Navigating Change: Finding the Career Shoe That Fits

Renee Gallagher

When I entered law school, most people assumed that I would work in a law firm after graduation and for much of my career. I started in a law firm, but as I learned more about practicing in the law firm setting, I discovered that it was not a “shoe that fit my foot comfortably.” If your current firm or practice area don’t feel like the right fit, do not fear making a change.

Change Is a Part of Life. Changing jobs or areas of practice can be exciting but also intimidating. A change of work environment not only exposes you to new work settings but new ways of thinking, different personalities, and people who have different backgrounds. Over the last 17 years, I have worked in the law firm setting, in state government, and in a large insurance company. With each job, I have gained new skills and learned a great deal about how to use my legal skills in a different way. Many attorneys reach a plateau, or a place where they do not feel challenged in their work. This may lead you to want to leave the law or change your practice area: you can do either. Change is good.

Attorneys Can Do More than Practice Law. The skills learned while practicing law are transferrable to other types of work. The ability to analyze facts and identify gaps or inefficiencies, researching statutes and regulations to develop policies and procedures, project planning, and many other types of skills are typical with most attorneys. Consider how much you learn in the practice of law with time management, organizing and managing a schedule. You also learn how to negotiate and work with many different personality types.

If you are thinking about leaving the practice of law, consider what you enjoyed studying in your undergraduate studies. Think about what you find interesting or what you enjoy learning about when you are not looking at legal documents. Ask friends who are non-attorney professionals about their jobs or companies. Research other professions and what certifications or degree preparation is required to enter those professions. Try to gain a certification in an area. There are numerous opportunities out there: Network. Network. Network!

You Can Change Your Practice Area. Again, even if you want to continue practicing, the hardest thing to do is to understand what you really want to do. Figure out how to get more information and learn about where the open positions are for that area of law. Being a member of a bar association, either state or local, and participating in a subcommittee is a good way to meet other attorneys in that area of practice. Warm up your law school contacts and make time for informational lunches. Networking is key to learning about where openings and information are located.

You may need to pick up a class or additional continuing legal education units to learn the current issues and challenges for a particular area of law. Whatever it takes, it is worth it. Just remember that change is good, but informed change is best. See change as an opportunity to find a shoe that fits your unique foot and wear it comfortably as you continue your professional journey.

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Renee Gallagher

Renee Gallagher is the SUR Audit Coordinator at the Indiana Family & Social Services Administration in Indianapolis, Indiana.