Lawyers certainly are among the worst when it comes to productizing a career search. Most unthinkingly accept that law career means one thing: a job with a law firm. That’s the product they thought they were purchasing when they paid law school tuition.
Even the phrase “alternative legal career” acknowledges this truth; the alternative is to the law firm legal career. So government jobs, in-house counsel jobs, even solo/micro firm jobs fall outside the product’s most narrow definition, though they are still law practice. Something that doesn’t even require a law degree is really alternative and out there, to most lawyers.
Product Acquisition: Legal Career
Our culture really worships productization. It’s an externalized way of experiencing life, though. See thing, want thing, get thing. No questions needed. It’s not about process at all, it’s about checklists. That’s all well and good if the products happen to suit you, to match your inner career needs, for example.
But if there’s a mismatch between the job product and your inner needs—well, look at your current situation, unhappy lawyer. You’ve followed the career assembly instructions handed out by those whose aim is telling you how to get the standard product more efficiently. You’re using resume tips, networking strategies and interview skills designed to help you purchase the traditional legal career product.
What if your true talents and deepest dreams lie outside the law practice career product? You won’t even be able to see them, to know what they are, if you keep trying to ape the traditional job product acquisition methods.
Bad Idea: Replication Methods in Art and Careers
Consider this from a completely non-business, non-law, non-career perspective: kid art projects. Bear with me, I promise it’s relevant.
Last summer, my local library sponsored weekly craft projects for kids. Parents were expected to stay and keep an eye on/help their little darlings. The library staff did an excellent job of showing a general idea of how to do the project, and gave lots of options and materials for kids to do their own thing. The staff was very encouraging of kids who wanted to, in effect, color outside the project lines.
The parents were a whole ‘nother story. Most were quite focused on helping their child get the project “right”—making it look like the sample, except maybe a different color or some other small difference. Parents steered their kids away from strange color combinations, non-sensical or unattractive combinations of elements.
These parents never allowed their child the chance to simply experiment and see what appealed to them, or try something different that wasn’t guaranteed to deliver a pretty art project product. And sadly, most of the kids went right along and didn’t protest when their parents starting hovering and suggesting that really, this color or paper pattern would look nicer. Those kids had certainly gotten the message that the point of art was to replicate what’s always been done. To me, that’s a travesty.
Do You Really Want the Law Career Product?
Similarly, it’s a travesty when talented, highly educated adults ignore their inclinations, interests and dreams because they can’t fit them into the paltry product offerings of a standard-issue legal career.
It’s this productization approach to life that produces the deer-in-the-headlights look on your face when I start asking you about your dreams. What do dreams have to do with the product you want, a stable job that pays well with people who aren’t assholes? Truly, most unhappy lawyers are so beaten down that attaining that kind of job product seems like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Well, it’s not if you aren’t actually suited to being a practicing lawyer. For those whose personalities and interests actually do match what’s involved in daily law practice, yes that’s a great dream. There are people who genuinely enjoy the work that is daily law practice:
- Drafting documents that are incremental updates to a template
- Memorializing conversations
- Researching changes in the law
- Applying abstract theories to a specific situation
- Reviewing documents to glean necessary facts
- Crafting arguments and tactics
- Explaining the law to clients and analyzing how to improve or ameliorate the client’s legal situation
- Managing a high number of disagreeable people, such as opposing counsel and often colleagues
Those tasks are the heart of law practice. If you truly enjoy those things—the thought of doing them makes you want to get up in the morning—stay in law. Find a better environment if your current one is making you unhappy. You can probably use the standard legal job search product tools to do that.
From Replication to Creation
If, though, the thought of doing those and similar activities makes you want to gouge your eyes out, stop shopping for the standard legal career product. A better environment is not going to solve your unhappiness with your career.
Instead, you need to create your career. To do that, you’ll have to understand what activities bring you joy and satisfaction. You’ll need to reframe your skill set and experiences, and see them in a different light. Then, you’ll spend time using those analytic skills you have in spades, and dig into industries that actually interest you. See where your interests, experiences and talents collide there. Be open to different job products, rather than set on one specific one.
Is this easy? No way. But ask yourself, how easy is it to drag yourself daily to a job that sucks your soul away, drains your energy, and makes you miserable to be around? That sounds like a product that needs to be returned pronto, if you ask me.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches unhappy lawyers to find the things that bring them joy in life and career. Only then does she have them go shop in the job and life market. See if coaching will help with your job product search–try a discounted, no-obligation sample coaching session. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to set yours up today.