I’m so excited to be writing about leadership on Tuesdays! I’ve got several speeches coming up this spring and the best part of preparing for them is hearing what works for others, what obstacles women have faced, and what the journey has looked like.
One Tuesday feature will be Total Leadership Makeovers. In Learning to Lead, I applied the “experts” advice to real life career challenges and tried to explore a way out of the rut or past the roadblock. Periodically, I have folks email with questions on what to do or how to handle a situation, so I’ll feature those questions here. If you have a question or a situation you’d like explored, just drop me an email.
One question I receive is, “how do you decide the area of the law to specialize?” One woman wrote, I’ve been working as an in-house lawyer for the past few years, and I have a MBA. I draft many contracts in the ________ industry. I would like to find an area of law that really excites and challenges me, but I don’t know how to do this. I am a driven type A who loves to learn. Not knowing how to proceed just frustrates me more. Any suggestions or feedback?
Here were my ideas on how to tackle this situation.
You know, it’s interesting, I’ve certainly gone through some specialty changes. Especially given that I started out as a Fort Worth litigator and ended up as an in house energy attorney in Houston.
What did you love in law school? What did you love in undergrad?
What do you like to study? What kind of books do you like?
The first thing to do is to find out where your interests lie so you can connect those within the practice of law. For me, I liked the theatrical aspect of the courtroom, but I hated all the fighting and the endless discovery and battling over mindless deadlines. By shifting after several years to an environmental practice, I had the opportunity to effect change, to be creative, and to develop solutions to problems. I’m a big picture person and those were my strengths.
Once you identify a couple of areas that might really excite you, then find a way to explore those:
(1) Does your company allow you to provide support for or work with other attorneys? If so, ask if you can assist a deal attorney or provide support on a big litigation matter. Some companies are very restrictive in practice areas so that may not be an option.
(2) Find an advanced course on the topic and see if you really are excited by it. LLM programs and even law schools may allow you to take a course.
(3) Find a pro bono opportunity to explore. If you think you’re interested in litigating, there are many pro bono litigation options. Regardless of the area, family law, immigration law, elder law, animal law, veterans law, constitutional law, you can almost always find a pro bono opportunity. PLUS, you’re doing good at the same time.
(4) Join a specialized bar association or industry group that does what you think you might like. Attend meetings and network so you can develop peer and mentor relationships.
Use this time while you have a solid job to explore your interests instead of trying to find something at this point and not knowing what will fit. Your day job gives you the security to explore your options while knowing you can still pay your bills.
I think it’s GREAT you’re actively pursuing finding your passion! Too many people are too scared to take a risk or step outside of what they know, and they miss out on all sorts of exciting opportunities. Head out on an adventure and let me know what you decide!