the tough questions
It took me so long to finally dig deep and think about what I really wanted – because I had been trying to do it on my own. Until I began working with a career coach regularly, I was floundering. I was giving up on one failed position and setting off on a new one without trying to learn from the mistakes of the first. I assumed that the reason things weren’t working out was because I hadn’t found the exact right fit yet. But I didn’t really work to make sure that the new position would resolve for me what was missing for me.
Without having someone ask me the tough questions I was avoiding, I would have likely continued to ignore my own career goals and kept on “trying” something new. Maybe I would still be in my third law firm job or maybe I would have become frustrated and tried to find another law firm job. Maybe I would have found that it was too hard to explain away my “law firm hopping” and find myself unmarketable to a new employer. Maybe I would have gotten out of my own way and explored other options and found my current path on my own over time.
You are not the best person to push yourself hard
In the end, no law firm position was going to be a good fit for me. Until my coach called me out by asking me whether I even wanted to be a lawyer, I hadn’t really considered that I might have other options. He pushed me harder than I was pushing myself. I was working hard to be an excellent lawyer, a good employee, a fiancé, daughter, friend, and sister. What I wasn’t doing was working hard at being a more successful or happier “me.”
Once the question was posed, I ended up realizing I did want to be a lawyer, I just needed to identify what was important to me and find a setting that offered me my priorities. It turns out that I actually love serving clients, but I hate office politics. I love having the ability to make as much money as I can, but hate being told what I am worth by a committee of colleagues. I love being able to control my schedule and work from home, but hate needing to have office face time. I love finding new ways to be efficient and to market my practice, but hate needing to get approval for making changes in my workflow or practice. I wasn’t ready to give up being a lawyer – I just needed to do it on my own terms.
How to get your career on the right path
Now this is just my story – not every lawyer who is unhappy in their current situation needs to take on a drastic life change and work for themself. A less drastic solution to career dissatisfaction might be to overcome a personality conflict in your office that makes your job less than pleasant. Or perhaps you need support on delegating more effectively to be more efficient with your time. Or maybe you do need a kick in the pants to get into a job search and find something that is a better fit for you.
If you are someone who has taken a “job” rather than planning a career, or already has a few law firm moves on your resume, this might really resonate with you. I would conjecture that most unhappy or frustrated lawyers could use some self-assessment in their lives, and for someone to ask them tough questions that they are avoiding. They need someone to challenge them – someone who has no skin in the game – to help put an action plan in place to reach new heights in their careers and lives.
You can continue to go it alone – while either staying in a job that makes you unhappy or perhaps making a series of transitions – but why not join a team of other motivated lawyers instead? Instead of navigating these waters alone, consider working with Happy Go Legal, and a group of other lawyers, who are in the same boat. Happy Go Legal is offering its first ever Right Path Group Program, aimed at helping you utilize resources and books that compliment founder Chelsea Callanan’s coaching style, to make some big decisions, that could benefit the rest of your life and career. Even if the group setting isn’t for you, there is also a Right Path Laser Assessment that might be more up your alley.
Interested in learning more? CLICK HERE – the Group Program starts September 17, 2013 and has limited seats, so act now! And because Happy Go Legal supports the Omnizant community, enter Discount Code HGLGroupPath to receive $20 off whichever program you feel is a good fit for you.
Chelsea Callanan is a practicing lawyer, blogger, and career & life coach – she founded her company, Happy Go Legal, to provide resources and education that inspire lawyers to prioritize professional development and work-life balance issues. Her number one suggestion to lawyers? Take time to identify what it is you’re working toward, and what achieving it will mean for your life. Only then will you find success and sustainability. Hear the rest of Chelsea’s story about how coaching changed her life and career and consider whether it’s time to take your career into your own hands.