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The following discussion thread excerpt is from an ongoing law.com online seminar, “Shifting Gears: Alternative Careers for Lawyers,” moderated by career counselor Deborah Arron. For more information on this program and other law.com seminar offerings, please visit www.law.com/seminars MODERATOR DEBORAH ARRON, CAREER COUNSEL TO THE PROFESSIONS, SEATTLE, WASH. I left the law in 1985 for three reasons: I wasn’t married and figured that being a lawyer had something to do with it; I took great pride in being a problem solver and helper, but too often my clients experienced more trauma, rather than less, by being involved in the court system; and I was constantly afraid that I was going to miss a deadline, or file something wrong, or misinterpret a statute, or fail to find the latest precedent, i.e., all those details drove me nuts. Why else do lawyers look for career alternatives? Are there better reasons than others to make a change? PANELIST STEPHEN SECKLER, SECKLER LEGAL CONSULTING, NEWTON, MASS. I never had well-formulated career goals once I started law school. Getting to law school was the goal, and the only new goal was graduating. Once I was in my first “real” job after law school, it took me a long time to set the next goal. I realize now that having well-defined goals would have made it easier to make choices about how to spend my time and how long to stick with my first job. This is something I do now all the time (i.e., evaluate and reevaluate my career and personal objectives). Keeping my goals in mind helps me to find motivation to do some of the things I may not enjoy about my current job. (By the way, I really like being a recruiter, but like all undertakings, there are parts of the job that I could do without.) The general message is that sometimes it is worth sticking it out in a situation that you are not happy with because you are developing skills and credentials that will help you along the way. For example, if you don’t like being an associate at a law firm but you would like to become a general counsel at a technology company someday, it would probably be a bad idea to leave law firm practice after a year. On the other hand, if you have already concluded that there is no legal job that you can imagine enjoying but instead see yourself in sales and marketing, then it is probably not helping you to stay several years at your law firm job. Caveat: paying down law school debt is a very worthy reason to continue practicing law at a firm. Law remains a high-paying profession, and getting rid of debt will help you move on. ATTENDEE WHO POSTED “ANONYMOUSLY” The fear of making a mistake which will have a grievous impact on a case, your firm or your career haunted me as a lawyer. The minutiae and false deadlines that surround the practice of law caused me to lose perspective and prevented me from enjoying the rewards that assisting parties in resolving disputes, forming alliances, or protecting their assets could have brought. Also, the lack of training which law firm economics dictate left me floundering as an associate. The senior partner at my small firm would leave terse “see me” notes on my desk and I would dread walking into work and finding one of those. PANELIST SUE AIKEN, LIFEPRINT, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF. In the 15 years I have been listening to reasons lawyers wanted to leave the law, I have seen such an incredible brain drain from the field. While I do not profess to know all that goes on in a law firm, I have not seen significant efforts to retain employees other than to throw money at them. Money cannot be taken lightly as was mentioned. However, studies in business have always shown that money is not the primary motivator for staying with a company or organization. Employee retention is the buzzword these days in business, and since I am a strong advocate on urging clients to first examine how they might change their current employer and/or organization I pass on this question : Are there examples of enlightened firms working to develop their employees, to provide adequate training to new associates, that have mentoring set up, etc? Or is this just the way law is — too much work, very long hours, critical deadlines, incredible responsibility? ATTENDEE PHILLIP WINEGARNER, MARIEFRED, SWEDEN Deborah, I love that phrase, shifting gears. When I moved from New York City to Sweden in 1990, I took a break from my legal career and worked in a Swedish truck factory making gears on huge lathes. Great experience — just what the doctor ordered. So tactile and creative, nothing intellectual. Got laid off when the economy slowed down in the early nineties and started my solo practice here with the healthy severance pay. Business has been growing since then, but I have had to supplement my income as a legal English teacher/translator in order to keep the life style. Why did I shift gears? Well, I left the law for family reasons. I was prosecuting child abuse in New York City the last few years before moving abroad. And after my sons were born, the job became too emotionally draining. (But in hindsight I see that particular job was one of the noblest of pursuits for a lawyer, pretty much the only job I can think of where a lawyer may actually save a life.) Now I have started an IT company here in Sweden and am in search of the venture capitalist to make it happen. But my legal education and years of practice are assets in all I do. PANELIST MICHELLE COTTON, SPHERION LEGAL GROUP, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF. Today’s topic, “Why Shift Gears?” is an exceptionally timely one for lawyers of any experience level. As a legal recruiter, I have witnessed attorneys of all experience levels successfully transition from the law into positions where their legal training is still very relevant. Their reasons for making the switch and their end goals may be different, but most of these attorneys are finding that non-legal positions are now open to them in ways we have never seen before. Given the booming economy and its resultant tight labor market, technology companies and other businesses have become more flexible and creative in their hiring and are willing to give attorneys a chance in areas such as business development, sales and venture financing. Moreover, now is an opportune time to shift those gears because employers are getting very used to seeing career changes on resum�s — more so than ever before. Ten years ago, a lawyer leaving a law firm would have met much more resistance when leaving the law. Today, companies are more willing to view a law degree and any ensuing legal experience a candidate may have as an excellent background for a variety of positions. One caveat, however: litigators may have more difficulty shifting gears than will other kinds of lawyers. Litigation is an entity unto itself, and most corporate employers see little relevance in litigation experience, unless a component of an in-house position entails litigation supervision, etc. All in all, now is a great time for lawyers to shift gears. The new economy has created more opportunities for attorneys, in the legal profession and otherwise. We have never before seen so many new opportunities for lawyers develop in such a short time. PANELIST JOAN BIBELHAUSEN, CAREER MANAGEMENT CONSULTANTS, MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. I agree with Michelle that litigators can have a rough time “shifting gears.” I have worked with a number of well-regarded, highly skilled wonderful people who want to leave litigation. They often see litigation management as their one option but there are, of course, very few of those compared to litigation positions. It seems that litigators often have more difficulty accepting change because they have lived within the rules of the court system — there is less opportunity for creativity than in some other areas of practice. Also, litigators are stereotyped — “there are hundreds of ways to do something but litigators know only one.” Sometimes the litigators believe this, too. Also, relationships with clients are not as conducive to moving in-house as they are for the counselor/transactional types. As a result, I think it becomes even more important for lawyers in litigation to understand the broad concept of transferability and to be able to do the same sort of advocacy for themselves that they have done for their clients. PANELIST STEPHEN SECKLER, SECKLER LEGAL CONSULTING, NEWTON, MASS. Objectively, litigators can have a harder time convincing a business that they are well-suited to a non-legal position. Unlike transactional lawyers, they spend their time living in a world of rules that is self-contained and not necessarily relevant to the way companies conduct business. In reality, many litigators are extroverts, and this can be helpful in several ways. For starters, when you are looking for alternative jobs, it is very helpful to do a lot of networking. Extraverts seem to find it easier to get out and meet a lot of people. Secondly, litigators are used to advocating for others. It is not that big a step to learn to do it for yourself. Litigators bring a lot of skills that are useful in the business world. They know how to negotiate, they can write well, they know how to advocate and they know how to make a focused argument. Sometimes litigators are able to make a career shift by going to work for a client in some capacity other than as a litigator. If you lack credibility to do a particular job, sometimes you can make up for this simply because an employer knows you as a bright, capable, reliable and effective advocate. PANELIST KATHY MORRIS, DIRECTOR, ABA CAREER RESOURCE CENTER, CHICAGO, ILL. In my experience as a career counselor for lawyers, there are nearly as many reasons why lawyers shift career gears as there are lawyers, and other than changing just for the sake of change (which works all right when changing wardrobes but generally not when addressing something as important as your career), most deeply felt and well-considered reasons for the change turn out to be good reasons. For my part, I left the formal practice of law based on a lifestyle choice. Nearly 20 years later, I have three children and a rewarding career related meaningfully to the legal profession, having invented and reinvented career counseling, in-house lawyer training (yes, in firms), CLE, and teaching contributions ranging from an individual career counseling practice to the creation of the new Career Resource Center for the American Bar Association. While you don’t need a full-detail roadmap with which to chart your career shift before you even start your engine, you do want to be thoughtful about the direction in which you’re headed and about a good way to get from where you are to where you would like to go.

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