Retooling at Midlife or Beyond:  Tips for Revitalizing or Transitioning a Legal Career

Increasingly, Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are assessing their career plans. For some, the time has come to transition key client relationships to seasoned associates or junior partners. For others, a midlife review of career accomplishments, goals and objectives is in order to determine next steps. Whatever your case, consider the following tips for revitalizing your career or transitioning to the next level.

Keys to Revitalization

Understand Your Career Focus. You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been, as the saying goes. Take stock of your career progress to date. What are your professional accomplishments? What have you enjoyed most about your career, and least? What are your plans for improvement, training and development? What policies or practices of the firm or company are affecting your development? Are you satisfied with the quality of feedback you receive? Are your current responsibilities and activities aligned with who you are at this stage of your life? If not, why? You can’t begin to address your goals and objectives going forward until you understand the events and decisions that have shaped you up to this point.

Evaluate Your Skills. Consider how up-to-date your skills are in your area of expertise. When was the last time you availed yourself of continuing legal education in your practice area (if not required)? Are you computer literate? If Web 2.0 sounds like a software program, then you need to understand how internet technology can affect or enhance your practice. Make sure you understand blogging, podcasting and search engine optimization. Also know which skills and experiences demonstrate your management abilities. In all likelihood, your firm or company expects you to make administrative contributions, so don’t discount leadership abilities derived from committee work, charities or civic organizations, just to name a few. Can you demonstrate a track record of success in your chosen field?

Evaluate Your Resume. Do you have a current resume? Updating your resume on a regular basis forces you to evaluate how your accomplishments have benefited your employer. Get into the habit of revising your resume regularly to keep track of your achievements and responsibilities, tailoring the document as necessary to reflect your ongoing objectives. For instance, if you seek a role in management, then focus on your senior-level duties and business competencies, using keywords more appropriate for a leadership position. These keywords include phrases such as “strategic planning,” “business development,” and “crisis management.”

Assess Your Network. Consider your best clients. When was the last time you had an in-depth discussion with these clients on the nature of their business and plans for development? Have you met face-to-face recently? If not, why? Also identify clients, prospects and referral sources that may have needs for services beyond your own area of practice to hone your cross-functional awareness. A strong, active network is crucial to career health and can lead to valuable referrals. Nurture your network.

Build Your Plan. Where do you expect to be five years from now? Ten years from now? Do you envision a change in the type and level of work that you’re doing, or a career change, or retirement? Realizing your long-term goals will enable you to adjust your resume to reflect your desires.

Perhaps your revitalization analysis has led you to conclude that a career in law no longer suits your goals or interests. Or maybe you’re ready to undergo a transition for other reasons. So now what? Let’s look at the following scenarios:

Transitioning a Practice

Transitioning a practice to the next generation incorporates many of the principles that apply to business succession planning. For example, start as early as possible. In all likelihood, you’ve spent many months or years thinking about and planning for your retirement. Building an exit strategy into that decision-making process will allow for a smoother transition when the time comes. Part of that strategy, of course, involves picking the right candidate(s) to carry on your business. Take care to choose someone whose skills and temperament are best suited to your clients’ needs and expectations. Another aspect to incorporate into your strategy is training. Try to allocate at least one year to training the one to follow in your stead. This training should include all aspects of representing the client—from specific technological requirements and communication methods to drafting and negotiation tools. Don’t reserve for yourself all complex transactions and tough calls; your successor needs to understand how to deal with all issues, both basic and complex, as early as possible.

Entering a New Practice Area or Law-Related Position

The transitioning tips above apply just as readily if you’re contemplating a new position in the legal profession rather than retiring. Transitioning within the field brings with it other concerns, such as how to market yourself and your accomplishments in another milieu. Suppose, for instance, you’ve recently retired as a litigation partner with a major firm and desire to provide career counseling at your local law school. Unless your particular practice experiences are going to be utilized by participating in such activities as a litigation clinic, moot court or advocacy program, your previous skills and experiences will need to be downplayed to some extent in favor of showing your overall versatility in coaching, mentoring and providing practical knowledge. In the event of a wide age gap with your intended constituents, you might also want to highlight to your intended employer that you are energetic and capable of relating to a younger audience. If you’re moving to a new practice area, then obviously there are some elements of your previous experience that will translate across all other areas, such as the ability to meet deadlines, problem solving and analytical skills, and client development. Depending on the needs and interests of your potential employer, adjust your resume to reflect your transferable skills as well as any training or intended training in your area of interest. In this regard, a departure from the standard chronological (or reverse chronological) resume may be in order. In fact, you might want to consider a hybrid resume—that is, a resume that summarizes your chief qualifications for the position you desire, followed by a more traditional listing of your employers, your responsibilities, and your contributions. This kind of resume is likely to work best for both scenarios presented above.

Finding a New Career in Another Profession

A hybrid resume may also work for our final scenario, which is choosing a career outside of law. For instance, suppose that you’ve always been intrigued by a career in publishing. To make such a career change, you’ll need to focus on transferable, functional qualifications that will get an employer to take you seriously. Perhaps you worked on a periodical published by your law school, volunteered your writing skills or took continuing education courses in the subject. These activities should form the basis of your qualifications summary. In short, you need to draw upon all of your skills and experiences that reasonably relate to your career target.

Don’t be intimidated by the retooling process. It’s a rich, introspective exercise that will bring you to the next level in your career or your life.

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