Lawyer Career Transition Building Block: Geography

Posted by on July 6th, 2012 with 0 Comments

Are you in the right place on the planet?  In the context of career transitions for lawyers, that’s an important building block.

In my experience as a career coach for lawyers, geography is a relatively minor issue for most, and a very important issue for perhaps 5%-10% of the attorneys with whom I have worked.  For example, a large-firm business litigator felt that her life wasn’t complete if she wasn’t near the ocean.  One of the issues that made her unhappy at her current position is that she generally spent too much time in the office, and specifically that she rarely saw the ocean.  Given that she grew up in a beach community, her reaction isn’t entirely surprising.  It might not make a whole lot of sense to most people, and might even seem self-indulgent to some, but it was bothering her.

Sometimes, the importance of geography in a career transition manifests itself differently–as a desire to return to a home town, or to live in a particular location.  New York City has come up in both contexts.  I’ve spoken with lawyers who grew up in NYC and feel a strong urge to return.  Likewise, certain lawyers said to me that “had to live” in the Big Apple, or New Mexico, or Paris, or Kyoto, Japan.

Geography can also be tied to a need to participate in a particular activity.  Several years ago I worked with a city-bound environmental lawyer who loved horses.  He and his spouse now live in view of the Rocky Mountains.

If geography is a critical issue for you, there is good news. The biggest obstacle to moving often isn’t practical.  With some creativity and flexibility, it is possible to move.  The first step is to give yourself permission to explore your options.  If you are feeling squeamish about mentioning this issue to a loved one, that’s pretty common.  Some career-related complaints are accepted more sympathetically than others.  When, for example, lawyers complain about their boss or their workload, people tend to understand.

But don’t be surprised if you get a less enthusiastic or empathetic response when you say that you want to relocate to Bolivia (or some other place). If that’s the response you anticipate, consider doing additional research on your own.  If you do have a life partner, you do need to be careful about planning an entire out-of-town job change in secret.  But you aren’t doing yourself or your partner any favors if you ignore your geographic desires or suppress them.  You may not be able to get everything you want, but in my experience, ignoring the importance of geography can lead some lawyers to become profoundly unhappy.

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