Questions to Help the Practicing Attorney Determine a Preferred Career Situation

Define your desired career or careers in terms of your legal experience and the environment in which you are most happy working. Certain careers create certain working environments. Once you ascertain the working environment you like, you can focus on careers yielding these environments. You focus by specifically relating your legal experience to the career or careers you are seeking. Again, as with the law student, you can travel on more than one career path as long as you have an action plan.

Let's take a look at these seven questions.

1. Do I enjoy working on projects or ventures that may take months to bring to resolution? Or, am I happier working where the transaction times are much shorter, like daily or weekly?

If working on projects or ventures with long time frames sounds like an appealing environment, consider a business development or a project finance career. For now, business development and project finance professionals work with one or several groups of people or companies to create an income producing project. They work on a variety of large-scale capital-intensive projects throughout the United States and the world. Simply stated, the business development professional approaches the project more from the people and concept side. He or she puts the pieces of a successful project together. The project finance professional approaches the project from the financial side. This professional creates economic models of the venture to ascertain if the project is a sound investment. This is a specialized career and requires a financial background.

The business development professional and the project finance professional continually interface with one another on every project. Putting together a profitable project for the interests they represent is their mutual goal. If you are an entrepreneur, this may be the project that builds your company. If you are an entrepreneur, a profitable project earns you a handsome bonus.

If your personality prefers quicker closure, that is, you prefer to accomplish a task quickly and move on to the next one, a different set of careers will apply. Again, this is a personality trait; one preference is not better than the other. Do not select a career in business development or project finance if you do not possess the proper temperament because you think you will make a lot of money. Chances are you will not be comfortable in that career environment. Instead, think about one of these high-value careers where the transaction times are much shorter.

  • Account executive/marketing professional
  • Public relations spokesperson
  • Manager of a product line or business unit
  • Human resources professional
  • Property management professional
  • Corporate trainer
  • Management consultant
  • Education consultant
  • Publishing editor

 

These are high-value business careers. These careers are attainable within an organization or on your own. Other careers may come to your mind fitting the description of a high-value career and you can consider them.

2. How are my computer skills? Am I comfortable working with spreadsheets? With presentation software? Am I willing to upgrade my computer skills?

High-value career positions usually require a variety of computer skills. These include word processing skills, which most attorneys have. However, they may also include spreadsheet skills and familiarity with software for making presentations. If you are afraid of computers and unwilling to learn about them, high-value careers may not be your answer.

Careers utilizing computers the most are:

  • Project finance professional
  • Management consultant
  • Education consultant

 

If you are analytical and enjoy working with computers, consider these careers. The high-profile careers requiring the least computer skills are:

  • Human resources professional
  • Public relations spokesperson

 

However, be aware these positions require word processing skills at a minimum. My advice is to spend the time and update your skills to include the computer.

3. Do I enjoy making the effort to meet new people? With what types of people am I comfortable?

Most attorneys have good people skills and are comfortable meeting new people and dealing with the general public. More specifically, if you prefer working with children, an education consultant is a career path for you to consider. If you are uncomfortable with meeting the general public and prefer the company of senior level executives, then consider a career in management consulting. Business development professionals and project finance professionals normally only deal with other professional people.

If you enjoy meeting people and are comfortable dealing with people of varying backgrounds, there are a number of high-value career options open to you:

  • Business development professional
  • Account executive/marketing professional
  • Public relations spokesperson
  • Manager of a product line or business unit
  • Human resources professional
  • Property management professional
  • Corporate trainer
  • Management consultant
  • Education consultant
  • Publishing editor

 

4. Do I prefer working with concepts rather than details? Or, am I detail-oriented person?

Some people are more comfortable with concepts, rather than details. The following careers suit their dispositions:

  • Business development professional
  • Account executive/marketing professional
  • Management of certain types of business units and product lines
  • Corporate trainer
  • Some management consultant positions
  • Education consultant
  • Publishing editor

 

These careers suit detail-oriented people:

  • Project finance
  • Various types of property management
  • Management of certain types of business units and product lines
  • Some management consultant positions

 

Remember, these are generalizations. You may come across a high-value position that does not fit this paradigm.

5. If I do very little traveling now, am I willing to start traveling? What about international travel?

It is difficult to generalize in this area because a lot depends upon the company employing you and your responsibilities. Generally speaking, careers, especially those in marketing and business development, require extensive traveling. Other careers that may require extensive travel are:

  • Public relations spokesperson
  • Corporate trainer
  • Management consultant
  • Manager of some business units or product lines
  • Project finance

 

The following careers require some travel, but the traveling is not extensive:

  • Manager of some business units or product lines
  • Human resources professional
  • Property management professional
  • Education consultant
  • Publishing editor

 

I will reiterate what I said about this question to the law student. Do not take this question lightly. If you do not travel a lot now and suddenly find yourself traveling a lot, it may strain your family relationships. Make sure everyone knows what you are getting into.

6. If I am a very highly paid attorney, am I willing to accept a reduction in my income for a period of time? How much and for how long?

I hope you are thinking about this already. However, it is so important, I raise it as a question to be answered. Some highly paid attorneys live their lives as though they will always have a steady, high income. The problem is that if they need to change careers, they may have to financially back up for a period of time. Some are unwilling to do this. Some are unable to. If you are one of the unwilling attorneys, I strongly recommend you examine your motives. The goal is for you to be happy with your life. Money is not doing it for you now and there is no reason to believe the future will change anything.

Financial planning and moderating your lifestyle will help ease this transition. Many attorneys unwilling to make a career change because of financial considerations have not thought through both of these processes. Make sure to involve your family. They can be a source of tremendous strength and innovation.

7. In what area of business do I have experience? In what area are my contacts with the business sector?

This question provides information to continue the application of the strategy. In order to succeed in this step of the strategy, you need to show how and when you interfaced with members of the business sector and what accomplishment resulted. The more specifically you can mention projects, the types of business professionals you worked with, and your business contribution, the better chance you will have of convincing the reader that you will fit into their business environment.

Of all sad words of tongue or pen; The saddest, these, "It might have been.
-Robert Browning
(Nineteenth-century English poet)

Answering these preceding seven questions should give you a pretty good idea as to the environment and types of careers that suit you. Select the three or four careers that appeared the most often as you answered the questions. For now, these are your target business careers. You may be able to think of still more later on.

Excerpted from Judgment Reversed by Jeffrey Strausser (Barrons Educational Series, Inc. 1997).