And love what you do
By Caroline Nevin
When students enter law school, they are optimistic about the good they will do in the world. Research shows that for many, that optimism suffers a rapid if not fatal drop not long after entering practice. The good news is, there is a big rebound on that number once lawyers get more comfortable with what they’re doing and find the right place to be.
The big challenge for anyone, whether or not in law, is to discover a career and workplace that align with your passions. Not every day may be happy, nor every task seem useful, but there is a feeling of being in the right place, with the right talent, skills and experience to make a difference that matters to you.
If you have found that place already, that’s great. If you’re still looking, the first question to ask is whether your passion is actually the practice of law. If it is, are you in the right practice area? Are you in the right practice setting – small firm, large firm, solo practice, Crown, non-profit, in-house, etc.? And if law is no longer the inspiration it once was, perhaps it’s time to consider other options.
The good news is that you already have a set of valuable – and valued – transferable skills. Among many others:
Problem-solving, including the skill to break down a problem into its component parts
Research and information synthesis
Written and verbal communication/presentation
Analysis and attention to detail
If you are interested in still being in the business of resolving problems, you might consider mediation, arbitration or labour relations. Like running things? Maybe a career in corporate, university or health administration or management would be of interest. Want to teach or write full-time? Perhaps it’s time to think about an academic career. Care about the environment? Always been fascinated by public policy? Issue advocacy? There’s a job for that! If you want to move on from where you are, there are plenty of choices. Duquesne University, Pittsburgh lists 600 things you can do with a law degree (other than practice law)!
The key to figuring out where you want to go next is to invest time in getting to know yourself better and to canvas those who know and work with you, to get the most accurate picture of yourself and what others see in you. In addition to reflection and conversations, you could consider using some of the many available
self-assessment and evaluation tools. At the CBABC senior management level, for example, we used a specialized 360 format based on Stephen Covey’s Speed of Trust work that gave useful feedback that went beyond self-perception. Input from others is as important as your own views about what your strengths are and where you should be going.
I’ll give the final word on this subject to Jennifer Alvey from Leavinglaw.wordpress.com, who writes:
“The dreams to follow are ones that light you up with their possibilities. That make you want to get up in the morning. The dreams to chase are those that give your life meaning, not just creature comforts. Even if they’re really nice creature comforts like vacations abroad, expensive homes and luxury cars.... I’m not saying that wealthy people are by definition unhappy. The happy ones have meaning in their life first, not big bank accounts first. I beg you – keep on searching for the dream that fires your imagination and your soul.”
This article was published in the March 2012 issue of BarTalk. © 2012 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.