One of the underappreciated aspects of successfully changing careers as a lawyer is understanding what work pattern suits you best.
As I’ve mentioned previously, attorneys who consider changing careers often think in terms of job titles. That is a mistake. The better approach is to evaluate potential positions in terms of their underlying building blocks. One of those building blocks is the work pattern. And with other building blocks, there is no single right answer. There is, however, an answer (or a series of answers) that are right for you.
Here are a few work patterns you see among lawyers:
A tax lawyer spends many years applying the same basic laws and regulations to a series of different clients and situations. The law evolves over time but not nearly as often as the clients or projects. In fact, at any one time the attorney is working on about a dozen projects.
A public defender, by contrast, might represent 100 or more clients who are charged with more than a dozen crimes implicating 20 different laws.
A different public defender might focus on homicide cases or sex crimes. He or she represents viewer clients than most public defenders, but each representation lasts longer on average.
A corporate transaction attorney does almost all of their work for one or two large clients. Their work involves a handful of recurring scenarios, such as purchase and sale agreements and drafting certain securities filings, such as a Form 10-K.
An in-house corporate lawyer works constantly interacts with one or two executives; the issues involved are quite varied ranging from advisory work, managing outside counsel, and a range of substantive areas (such as employment law, corporate governance, regulatory compliance, and business immigration law).
A different in-house attorney specializes in managing and settling insurance claims related to the same CGL policy. The lawyer interacts with a wide array of different people within the corporation, ranging from support staff, expert witnesses, first-line supervisors, and executives.
An appellate lawyer sits in her office for two months reviewing a voluminous trial record and drafting a single appellate brief on behalf of a single client.
If you are like most lawyers, some of these scenarios probably elicited a stronger negative reaction than others. Setting aside the substantive area of law involved, some of these descriptions may have struck you as boring. And that’s a good thing. Most people are more attuned to knowing what they don’t like than what they do. So long as you don’t dwell on the negative, it can be useful to get a sense of what work patterns you tend to view negatively. Then explore the opposite work pattern. So if spending months and years dealing with the same legal issues and the same people sounds tedious, your preferred work pattern might involve more variety both in terms of the substance and the nature of the people with whom you interact. Likewise, if you hate the idea of jumping around from project to project and always having to learn a new body of law, you probably prefer a work pattern with more continuity.
There is no right answer. A work pattern that bores one person is a good fit for someone else. That’s why self-knowledge is essential to a successful career transition.
As a career coach for lawyers, I can tell you that most people’s desired work pattern tends to be fairly consistent over time. If you like to immerse yourself in a few matters and work with the same people overtime, your preference for continuity is likely to stay with you in other non-legal careers. That’s why it is a building block for attorneys looking to change careers.