A sign of the times: handling career transition

  • March 01, 2014
  • Anna Conrad and Beth Lieurance

It’s a reality today: that firm you thought you would retire from may be gone or restructured tomorrow. Are you ready to look for other work? Are you positioned to begin the job search again? Have you done any thinking about what you would do if faced with the chance to transition your career?

Lawyers can’t afford to take an “ignore it and it will go away” or “that won’t happen to me” attitude. However, the more talent, knowledge, and experience you have, the more successful you can be in handling a disruption in your career. You can apply your background in much more creative ways to move into another profession, take on a different practice area, go in-house for a company, or open your own firm. Whatever approachyou choose, there are some things to consider while you are still employed or as you begin your career transition.


Studies show that up to 80 per cent of positions are filled on a “who you know” basis through active networking. We believe this figure is conservative when it comes to the practice of law. Cultivating relationships with professionals both inside and outside your firm will provide you with a list of contacts to find other work. Staying visible in your area of practice, industry associations, and community will pay off in the long run, both to continue to develop your skills and to ensure you have a solid network of resources when you need it.

Also remember to use your position now to help those in your professional network whenever you can. Reciprocity will move you more quickly to the front of the line with your network when you need help in return.

A contingency plan

Maintain a written “marketing plan” that captures your accomplishments and successes and create a 30-second elevator speech that summarizes (2-3 sentences each) who you are and what you are looking for. Create at least two elevator speeches: one for those in the legal profession and another for those outside the profession.

Record information about companies and firms that you are coming in contact with that you would like to target in the future if your circumstances change. Take advantage of company-sponsored development opportunities to keep your skills current and to develop new skills that will serve you in the future.

Take the time to do an assessment of your “must haves” in the event you find yourself job hunting in the future. What are your ideal work preferences? What job(s) would fit your lifestyle? What is your target compensation package? What industries and locations would you consider? What kinds of jobs are you qualified for and/or interested in? What do you need to do or know to increase your skills to get the job you want?

Keep your eye on opportunities

If there are some warning signs that your company, firm, or job may be in jeopardy, it’s not too early to watch for openings that fit with the plan you have designed for your next move. Consider sources such as executive recruiters (about 15 per cent of job openings are filled through executive search firms) and the job search internet sites (under 10 per cent of positions are filled through this source). One way to increase the effectiveness of internet sources is to identify the companies and firms hiring and to network with key contacts in those organizations, checking their websites weekly for open positions.

Uncover your passions

Before you take the next step in your career, make sure it will take you in the direction you really want to go. Remember, you may not be the same person you were the first day of law school. Your interests and your motivations may have changed. Think about what gets you excited and what makes you feel alive. If possible, hire a coach to help guide you; the path may be there, but it may be hard for you to see by yourself.

Given the turmoil in the economy and business world, staying with one company or firm until retirement is probably no longer a viable goal. As with any talent you have developed in your career, finding ways to manage your career through transition will be a skill that will serve you well for now and the future.

Anna Conrad is President of Impact Leadership Solutions. She works with law firms as a coach and facilitator, delivering programs that emphasize leadership, interpersonal communication, corporate culture change, teamwork, and personal accountability.

Beth Lieurance, a Principal with Impact Leadership, is the former Vice President of Human Resources for Comcast Cable. She has considerable experience in guiding human capital and strategy decisions.