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In junior high, you were on the debate team. In high school, you excelled at research projects. In college, you loved constructing arguments in classroom discussions. Everyone from your 12th-grade guidance counselor to your undergraduate advisor agreed you’d make a great lawyer. So you went to law school. But somewhere along the way — before graduation — you began to wonder: Will I actually enjoy working as a lawyer? When doubts creep up, career counselors and coaches can help you figure out the work you’ll enjoy and how to build a satisfying career path — as a lawyer or as a civilian. Some law schools offer such services, but private assistance can be useful, particularly if you’re looking to explore options outside the legal field. And many of you are. In 1998 and 1999, the most recent years for which figures are available, the National Association for Law Placement’s annual survey on the employment experiences of recent law graduates found that about 11 percent of those reporting from 173 ABA-accredited schools accepted positions not directly involved in the practice of law. Anecdotal evidence supports this statistic, as career counselors and coaches say that lawyers and lawyers-to-be constitute many of their clients. “I get people who leap into law school, and sometimes they even love it. Then they get into the world of legal work and hate every minute of it. A lot of people don’t look at what it means to actually do something, rather than to be it,” says Belinda Plutz, a career development consultant in New York City and a principal in Career Mentors Inc. “I’ve had a law student who was nearly finished come in and say, ‘Oh my God, what did I do? Should I be here?’ “ Celia Paul, founder and president of Celia Paul Associates, a career management firm that specializes in working with lawyers, believes that the best candidates for counseling are students who are not sure if they should continue or students who are questioning what else they can do with a law degree besides the traditional jobs. “The person who has doubts about the choice they made to go to school in the first place would get the most out of it,” she says. “There are some young lawyers who get out and hit the ground running and just keep running. There are others who get out and say, ‘Oh no!’ I wish that group had had experience looking at this before they got to that point. Going to see somebody earlier in a law school career would be better.” WHY GO PRIVATE The most basic reason to work with a private career counselor or coach is that your school’s career center doesn’t offer the services you’re looking for. But even if there are a lot of on-campus resources available, somebody on the outside might provide a more wide-ranging perspective, plus extra privacy. “If they’re thinking of leaving school, they might not feel it’s confidential enough” to use an on-campus counselor, explains Peter Manzi, a career consultant with a private practice in Rochester, N.Y. “There are psychological reasons, personal reasons and family reasons to seek somebody outside, somebody with a broader background, with psychological training perhaps.” Plutz agrees: “In the world and in a family, surety seems to be expected, especially when somebody has paid a lot for a degree.” She says counselors can offer a supportive environment that can be hard to find on campus. “In law schools, knowing the answer is demanded. A professional who can allow you not to know the answer is powerful sometimes.” WHAT YOU’LL GET Assuming you’re unsure whether you’ve chosen the right career path, a counseling relationship — which typically lasts from four to 15 sessions, spaced out over weeks or months — begins with an assessment of your personality, skills and the types of environments in which you’d thrive. The assessment takes a few meetings and involves homework. Then there’s usually a lot of carefully planned networking — which involves more homework. “I ask lots of very tough questions, and I give exercises that help sort out some of the client’s likes and dislikes,” says Plutz. “The point is to get them to look at different areas they’ve been exposed to and what appeals to them most. I encourage people to look at role models. Then they connect with lawyers, for instance, who are doing the kinds of things they think they want to do, maybe through alumni networks. And then they shadow an attorney for a day, and we often work together to create a loose questionnaire to use as a guideline in learning during that day.” Clients might, for example, ask the role models what they would do differently if they could go through their careers again. Plutz believes that networking is one of the primary skills clients develop working with her, a skill that is not necessarily taught in law school career offices. “Clients learn how to create networking connections from the beginning. I feel very bad for people who want to use a professor as a reference six years down the road when they haven’t had any contact with the professor at all.” Paul’s process is similar, beginning with an assessment and helping clients develop “greater self-awareness of which careers match who they are. Law might be good, but other things might be good, too. They’ll get a broader sense of options.” She then guides them through the process of looking for work, which includes networking. “Most students are pretty clueless,” she notes. “There’s less recruiting in this economy, so they need the techniques to go out and do it instead of being passive.” WHAT TO LOOK FOR There are career counselors and career coaches, and they are slightly different animals. Although no precise lines divide the two groups, there is some consensus that career counselors provide more personality assessment and overall career planning, while coaches offer more strategic, day-to-day counseling to meet a specific objective. These definitions are loose, however, and with rates ranging from $75 to $200 per hour, you’ll want to make sure you get what you’re looking for. So no matter what titles are given, make sure to talk work styles with prospective counselors, coaches, or consultants. Some things to ask about include: What you can expect to take away from the process. Whether there’s a free initial meeting or phone session to see whether you’re compatible. How many sessions it will take to accomplish your goals, and how often you can expect to meet. Whether all joint work will be done in person, or if there’s an option for phone or e-mail consultations. How much it costs (some counselors offer sliding-scale fees, but bartering — i.e., trading legal services for career help — is usually considered a no-no). Also, be sure to ask about credentials and to get references. Perhaps most important is the personal connection between you and the person who may be helping you make some big decisions. Don’t be afraid to evaluate somebody’s suitability based on whether or not you like them. “Coaching is a very personal experience,” says Thomas Phillips, communications officer for Coach U, which certifies those who coach professional and communication skills. “Focus on chemistry. Be honest with yourself, and make sure they’ve worked in the area you’re in.” Plutz agrees: “Beyond checking out credentials, a lot of it is chemistry, who you feel good working with. Trust your instincts.”

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