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Q: I graduated from law school in 2002 and became an associate at a boutique NYC firm, focused on high-profile bankruptcy matters. Because of extenuating and, frankly, just plain unfair and unscrupulous reasons, I was let go. I proceeded to join a smaller and much more specialized firm. I was just let go, again. Truth be told, I hated it there and am happy to start again, with a better sense of what I will not specialize in. Am I doomed because I was “let go” twice? Both firms will, and already have, given me positive references. I truly want to practice law, preferably trusts and estates. I know I have the makings of a skilled attorney, but I am a bit discouraged. Any advice? Two Years, Two Firms A: Dear Two Years, Two Firms: To avoid becoming “three years, three firms,” you must look objectively at the reasons that you were “let go” from both firms. Anger, disappointment, discouragement and negativity are natural and you must allow yourself time to process those feelings. Nevertheless, to move on, you have to be ready to examine the reasons that you did not succeed in the past so that you can take steps to prevent the same issues from arising in the future. It is important to consider whether there is something more than being in the wrong practice area at the wrong firms. Although it may be painful, evaluate the feedback from your previous firms. Step back from your feelings that their reasons were “unfair” or “unscrupulous,” and determine whether there was some truth in their assessment of your performance. See whether there is a pattern. Develop a strategy to overcome any problems that may be undermining your effectiveness. You express an interest in pursuing a practice in trusts and estates. It is difficult to tell your motivation for making that decision. You give no indication that your conclusion is based on self-assessment. You also do not express a long-standing interest in the field. By your own admission, you are approaching your career transition from the standpoint of practice areas that you “will NOT specialize in.” Using process of elimination to select a practice niche can be problematic. It can be an indication that you are desperately seizing onto an idea instead of researching practice areas and assessing your skills and interests to determine an area that best suits you. Being reactive rather than reflective could easily lead you down another wrong career path. Take time to engage in self-assessment and think about your options. Changing practice areas can be to your advantage, provided you can speak positively about your choice during interviews. Obviously, employers will be curious, or suspicious, about your reasons for making so many changes in such a short time. It is not enough for them to understand that you are still at an early stage in your career and are trying to find the right practice area. You must convince them that you have finally found it. You must have specific and compelling reasons for pursuing the practice area. As far as your previous experience, you are fortunate that your firms are willing to give positive references. If you have not already done so, make certain that the information provided by them is consistent with what you are saying to prospective employers. Of course, you must refrain from badmouthing your former firms or the work that you performed with them. Negativity will only undercut what you have to offer to prospective employers. Focus on the transferable skills that you will bring to those employers and the specific reasons that you are interested in them. Once you have settled on a practice area, immerse yourself in activities related to it. For example, attend conferences and CLE programs, participate on Bar association committees, and read and write about the area. Become known to practitioners. Network as much as possible, only after you have determined how you will handle questions about your past experience. When contacts get to know you and see that you are an effective attorney, they are likely to be willing to introduce you to other contacts and possibly let you know about available positions. Working at two firms in two years is not necessarily fatal to your career. At the same time, failing to remedy any underlying issues is likely to place you in jeopardy. You cannot afford to repeat the same pattern with your next employer. By making a transition into a new practice area, you can give yourself a fresh start. Sincerely, Linda E. Laufer Linda E. Laufer is a career consultant and former practicing attorney.

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