May 17
classifieds section of newspaper

The Job Title Mistake

When lawyers think about making a career change, they often make a common mistake.  They evaluate potential alternate jobs and careers based on their job titles.  They will say things (to themselves and others) such as, “Being a journalist might be interesting” or “I wouldn’t like to be an actuary.”

Simply put, this is the wrong way to think about making a career change or looking for a new job, especially for attorneys.

If you know that someone is a receptionist, you have a pretty good sense of what they do.  But job titles are remarkably uninformative for most of the positions in which lawyers tend to be interested.  Two people can have the same job title in two entities in the same industry, but if you follow them around for a week, you see that they do very different things most of the time.  This is true for two partners at a law firm, one of whom is a rainmaker and the other a service partner.  The same dynamic applies to most of the jobs or roles that lawyers seek.  So don’t fixate on the job title.

What should you focus on?

Examine the building blocks of any position.  Look at factors such as the size of the work team with whom you will interact and your relationship to that group.  Most people have particular preferences in this regard.  I’ve had clients who know they are exceling when they become the number two person in an organization.  Others know that they thrive on continuity, and prefer to work repeatedly with the same group of 6-8 people.  Some like to work with a group of people that constantly change.  They feel bored without that change.  There is no right answer to this question, but there is a right answer for you.

This is just one building block.  Others include the skills you would use and the values of the organization.

The best way to think about making a career change as an attorney is to describe the combination of building blocks that are suitable for you.  Don’t think about the job title.  Instead, think about what kind of position would, for example, allow you to use your writing skills on behalf of a cause that matters to you, where you would be one of the handful of decision makers that can influence policy.

See how this kind of inquiry opens you up to examine possibilities that you might otherwise ignore or dismiss out of hand?  That’s why looking at building blocks is a more effective career transition strategy than looking at job titles.