Shauna Bryce on Legal Career Transitions

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I interviewed Shauna Bryce | Founder and Principal of Bryce Legal on Friday, August 30th, 2019.
Shauna and I began our conversation by walking through her journey of becoming a legal career consultant. We then discussed top reasons why attorneys and legal executives approach her for advice. She shared an important pro tip for attorneys updating their resume and LinkedIn profile. We discussed what to do with gaps in your legal career history including attorneys who go back and forth from government, corporate legal departments and law firms. We talked about retirement, law student job opportunities and advice for aspiring general counsel. Shauna shared insights for general counsel who frequently get bored and what to do. We wrapped up talking about marrying lawyers, scheduling downtime and what is on her bookshelf.

Here are some highlights of my interview with Shauna Bryce:

I sort of became the office therapist. Even as an associate, I had lawyers of all levels, including partners, coming into my office, sharing their experiences and asking how they could better develop their careers.

I find employers and recruiters are truly looking for the context. Lawyers may forget to tell you what their typical client looked like, the size of the contracts, the industries they frequently work for, and the issues the clients were facing. 

One of the things that I work on with lawyers, especially senior lawyers, is telling their story, talking about the value that they bring, and positioning themselves to become targets of acquisition through a platform like LinkedIn.

One thing that I encourage people to do if they’ve had a break from law practice and they’re looking to come back is to really reconnect with their professional networks before they start looking for a job. 

For graduating law students, there are many roles where the JD is an advantage, where legal experience can be an advantage, and the pay is good.

In marrying another lawyer, it is nice to have somebody who understands those different pressures that lawyers face as you talk about them together.

In my calendar, I have protected time set aside as downtime which gives me permission, even from myself, to read a book, take a nap, go to a park, etc. This has helped me to carve out space in my schedule to pursue other enjoyable outlets.  


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Links referred to in this episode:

Shauna Bryce | LinkedIn Profile

Bryce Legal

Margaret Atwood | The Handmaid’s Tale

Richard Adams | Watership Down

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Audio Transcription 

To Download the PDF Transcript, click here. (Look in the top right corner and click on the three dots to download.)
Greetings friends, this is Chris Batz, your host of the Law Firm Leadership podcast. In today’s episode, I spoke with a highly-regarded legal career consultant, who shared with me her passion to coach attorneys to be authentic, to develop their personal brand for who they truly are, and learn how to articulate their value to employers, co-workers, colleagues, and clients. You don’t want to miss this.      
Just a reminder, the PDF transcript of this audio is available to download. Go to LionGroupRecruiting.com/podcast.
As many of you know, we interview corporate defense, law firm leaders, partners, general counsel, and legal consultants. You are listening to episode thirty-six of the Law Firm Leadership podcast.
Chris:  Welcome to the Law Firm Leadership podcast. I’m your host, Chris Batz with the Lion Group. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Shauna Bryce, founder and principle of Bryce Legal. Shauna brings more than 20 years in the legal industry with legal hiring and is a nationally recognized expert in professional development, career development, career transition, social media and resumes for lawyers.
She’s a former practicing attorney and a member of an Am Law 200 firm on the hiring committee. Shauna has worked for some of the nation’s top attorneys at places like the Global 100 law firms and companies, Google, DreamWorks, Major League Baseball, the US Supreme Court, and the White House. Shauna received her degrees from Harvard Law School and the Johns Hopkins University. Shauna, welcome to the Law Firm Leadership podcast. It’s great to have you on the show.
Shauna: Thanks very much, Chris. I’m really happy to be here.

From Lawyer & Office Therapist to Legal Career Coach

Chris: Shauna, can you give an overview of what led you to become a lawyer and what led you to start Bryce Legal?
Shauna: It was a pretty organic journey. I took the traditional route of going straight from high school to college to law school. I didn’t have many lawyer models at that time and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my law degree. I was fortunate to attend school during a very good economy when it didn’t matter as much because you knew there would be many options when you graduated.
I went to Harvard Law School. After graduating, I started at Paul Weiss in Manhattan and pretty quickly moved out into New Jersey at another law firm. I also practiced in-house. At the law firm, one of the areas I was involved in pretty heavily was the hiring committee, and I also sort of became the office therapist. Even as an associate, I had lawyers of all levels, including partners, coming into my office, sharing their experiences and asking how they could better develop their careers. They asked me how they could better deal with office politics and other parts of their legal practice.
When I decided I didn’t want to be a law firm partner, it was a very natural thing for me to go into the coaching side. I started coaching way back when you still had to explain to people what you did, what a resume writer did, and what branding was.
Chris: Did you get additional training as a coach or did it come naturally to you?
Shauna: I did some industry certifications in writing and coaching, but I also rely heavily on the experiences that I had on the hiring side. I bring the hiring perspective to branding, writing, and coaching. I also spent years interviewing legal recruiters, general counsels, law firm partners, and other people in the hiring office about their preferences, trends they see, and the problems they have in hiring.
Chris: Was there a moment in your career the lights turned on and you realized the coaching route was for you?
Shauna: Some of the people who came into my office would say, “You should really do this for a living. This was great. I learned so much.” So, when I stepped off the partnership track, it was a very natural thing for me to do. I am fortunate to be in a position where I really love what I do and I’m good at it.

Legal Career Transitions

Chris: Give us some examples of why people approach you and what you offer.
Shauna: I have lawyers approach me that are in varying stages. I work with lawyers who either want to practice law or leverage their law degree in some way. Most of my clients are between 10 and 30 years of practice and they’re executive tract or executive level or higher, but it’s really the full career lifecycle. I work with them to think through career decision making. A lot of times it’s a transition going from a law firm to in-house and we work through that process. We work on the whole gamut from branding, to resume writing, to LinkedIn profiles.

Pro Tip: Share the Context of Your Experience

Chris: Would you share with my audience the notion of looking beyond an attorney’s tasks?
Shauna: On a daily basis, I find that this is an issue that I work with lawyers to address. When they think about what they do, they have a tendency to focus only on the tasks they complete. This results in LinkedIn profiles that are interchangeable, resumes that are interchangeable, and people interviewing in ways that are interchangeable. Lawyers tend to focus on tasks like, “I write contracts,” “I put together the deal documents,” or “I put together an internal policy.”
They think about the contract and they talk heavily about that part of their work. What they tend to leave out is the part that is more interesting to employers which is the context of the work and why it was important. They may tell you the name of the law firms that they worked at without telling you whether it was a five-person law firm or a 500-lawyer law firm. They may forget to tell you what their typical client looked like, the size of those contracts, the industries they frequently work for, or the issues the clients were facing. Lawyers tend to gloss over all of that.
I find employers and recruiters are often truly looking for the context. They want to make sure that the lawyers they bring in understand their business, understand the industry, understand the competition, their end user customers, the market pressures, revenue drivers, etc. When lawyers leave out all of that information from their thought process and their branding, they’re missing an opportunity to really showcase what they do.
Chris: When writing a resume, what has changed and what are some of the mistakes attorneys are making?
Shauna: Well, I think one of the biggest things that has changed is the existence of LinkedIn and the dominance of applicant tracking systems. When that happened, you had this focus on keywords and tasks. Candidates hear about resume keywords and they think that the resume has to have all of these keywords to get past an applicant tracking system. For most lawyers, that steers them in the wrong direction by focusing on the tasks they do and not the context in which they do it.
For most lawyers, applicant tracking systems aren’t typically the way to go for finding their next employment. Some of the numbers that I’ve seen are that fewer than 15% of the jobs are filled through job ads and that 80-85% of job opportunities are never advertised at all. When you put those two things together, you can see that lawyers who are focused primarily on job ads and getting through an applicant tracking system are doing themselves a disservice.
One of the things that I work on with lawyers, especially senior lawyers, is telling their story, talking about the value that they bring, and positioning themselves to become targets of acquisition through a platform like LinkedIn. We build out a presentation that is truly authentic to them.

Gaps in Career History

Chris: Let’s talk about the classic story of the attorney who was in a large law firm, had a child, decided to stay home for a while, and now wants to come back. What advice would you give those entertaining that kind of transition?
Shauna: There are a lot of different types of transitions. One thing that I see lawyers tend to be afraid of is having this gap in their experience. Sometimes they try to cover it up, which has limited success. There are a couple of ways that you can think about it. It depends on the circumstances for this transition back into practice. It depends on how long they’ve been gone. But there are a lot of different ways to look at it and ways that you can embrace it as part of your story instead of being very fearful of it.
One thing that I encourage people to do if they’ve had a break from law practice and they’re looking to come back is to really reconnect with their professional and personal networks before they start looking for a job. They should look into what type of role they want to go into so they can begin to prepare for that role, show the employers that they’re serious about coming back into the workforce and that if they’re hired, they’re going to stick.

Government Transitions

Chris: What advice would you give attorneys who are either going into government or coming out of government to go back into private practice or in-house?
Shauna: It’s a wonderful thing and a very common thing in the DC and East Coast area. People often go back and forth, as you said, between private practice and government service. For a lot of law firms with particular practice areas, they can have a preference for people doing that. For example, law firms that have strong SEC compliance practices, anti-bribery, anti-corruption practices, FCPA practices, or white-collar crime practices, they will often prefer hiring lawyers who have had some government service.
Likewise, the government often appreciates some experience in the private sector and will hire people in. I see a lot of people go back and forth between the two really successfully. Having sat in different seats around the table is an asset for some clients because it brings a well-rounded perspective to the issues that they work on.

Retirement and Your Nest Egg

Chris: What advice do you provide the attorneys that are working later into their life?
Shauna: Interestingly, one of the first things I talk to them about is their finances. I’m certainly not a financial advisor, but I do recommend that they seriously go through their finances and figure out what their assets are, what their retirement plans are, what their expenditures are and what their financial obligations are well before they approach retirement. The truth is we all have our own financial realities to deal with and they can influence our career decision making quite a bit. This could include the decision of when to retire, how to retire, where to retire, etc. That really ends up being the starting point.
As I’ve talked to lawyers who are looking to downshift or retire and they go back and do the math, they realize that they didn’t plan for retirement the way they thought they had. Often, they need to change one of those variables, which may mean moving, it may mean selling a house, it may mean pushing retirement off, or it may mean they need to semi-retire. The reality is that sometimes career decision making starts with your financial reality.

Landing a Job and Law Student Advice

Chris: What is your top advice for law students as they enter the evolving legal industry?
Shauna: For most law students, we’re no longer in an era of having multiple offers when you graduate from law school. One of the things that law students really want to think about is not limiting themselves to law firms, to government and other traditional roles, but to look at other options. There are a lot of roles out there where there are more jobs, where the JD is an advantage, where legal experience can be an advantage, and the pay is good.  There are career opportunities that don’t preclude you from going back to practice law later.
Those roles may be in the big four management consultant firms working in a compliance role. There can be good roles on the legal tech side. Some of them can be law-related project management roles where you’d be working for prestigious law firms and your understanding of law can be an asset. I’ve had a number of lawyers who were impacted by the recession and moved from the contraction legal market into legal tech. Sometimes they’re in an e-discovery center and they can be working on different sorts of law-related issues there.
Don’t limit yourself to looking only at law firms. There are so many other opportunities out there. Take a step back and be more creative in your thinking and more open-minded. There are also lots of jobs in areas like policy development, economic justice, lobbying, and government affairs.

Advice for Aspiring General Counsel

Chris: What is your advice for highly skilled attorneys who are working up the ladder in-house to become general counsel one day?
Shauna: You need to understand the business or the client first. You want to have this understanding of not only the technical legal issues, but the history and trends in the industry, the different sorts of business models, the business drivers, and how to talk to business people in plain English. Get involved in cross-functional committees and take advantage of opportunities to meet those different sorts of internal stakeholders and executives, whether it’s business events or other functions.

Advice for Bored General Counsel

Chris: What advice would you give a general counsel who is bored and looking for a new challenge?
Shauna: Sometimes, General Counsels shift into other roles like business development, a COO role or, even, a CEO role. If they feel like that have passed wanting to have primary responsibility they can also be involved being on boards. A lot of GCs love being involved in nonprofit boards and boards of startups where their experience is valued, but they don’t have to do all of the work. There’s an opportunity for them to mentor business people, help the business develop, and help it position itself without working 60 hours a week.
Chris: Do you know how to get on boards of companies or nonprofits?
Shauna: It starts with thinking about how you’re going to position yourself. There are other ways to do it as well. There are some boardroom pipeline organizations where people can get involved and get formal training on how to land that first board gig. We do positioning and coaching on that as well, but there are so many really good formal pipeline programs that I sometimes recommend the clients do those. Some of it is networking. Some of it’s being in the right place at the right time. Some of it goes back to simply being able to be found, which is one of the benefits of being on a platform like LinkedIn. It’s simply a way for people to find you and to know that you are open to those opportunities as well.

Benefits of Marrying a Lawyer

Chris: I understand that you married a lawyer. Is that correct?
Shauna: I did. I met my husband in law school. I’ve known him since August of ’93 and we’ve been together since ’94.
Chris: You shared with me that there is something powerful about an attorney marrying an attorney. Can you share that with my listeners?
Shauna: It is wonderful to have somebody who truly knows the pressures that lawyers are under. My husband has worked in a variety of environments, from law firms to government, and now he’s in a consulting firm. It is nice to have somebody who understands those different pressures that lawyers face as you talk about them together. Even having somebody who truly understands when you do have to cancel something the last minute is helpful.
On a personal note, it’s also lovely to have somebody you can sit down and do a logical benefit analysis with when you’re making decisions. My husband and I both tend to be analytical people and we like data driven decisions, so we find that works really well for us.  We can sit down and talk something through without it turning into something that’s personal or without it being an argument.
Chris: Can you share about your adventures as a couple?
Shauna: We really like to travel. I don’t even know how many countries we’ve been to now. We recently got an investment property in Panama and became dual citizens. I will be setting up an office overlooking the Pacific Ocean, so I’m looking forward to that. I will have a very small, but multinational practice.

Schedule in Downtime

Chris: You have a fondness for reading, do I understand that correct?
Shauna: I do. I am from a family of teachers, professors, librarians, and lawyers, so I think I inherited the book-loving gene early. I’ve fallen off that wagon recently and have been working hard to carve that space out again in my schedule because it’s something that I miss doing for myself – to read things that aren’t news and don’t relate to work.
Chris: What’s your strategy to make time for reading?
Shauna: Recently, I have started blocking off time on my calendar. I’ve created different blocks that are labeled off-grid or out of office. I don’t allow myself to even be in my office and I’m not allowed to be on my phone unless it’s a genuine emergency. Sometimes emergencies do happen, even as much as we like to say turn off everything; sometimes that’s not practical.
I have that in my calendar as protected time so that I have permission, even from myself, that this is my downtime. This two-hour block is when I’m going to go sit in a park with a book, take a nap, or do whatever I want to do without any sense that I should be doing something else. There are times when it doesn’t happen the way that I planned or hoped, but instead of deleting it or letting it be overridden, I move it to another day to preserve that time.

Recommended Reading

Chris: Would you mind recommending some books that you’re reading or some that my audience can look into?
Shauna: Two books that are always close to my heart are The Handmaid’s Tale, which now has the tv series. It’s one of those books I first read in college and it has always stuck with me. Of course, with the current events, the book has found a resurgence. I understand there’s a sequel coming out, so I’m looking forward to that.
The other book that’s always been really close to my heart is Watership Down which I first read in either elementary school or junior high. I’ve read it more than a dozen times. It’s a story that has a lot of heart to it and a lot about the human spirit. Some people love the book and some people write it off as a children’s book. Every time I read it, I come back with a little bit different perspective and see something in it that I hadn’t seen before.

Inspiring Historical Figures

Chris: If you were to go back in time and meet a historical figure, who would you want to meet and why?
Shauna: That is such an interesting question. It’s hard to come up with just a single person. These are clichéd answers that I’m going to give, but I’d like to meet people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. One of the reasons they come to mind is I simply would love to know how they persevered given the odds that were against them and the hostility that they faced. We’re in a time now where there’s so much hostility and instability and I would want to ask them how they got up every day and continued working for the goal that they saw.
Chris: Shauna, it’s been an honor and a pleasure. Thank you for your time today.
Shauna: Thank you.
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