Understanding Career Planning

Understanding Career Planning

 The Career Search is the first installment of our multi-part career planning series.  In future segments we will discuss such considerations as evaluating yout interests, narrowing your options, choosing the setting, selecting your area of practice interest and determining if solo practice is a viable option.

This approach requires you to take control over the process and make all important decisions relating to your career. There are two phases - the first, the Career Search, is followed by the Search for a Satisfying Position. During the Career Search, you:

  • • become aware of your professional goals and personal values
  • • learn about and consider a range of options, and
  • • after research, choose a setting and area of law consistent with your goals & values


When, and only when, you know what you want to do, are you prepared to begin the Search for a Satisfying Opportunity. During this second phase, you

  • • build databases of those who practice in that area and contact them
  • • prepare promotional material
  • • continue to DO something to market and promote yourself
  • • prepare for interviews, and consider and accept options, or
  • • take steps to open your own office as a sole practitioner

The goal of career planning is to help you decide what it is you want to do with your legal training, who you want to represent on what issues and who you want to work with - the path to satisfaction.



Law students entering law school with a goal of providing legal services to individuals with middle or low income are not taught about the setting in which lawyers provide services to them - small law firms. They "logically" assume there are only a limited number of positions for those who want to use their legal education to help people with personal plight issues - critically serious problems they face in their daily lives. WRONG!

What is a small firm? Not one with 50 lawyers. Not one with 20 lawyers. Not even one with 10 lawyers.

There are about 550,000 lawyers in private practice in 300,000 law firms; i.e., two-thirds of all lawyers in private practice are in firms of five or less lawyers and one-half of all lawyers in private practice are sole practitioners. Many represent individuals. They litigate on behalf of consumers, minorities and others claiming discrimination, those accused of crimes, women, children, students, tenants, employees, veterans and those injured by the dumping of toxic waste. They provide advice for consumer groups. They mediate disputes for couples going through a divorce.

Lawyers in these firms do not hire every year but they do hire and when they do, they are interested in those who share their interests and commitment.

 So, the reality is that there are an unlimited number of paid opportunities to work for individuals.

Lawyers have a long tradition of being independent and autonomous - the fundamental benefits of entering the profession.

It is up to you to take control over your career ...... and your life.


How do we prepare young people for the future world of work? ... We should prepare them to be able to distinguish between good work and bad work and encourage them not to accept the latter. That is to say, they should be encouraged to reject meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-wracking work in which a (person) is made the servant of a machine or a system. They should be taught that work is the joy of life and is needed for our development, but that meaningless work is an abomination. Matthew Fox (no relation) The Reinvention of Work,  p. 30 quoting E. F. Schumacher, Good Work, 118,119

For many years now, poorly thought out job and career decisions resulting in dissatisfaction have been epidemic among lawyers.

Every lawyer must become aware of one of the four fundamental values of the legal profession - the commitment of a lawyer to take a position consistent with his or her professional goals and personal values.

How do you know what your values and goals are?

In the next segment of this Career Planning Series, we will discuss one exercise which includes a number of goals and values, many of which might be important to you.  You can, of course, compile your own list.

Author's Note and Series Introduction:

I am so concerned about how we got to this point (my 50th year in the legal profession) where the vast majority of the public are unable to obtain the services of a lawyer and the vast majority of lawyers are dissatisfied. The recent American Bar Foundation "After the JD" press release indicated that 59% of the associates from what they refer to as the "top ten law schools" intend to leave their present large firm employers within 2 years and that those in firms of greater than 250 lawyers are less satisfied than their counterparts in smaller firms.  Here is an article written in the UK about lawyer misery. (Keep in mind that this was written before the current economic crisis.)

 "You see, as with everything else, America has been doing lawyer dissatisfaction bigger and better than us (UK) for decades. Polls have at various times established that not just a quarter, but up to 40 per cent of US lawyers want to leave their profession"." The list of reasons for lawyer unhappiness includes; the dehumanizing hours, the yawning gap between their intelligence and the mind-numbing nature of their work, the yawning gap between the ideals of those entering the profession and the reality, the cumulatively lowering nature of the work, the vortex of hatred that envelops them entirely, and the self-inflicted nature of their suffering." Why are Lawyers miserable: Want a List? by Sathnam Sanghera appeared in the TIMESONLINE July 9, 2007

The culprit is the lack of awareness of law students and lawyers of the fundamentals of Career Planning. My experience advising law students and lawyers over the last 25 years leads me to conclude that lawyers who fail to understand these fundamentals are likely to be unemployed, underemployed or terribly dissatisfied leading to a lack of self-confidence, self-respect and self-worth.

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.