Lateral Moves: Are they Good?

Guest Post: Chelsea Callahan of Happy Go Legal

Chelsea Callanan
I talk to many lawyers who are facing major hurdles in the career and professional development.  One of the areas that I hear a lot of concerns about comes from lawyers who have been practicing in a law firm setting and are either pre-partner track or junior partners.  They may be trying to figure out if they are on the right career path for the long-term, and have lots of questions.  Maybe they are burning out faster than they thought they would, and wondering if a change within the law would be a better fit for them.  Maybe they regret accepting the job they to ok out of law school and realize they need to consider other options.  Maybe they enjoy their position, but want to find their path to becoming a leader in their firm and field.
They are hard-working, intelligent, and motivated professionals who all happen to be in a field where it is very challenging to talk through career goals and hurdles.  If you are having concerns about your job and raise them with a partner in your firm, you run the risk that they will replace you with another willing lawyer who is salivating over your job.  The market is tough right now, and showing any sign of weakness is a big risk.

How to Know if You Made the Right Lateral Move

So how do you know if you are in the right place?  How do you know when it is time to move on?  Who is going to ask you the tough questions to do some self-assessment to make sure your next lateral move is a smart one for your career?
Many of the lawyers who are facing concerns about whether or not to maximize their job or find a new one are facing the aftermath of having made past decisions without doing enough due diligence.  I could likely categorize these lawyers’ concerns into one of two topics: 1) I am not sure if I should change jobs, and 2) I don’t know what would make me happier.  The foundation of both of these very real concerns is uncertainty.
“I think” and “I don’t know” are very frustrating and scary reasons to consider making a major life and career change.  It’s what I did twice, leaving jobs to try something new, because I didn’t know what I actually wanted (read more of my story here).  I was trying to find “greener” pastures, without first deciding what “greener” meant to me.  If you are in a state of wishy-washiness, of feeling like you aren’t satisfied in your career but aren’t sure why, it can lead to lots of sleepless nights, anxiety, and guilt.
Happy Go Legal is offering its first ever Right Path Group Program, aimed at helping you utilize resources and books that compliment my coaching style, that as a combination, could benefit the rest of your life and career.  Interested in learning more?
CLICK HERE – the Group Program starts September 17, 2013 and has limited seats, so act now!

Create a due diligence plan

You wouldn’t buy a new car without doing intensive due diligence.  You would be looking to invest hard-earned money and want to make sure you don’t end up with a lemon.  You might review manufacturers’ features, look through consumer reviews, look up safety reports, and take it for a drive.  So why on earth would you make a decision about how you will invest a majority of your waking day without as much due diligence?
The first step in due diligence when considering a lateral change should start with self-assessment.  Unless you know what features you are looking for in your new shiny career, it’s unlikely that you will just happen upon your perfect position.  Taking the time to get down to the nuts and bolts of what is not working in your current position, and what you want in your new position takes some time – but is time well spent.
Digging in to your personal and professional priorities, family budgetary needs, and office setting preferences are imperative to identify what you want your day-to-day to be like.  It is likely that you aren’t the best person to ask yourself these hard questions – it is much easier to ignore the big challenges or talk yourself out of them then to face them head on.  So take the time to create a plan, build a team of people you can bounce ideas off of, and start brainstorming who it is you need to talk to.  Set up some informational interviews, talk to a recruiter, talk to you family, and get a plan in action to make sure you are making a change that will solve the problems you are having professionally.

Do yourself a favor – don’t sell yourself for something you aren’t sure of

Any good salesman will tell you that you will get better results in sales if you believe in what you are selling.  I encountered how awkward it can be to sell something (yourself as a potential employee) if you are not sure the new position lines up with your personal and professional needs.  I was interviewing for a lateral position in 2011 right after getting some local press for winning a business plan competition.  It just so happened that a local print publication ran a cover story about the competition the same day of my firm-wide interview.
Each time one of the lawyers asked me – “so what’s with this other business?” or “do you want to work at a law firm or run a business?” I felt so awkward launching into a verbal campaign to convince them (and me) that I was in fact wholeheartedly focusing on a future career in private practice with their firm.  I wasn’t ready to abandon hope that I could find a good fit in private practice, but I wasn’t sure what I was looking to avoid in future positions, or what I needed.  In hindsight, I can see that I was ignoring my entrepreneurial drive to keep in line with my current course.  If I had been honest with myself I would have honored my need for a change.
Do yourself a favor – if you are considering a lateral change or working with a recruiter, put in the time to assess what it is that you really want to gain out of a change before making the leap.  Don’t try to sell yourself for something you aren’t sure of.  You won’t know you are sure of the change unless you have done some due diligence and feel like nothing will make your situation better, and you have identified what it is you want in a new situation.

Benefit from the strength in numbers

Times of transition can feel very lonely.  Instead of navigating these waters alone, consider working with a group of other lawyers who are also trying to make tough decisions about their careers.  Join the ranks of lawyers who are working to thrive in their careers, seeking to emerge as leaders, considering transition, or contemplating how to bring greater balance into their lives.  Happy Go Legal is offering its first ever Right Path Group Program, aimed at helping you utilize resources and books that compliment my coaching style, that as a combination, could benefit the rest of your life and career.  Interested in learning more?
CLICK HERE – the Group Program starts September 17, 2013 and has limited seats, so act now!
Chelsea Callanan is a practicing lawyer, blogger, and career & life coach – she founded her company – Happy Go Legal – to provide resources and education to inspire lawyers to prioritize professional development and work-life balance issues. Her number one suggestion to lawyers is to take time to identify what it is they are working towards, and what achieving it will mean for their life.  Only then will you find success and sustainability.  Hear the rest of Chelsea’s story about how coaching changed her life and career and consider whether it’s time to take your career into your own hands.
Happy Go Legal Logo