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Many options exist for lawyers looking to change career path

By Kirsten McMahon, Associate Editor

Lawyers looking for career options beyond law firms and sole practitioner life need to reflect, remain open-minded to new opportunities and think outside their comfort zone, Toronto lawyer and certified executive coach Michael Bury tells

“Reinventing yourself is not as difficult as it sounds,” says Bury, founder of Blue Pond Coaching. “Lawyers have a core skill set that can be transferred to any number of situations because analytical thinking and problem-solving skills are always in demand.”

However, he says lawyers often fail to realize the toolbox of talents they possess as a result of their education and professional experience. As well, they fall into the trap of pigeon-holing themselves into certain roles, which is common with lawyers facing mid-career frustration.

“If you are bored with the day-to-day work and client interaction has become an annoyance, it should set off bells and whistles,” he says. “Not liking what you do, as self-evident as it may sound, is not healthy.”

If these feelings dominate, Bury says it’s time to have a hard look at your career. Fortunately, he says, many options exist for those looking to change their path.

“Those seeking a greater work-life balance can redeploy their skills in government positions where the hours are not as gruelling as private practice,” Bury says. “Arbitration, mediation and negotiation are growing fields employing individuals with legal backgrounds, especially in the family law area.”

Labour unions, universities and hospitals also hire legal professionals with strong communication and dispute resolution skills to help with complex negotiations, he says. The key is remaining open-minded to new opportunities and thinking outside your comfort zone.

Once you make the decision to change roles, you need a plan with goals and milestones, he says.

“Otherwise, you will spend most of your time passively flipping through legal employment listings, instead of actively taking steps to get results,” Bury says.

An effective place to start is with a skills re-assessment and pre-makeover discussion with a coach. Once a client takes the first step in hiring a coach, they have to be willing to not just talk but also to listen, he says.

Bury says he sees high levels of dissatisfaction among lawyers wanting to change paths, but they don’t know how to affect change.

“What I don’t see is enough introspective searching to determine what they truly want from their professional career. Most people stop at a general level of dissatisfaction and don’t dig deeper to figure out what’s gone wrong or how they’ve been derailed,” he says.

It’s important to press the pause button and seek guidance from someone who can offer an objective, non-judgmental perspective.

“Asking other law colleagues typically doesn’t help as they often reinforce your thoughts and tell you what you want to hear. Many times, they feel the same way,” Bury says. “As a coach, what I have to say is frequently not what a client wants to hear. It can be a tough experience, but it’s part of the process as I only care about one thing — their success.”

A good coach also watches marketplace trends carefully and can shed insight on different and emerging options.

“For example, we are hearing more about the ‘gig economy’ — where jobs are becoming short-term engagements for specific projects. This requires a lawyer to go beyond any preconceived notions of a legal career in order to succeed,” Bury says.

“The coaching experience pushes boundaries to consider multiple options in this rapidly changing business environment,” he adds.

Bury says another key component of his coaching approach is “horizon thinking.”

“Thinking in different horizons prompts you to go beyond the usual focus of changing up what you do just in the present. This method of thinking and self-reflection connects the present with the desired future outcomes and identifies the disruptions which might occur in moving towards a new you,” he says.

A good coach will help talk you through different potential disruptions with your future plans and teach you how to reduce and manage uncertainty at each stage and eliminate negative self-talk.

“Again, these are critical skills in a gig economy where the legal marketplace is restless and evolving continuously,” Bury says. “Learning to navigate these new waters is definitely not part of traditional law school or bar admission course training.

“For the most part, legal training does not involve a high level of self-awareness skills and learning how to recognize when it’s time for change, which is when you need the professional help from someone who is in your corner,” he adds.

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