Mindset and Expectations - Lawyers Looking at Alternative Careers
"People want to change, but they don't realise they need to also change their mindset, not just their job." As the legal profession continues to develop and be disrupted a treasure trove of new opportunities are opening up for lawyers. Many are already reaping the benefits, as you can check out yourself on our podcast! What surprises us, is why more lawyers haven't woken up to the possibilities yet? Why, when so many report being so dissatisfied, haven't they started to embrace different models in droves?
I know, having counselled lawyers around key career decisions, that many just don't take the leap even when they badly want to. So what holds them back?
Time and again we see a pattern at work when it comes to decision making around career pivots. People want to change, but they don't realise they need to also change their mindset, not just their job. Approaching your career with outdated ideas won't get you anywhere. For instance, any change can require a step back. Many people approach change and aren't willing to shift down first.
Lawyers are typically conditioned to think of progress as linear and lockstep in nature. In almost every other industry or profession this is not the way things work. Sometimes you need to move sideways and skill up before getting on a new upward progression. Sometimes you will need to take two steps back to make progress in your preferred direction. If you think you will only make a move to something more fulfilling if you don't take a pay cut, lose any status or learn new skills, you will be in for a rude shock.
A typical scenario might run like this...
Lawyer A (let's call her Susan) comes to us for advice about making a career switch. Susan wants work that's flexible and taps into strengths she feels are currently under-utilised. She wants to get away from the grind of the billable hour, and is keen to work in a creative, dynamic or commercial role.
There are no shortage of alternative options for lawyers like Susan, but it can require a mindset shift.
Firstly, she needs to be prepared to take a few steps back in the short-term and put her ego aside. It can be hard to step into a new role and industry that doesn’t acknowledge the reputation you have built for yourself. But guess what? You've got to re-earn your stripes like everyone else. Perhaps Susan is worried about working alongside or reporting to someone who is younger than her? But she better get used to it. Whatever it is, the environment will change. Susan will likely find herself without all the trappings of big law firms. In short, she'll need to be prepared to roll up her sleeves and get her hands dirty again.
Secondly, for anyone like Susan they have to come to terms with a short term change in pay. Most people prefer the stability of a regular salary, and taking a step back can be hard. Although lawyers in Australia aren’t paid very well by global standards, they still make more than they could at many other roles. This means it's almost inevitable that she has to take a pay cut. It may be only 10 or 20% but we have found lawyers can get stuck on this point. The main reason this mindset exists is that for most lawyers experience + time = salary level. This "lock step" approach to how you view your pay can be difficult to shake off. If Susan wants to move to that “dream job” in a new area, she better be prepared to take a small step backwards.
Perhaps Susan thinks just because she's a lawyer she should be paid a premium? There is a misplaced assumption that many lawyers make that their status as a lawyer will see an employer pay a premium. The reality is you are not being hired for your legal skills and until you prove yourself in this new game you will have to suck it up like everyone else.
Apart from anything else, if Susan doesn't change her mindset, it cuts her off from a world of new opportunity. Sadly, we've come across many "Susan's" out there who balk at doing something they are passionate about because of short term money.
Being more commercial
In any career that is more entrepreneurial you have to back yourself to make it a success. Unlike legal practice at a top firm, nothing is handed to you on a platter. You'll generally have less support and resources. This necessitates a greater degree of creative thinking, commerciality, resilience and collaboration.
While you might not have your own secretary, the upside is that the commercial world can be more meritocratic with your rewards and pay. Many #NewLaw firms and Legal Tech businesses also operate more commercially and have far flatter management structure. Many don’t tie pay to seniority at all but remunerate based on KPIs and contributions from business development and marketing to meeting budget targets.
We have seen countless lawyers move on to careers in every imaginable discipline. Our experience (and the experience of many of our podcast guests) is that any big change requires a shift of mindset and expectations. Whether you need to take a short term step back in pay, or let go of your lawyer status, change is necessary. It’s all about managing your expectations, dropping the ego and focusing on your objective of finding work that delivers on your values and priorities. Sometimes that means making sacrifices in the short-term to get you on track to your ideal destination.
If you're having trouble making the move sideways, upwards or even out of the law get in touch and we'll run you through some options for helping you escape your rut. In the meantime, download and read the article below to help you get started in changing your career- either in the law, or out.