Reader: I'm 29 and have been working at a large company as an in-house attorney for a little over three years. This is my first job out of law school, and I really enjoy working here.
I've started working very closely with our risk management department over the last year or so. Recently, the director of this group retired. I've been asked by the vice president who oversees that department to apply for the former director's job.
I think I could be a good director and would be well suited for it, even though I'm quite a bit younger than most directors at this company. But taking that job would mean leaving the traditional legal path, probably for good, to continue my career through management positions.
There's a lot I like about being an attorney, but I find the idea of managing a team exciting, too. How do I decide what is right for me?
Karla: I realize that lawyers are trained to anticipate all scenarios and outcomes, but you might be getting a little ahead of yourself. Yes, moving off the conventional practice path can mean shutting some doors behind you, especially in a traditional-firm type of environment — but lawyers tell me that one detour doesn’t have to end your practice prospects forever. Before you get overwhelmed by the future ramifications, start with this simple question: Do I want to apply for this job?
Facts: You have a job you enjoy. There’s another job you think you might also enjoy, and you’re being encouraged to apply for it.
This is the point where a keen legal expert (or average skeptical layperson) might ask: Why you? What’s your VP’s motive in encouraging a relatively new employee to apply for what sounds like a senior position with significant responsibility? I’m not doubting your qualifications — but can the VP articulate why you came to mind, or does this feel like an easy, low-cost solution to fill a vacant seat? Do your due diligence and, if the job still appeals, apply.
If you get the director job, you’ll probably know pretty quickly whether you’re better or worse off. If the latter, it’s probably still early enough in your career for you to backtrack and rejoin the traditional legal path, provided you’ve kept your options open by maintaining any legal education credits and, if needed, switching to inactive status.
Here’s an anecdote that may inspire you. Scott Jackson, a former Dallas-area lawyer, learned that he was able to build better client relations and generate more business for his firm as a manager than as a litigator. Management also suited his personality better. His advice: “Pursue what you enjoy; if you don’t, you’ll always second-guess yourself.”
So if the new position engages and challenges you in a way that law hasn’t, it’s time to find a career coach specializing in recovering lawyers, or network via your local bar association, to refresh and update your goals.
READER QUERY: Attention, former lawyers: When and why did you decide that practicing law was not for you?