Concrete Tips to Retool Your Practice Areas as a Junior Associate
Question: Ack!! I’m a mid-level associate at a big AmLaw 100 law firm. When I choose this firm as a summer associate, it was the the best firm where I received an offer. When I received my permanent offer, I thought I would be in a different practice area. Now, I have a couple years of experience in an area where I have NO interest. Additionally, it looks like work in the industry is drying up. What do I do? Should I retool? Should I retool to the area where I originally wanted to be? If so, how?
Answer: Most law students interview for summer associate jobs, take the best job they can get, and join a particular firm without much thought as to the practice area. As a result, when permanent offers are extended, such situations often lead to associates who are lacking job satisfaction, and, thent, they start thinking about switching practice areas. However, clearly changing practice areas is a big move and should not be taken lightly. So, before making such a move, take a deep breath and think closely about your career transition. Below are six tips for retooling your practice area as a junior attorney:
Tip #1—Identify your core values.
There’s no sense leaping from “the frying pan and into the fire,” so to speak. Clearly identify what’s important to you and which of your skills can be transferable to another practice area. Remember that you distinguish yourself, regardless of group or area, by means other than the technical application of the law. It’s how you do it, your common sense, your professionalism, your accommodation of clients and counsel . . . these are all universal skills that you can apply overnight to any practice area.
Tip #2—Identify the reasons you want to switch.
Associates who chose to switch practice areas for the right reasons most often do so because they realize that they are not suited for their current area. It’s important that you thoroughly evaluate the reasons why you want to switch practice areas. If you’re thinking of changing because you’re unhappy with your current firm, then it’s better and easier to change the firm than the practice area. Be honest with yourself, identify the reasons you’re seeking change, and be sure your reasons are compelling.
Tip #3—Conduct a skills and experience self-audit.
Look at the specialties that pique your interest and which tools you already possess. For example, if you’re an introvert who does not enjoy a confrontational and adversarial work environment, then you should not consider switching your practice area to become a litigator.
Also consider your education. If your academic background includes a hard science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM fields), then a transfer to intellectual property, patents, or healthcare might hold appeal. The key takeaway here is to make good use of the knowledge and skills you’ve already spent years developing and honing.
Tip #4—Plan your change.
If you like your current firm, then you might approach management and ask to switch your practice area. Gather information regarding your desired area, speak to the leaders within that area, and articulate your interest in joining their group and contributing to its growth. Find out if there’s a need for an associate in that area. If so, your task just became easier. If your current firm is not a viable option, then perhaps switching firms would be a better choice.
Tip #5—Take the initiative.
Take the courses that are necessary to get up to speed with your new area. This shows your determination and commitment to change. In addition, reach out to all of your contacts, both inside the firm and externally. Have coffee with them, tell them about your plans, and ask for help. There are people who can help you during this transition; all you need to do is ask.
Tip #6—Stay positive.
Don’t fear change. Instead, embrace it. This is an opportunity to re-focus your career. And who knows, this may bring out the best in you. Take action now. By doing so, you might buy yourself a little more time at your current firm. If not, then at least you’re moving forward, and you could find a premium opportunity at another firm.
Are you considering changing practice areas? Need help planning your own professional development retooling strategies? Learn more about Lexacount Search’s career consulting services here.