Career Planning: Narrowing Your Options by Choosing a Setting

Choosing a Setting is part of our ongoing series, Career Planning for Lawyers.  Previous segments provided an overview of career planning considerations,  and ways to evaluate your career goals.

Much of what has been written emphasizes that you need to make a decision about what it is you want to do - who you want to work with, who you want to represent in what kinds of cases.

Do you need to have a passion? It helps because once you have gone through the process of narrowing your options and through research and talking to people have decided what you want to do, there is a natural tendency to not let barriers and obstacles stand in the way of getting what you want.

(Quite different from the reluctance and resistance you feel inside when you are being interviewed by a partner at BigLaw trying to convince him or her that you DO want to spend a year in a storage area reading documents.)

But does your choice have to be your lifetime desire? No!! But there is a practical reason to choose your practice area. As you will learn from employing this approach, the marketing and promotion required to find a position or embark on a path to solo practice is intense and time-consuming. The approach cannot be undertaken with more than one practice area focus.

No matter what step you take, whoever you talk to, whatever organization you join has to be part of your promotional campaign. It is not a sales campaign since you are not interviewing for a job opening.

Think about the resumes that you were advised to draft in law school. Remember how you were told to eliminate anything that revealed the "real" you because if BigLaw ever found that out, the firm would not want you. The solution was that on paper there was NO you so that if you are hired, you will find yourself in an incredibly uncomfortable place and be miserable. Not our approach.

What you say and what you send, like a resume, will let them know who you are and what you seek.

Nothing about this approach is novel. It is simply basic marketing. If you manufacture skis, you wouldn't want to promote your products to a bookstore. In the same way, if you present yourself as a corporate litigator, you might not want to develop a promotional campaign directed at those in the field of domestic relations. Now would be the time to talk about your college internship at the shelter for abused women and the senior paper you wrote on abortion rights.

In this campaign you will, for the most part, connect with those who do what you want to do and guess what!! They will be pleased that someone actually cares about what they do and will be interested in helping you.

That is why you need to choose a setting!

Take time to rank your priorities and narrow your options.

A common quote heard among graduating law students is "I want to keep my options open." This sounds good, but it actually is a terrible career planning guideline. Even those who keep their options open will eventually end up working somewhere. The difference is that they will usually be selected by someone else rather than choosing what they want to do. Keeping your options open should result in a random placement with as much likelihood of career satisfaction as having the Publishers Clearing House's Mobile Van arrive at the place where you live and tell you you have won $20,000,000.

Having said this, I caution you not to be so narrowly focused that your job search is doomed from the start. If there are few opportunities in a field and none of them pay enough for you to be able to afford reasonable expenses, your search is bound to be frustrating.

You should insure that your option is a realistic one, but there are thousands of opportunities for you in careers serving the legal needs of the public. In order to find one that suits you and your goals, you must be committed to making the decisions. You decide:

  • what your personal and professional goals are;
  • where you want to live;
  • who you want to represent in what practice areas.

You have had a number of work experiences, taken courses, been involved in extracurricular activities, attended panels, read accounts, and talked to lawyers. You know what you like.

In the next segment of our series, we will focus on suggestions for determining the legal practice areas that interest you the most.

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Ronald W. Fox is the principal of Career Planning for Lawyers.  Since 1990, he has: provided individual guidance to law students and lawyers in transition helping them search for and locate positions consistent with their personal values and their professional goals.