Denver Bar Association
June 2006
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Five Things You Can Do To Change Your Career

by Peter Hobson

You are a lawyer and something isn’t right. The jobs you held in the past were rewarding and the profession was fun for years. Now you aren’t so sure.

Clients are becoming more ignorant and difficult to deal with, and the judges are sometimes even worse! A judge rules a certain way and you are at a loss to understand why. You begin to feel as if maybe you don’t have your heart in the work as you did in the past. It could be burnout or a mid-life crisis thing. Perhaps you have been reading too many legal thrillers. You wonder: "Do I still want to do this?" You ponder a career change and realize you know nothing about changing your career or even where to go for help.

This is one lawyer’s advice about what to do if you want to switch gears professionally. A career change can be as simple as changing your focus to a different area of practice within the legal profession, or it can be as complex as allowing your license to lapse and obtaining a license to drive a semi-truck instead.

Here are my five suggestions:

Know Thyself. Follow the simple method given to me years ago to determine what makes you happy. Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left-hand side, place the word "HAPPY." On the right-hand side, place the word "UNHAPPY." With respect to your career, begin by listing those characteristics about what you are doing in your profession that make you happy or unhappy.

Once you have finished, see if this simple method doesn’t already state what you know to be true about you and your practice. It may seem a trivial exercise, but I assure you that you will look at this list as you continue through the exercise. You will be compelled to seek what makes you happy and avoid that which makes you unhappy. I do this list for all areas of my life. I believe that happiness is an art we must work to attain.

Create a five-year plan. It should be a clear map for where you want to be in your career over the next five years. For each year, outline specific goals and accomplishments. Make sure this plan includes not only professional and financial goals, but spiritual and personal family goals, as well. Once the plan is completed, show it to your friends and family for their input and understand that it is a working document (i.e. that it will be updated periodically as events develop or you change). The plan should contain all the things that make you happy.

When I was offered my present employment, the plan proved invaluable. It was the blueprint for my analysis of whether to take the position being offered, and today serves as my map for continuing to work in this position.

Get your financial issues in order. Prepare your personal budget, specifically identifying recurring monthly obligations. Try to eliminate expenditures not absolutely necessary.

Once this budget has been identified and you are comfortable with it, estimate what you would need in terms of monthly gross income to meet this budget with a comfortable 15 percent margin. Then, look for ways to stockpile six times that figure so that you have the ability to change careers and for a period of six months, you can be assured that all of your necessary expenditures will be paid out of this capital. You also may have residual fees or income that can carry you over until your new income is consistent.

Get ready to market and sell yourself. Once the above steps are completed, you must realize that every new person you meet is your new prospective partner or employer. Prepare a resume that not only sets out who you are, but that also is a perfect picture of what you are and who you will be. Don’t be overly concerned about awards or publications; focus on a clear statement of goals and what you enjoy doing.

Sit down and study business opportunities within your community that you would like to work toward, and seek people who can introduce you to those opportunities. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to someone you’ve never met.

This is a never-ending task. I approach everyone I meet as if we could be doing business together next week. Although it may not happen, the other person has a great first and lasting impression of you.

The only way to ensure failure is to fear failure. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason, and, as you apply for positions and interview for opportunities, you will find that rejection can cause despair. But even in despair, there is an opportunity ahead of you. If you focus on playing the game and not winning the game, you will enjoy the game much more and probably will succeed at it. This is a lesson we attempt to teach our children as they take on new tasks in life.

You know what makes you happy and what makes you unhappy. You have prepared a plan that charts your course for the next five years. You have prepared yourself for six months of disaster. You are psyched for the challenged and understand there is nothing that could be construed as defeat or failure.

One final thought: You have just prepared a plan to achieve a goal that is employed by almost every Fortune 500 Company in America today when it attempts a new initiative. This may seem simple, but it is also the most successful plan. Best of luck and enjoy your new career.

Peter Hobson is a licensed attorney in Florida and Pennsylvania. After practicing in Tampa, Florida for 20 years as a sole, general practitioner, he accepted the position in 2001 as in-house counsel for Pepin Distributing Company, the Anheuser Busch wholesaler for a two-county area.

The CBA/DBA Transitions Committee is offering a program for people who are considering career changes. If you ever wondered if a career in law really is for you, then this program is for you. Four attorneys will tell their stories: one left private practice to become a district attorney; one left practice to become a teacher; one moved on to become a legal recruiter; and one left the practice only to return. “Midlife Career Changes” is Wednesday, June 7, at noon. Cost is $10 and includes lunch. RSVP to lunches@cobar.org or (303) 860-1115, ext. 727.

 

 

 


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