An Attorney’s Guide to Changing Careers Without Catastrophic Financial Results
You’ve invested years of work into your legal career, having committed long hours first to an elite law school and then to a comparably, or even exceedingly, elite law firm. You’ve poured a tremendous amount of money into law school tuition, a least some of which you may still owe. You have a prestigious career and you enjoy an arsenal of “lawyer perks,” like limo drivers, free lunches, financial reports, and that exclusive gym membership. Mom and Dad couldn’t be more proud of you. And why wouldn’t they be? You’re on top of the world. You’re a successful attorney in a highly regarded Biglaw firm.
Steps To A Career Change
And NOW you want to chuck it all and become an entrepreneur, financial planner, or who knows what else?
Hold on – don’t look so abashed. In fact, lots of lawyers are thinking about making the big change. As it turns out, a legal career may not be such a good fit for many of those starry-eyed students who went to law school. Survey after survey indicates that lawyers can be an unhappy lot.
Somehow the glamor and gleam wear off the scales of justice, and those formerly shiny platters start showing signs of tarnish.
Time for a career reboot.
Before making any irrational decisions, let’s think about this, switching careers is going to involve a lot of thinking and planning ahead of time. But you can successfully pivot into a different career.
Before you do, however, make sure you’re not running blindly from one unhappy situation into another one. In Forbes, author Kathy Caprino pointed out that you need to figure out what you are looking for by identifying the “’essence’ of what you want.”
Caprino lists six questions to ask yourself before you leap.
- What skills and talents do I want to utilize?
- What business outcomes do I want to support?
- What type of people, environments, and cultures do I thrive best with/in?
- Which values, standards of integrity and needs must be supported through this work?
- What types of challenges do I want to face in my work?
- What financial compensation and benefits are non-negotiable for me?
Once you have this part worked through and you still believe that a career change is your best move, begin by building a thorough strategic plan that includes how you are going to gain the experience or education that you are going to need in your new chosen career. You also need to develop a financial plan to get you through the process of changing careers.
Sandra Hanna, a personal finance expert, enumerated steps to take to avoid going broke. The first step is researching to determine what your new career will initially pay and what it will typically pay after you have several months of experience under your belt. Five years?
What are you are currently spending? There are apps like Mint that can help you keep track of your spending habits. You might well be bowled over after Mint tells you how you’ve been spending all that lawyer money.
Can you live with the probable difference in pay? If you think you can, then the next step is to start saving for the transition. One way to do that is to live off of one paycheck and deposit the other. Set up a savings account for this sole purpose.
Hanna speaks of the “rather factor” where you spend money on things that things that actually matter to you. When you get tempted to buy that $5.00 cup of coffee stop and ask yourself whether you’d rather have a nice cup of expensive coffee or put it towards something else that you’d rather have. She even offers a rather factor template.
Find ways to do and have the things you love for less money. Go to the matinee, ride a real bike instead of a gym’s, clip those coupons. Just as little expenses stack up, so does saving money in a multitude of small ways.
Finally, getting together with friends and sharing experiences helps. You might even start a money club.
In building your strategic plan to gain the experience or education for your new chosen career, research and think about what you’re really going to need to do as far as marketing yourself. Do you need to take a few more courses? Volunteer to gain experience? Agree to handle special projects at work that will help you in your new career. Talk to others in that field and find the real skinny on your new career. Take care of these marketability factors before you actually make the change.
Your skills as a lawyer are, of course, transferable to a number of other industries. During the course of your legal education and career, you have learned quite a lot. You should be great at communications, analyzing, negotiating and counseling, to name just a few. Plus, you had to be smart, driven and goal oriented to become a lawyer in the first place. Put those skills, talents, and experience to work for you in your new career.
Changing careers after you’ve invested so much of your time, money and wits into being a highly paid, high-end professional is quite a daunting experience. But you aren’t without resources. Just don’t spend your life hating how you spend your life. As they say, life is too short.