Stuck in a Career Rut? 7 Tips for Women Practicing Law
By Ann Lloyd, Student Savings Guide
Practicing law is one of the most stressful, high-pressure professions out there — especially when you’re a woman. We know it’s not all exciting courtroom drama. In fact, most of it is just the opposite: seemingly endless hours of research, reading, and writing. Just getting through law school was stressful enough. Now you’ve got clients, clerks, and demanding partners depending on you, too.
And what about making partner, yourself? That could seem like a pie-in-the-sky dream, in light of the gender discrimination you may encounter on any given workday. Female lawyers have been mistaken for admins or court personnel and asked to do nonlegal chores “for the firm” like planning parties or scheduling meetings. And then there’s the legal work you’re actually supposed to be doing. When you add all those factors together, it’s easy to see how female attorneys can fall into career ruts, just like anyone else. The question is, how do you get out?
Facing the same obstacles day in and day out at work can be exhausting. It can certainly get boring, and it doesn’t leave much room for creativity or mental health. Too many monotonous “chores” at work can quickly drive you into a career rut, which can stall your professional growth. In fact, enduring a career rut for too long can be dangerous, both professionally and personally. Luckily, with a few tools, it’s possible to break out and reach your full potential.
Invest in Yourself
Sometimes all that it takes to break out of a career rut is to carve out the time and focus a little energy and attention on yourself. This can take many forms: You can bump up your self-care with relaxation techniques, more exercise, meditation, or just dedicating time to indulge in things you like to do. Or you can take the time to learn a new skill.
You might consider deepening your involvement in an area related to your career. On the other hand, you might want a break from focusing on law; in this case, why not take a generalized class instead — one that helps you become a more capable, better-rounded person?
Consider enhancing your skills with specialized instruction in areas such as CPR training or even emergency response. Or go in an artistic direction with painting, dance, or music classes. Another possibility: tackle a long-term investment in higher education. Additional classes, certifications, and degrees build your résumé and personal skill set, which could lead to promotions or new opportunities.
Find a New Routine
Legal work can become boring when you’re doing the same thing every single day. To dig yourself out of a career rut, try to mix up your routine. It can be as simple as taking a different route to work, opting for public transportation instead of driving, or packing a different lunch. Maybe walk to an unfamiliar part of town during your lunch break and try out a new restaurant in the area. If you have a workplace with open seating, try working from a new spot near a window.
If you have the freedom to do so, it can be helpful to change up the order in which you complete your duties, too. With non-sequential projects, starting at the end and working your way backward can be a fun way to wake up your brain. Or, if you have simple but rote tasks to complete, consider trading with a colleague for a day to get (and give) a new perspective; you do filing while they run reports. Switching up elements of your routine throughout the day can bring that lost element of discovery back into the workplace.
Update Your Online Profiles
In today’s world, nearly all important aspects of life have migrated online. Our personal lives, relationships, and adventures are now easily shared throughout the world via social media. And résumés are no different. Most professionals have a dedicated LinkedIn page, since potential employers and recruiters of many types often recruit via LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster and other recruiting sites. For more industry-focused connections, try legal sites like LawJobs, LawMatch, or Above the Law.
Once you’ve chosen your sites (or created a presence on all of them), be sure to regularly update your profiles with accurate and relevant information about yourself and your career. Remember to add the skills you’re augmenting, associations you belong to, and any honors you’ve received. Even sharing interesting articles can keep your profile fresh in the public eye.
Get Organized Digitally
Just as physical clutter throughout the home or workspace can make you feel disorganized and overwhelmed, digital clutter can do the same on your devices. For attorneys, it’s enough of a burden to research new material; you don’t want to waste time digging through your notes because you’ve forgotten where you’ve put a crucial piece of information. Disorganized files and documents on your computer can create a distracted, defeated, and disorganized mindset. So take time to organize your digital life.
Clean up your computer first. Make sure you have appropriate updates installed, and add any software you’ve been putting off installing. Then tackle organizing your files, deleting outdated information and categorizing files by client, project, date, or whatever criteria are most helpful. The cloud can help tremendously in this process. Cloud computing is an easy way to store all your documents securely in one place, making them easily accessible with a simple internet connection.
Take On a Challenging Project
If you’re a woman practicing law, chances are you’re making less than your male counterparts. Even though 1 in 3 lawyers is a woman, a female lawyer working full time makes a median salary of just 76% of what a male attorney does. Despite the irony of this injustice, this fact makes it even more important to step out and stand out.
Taking on a big project that challenges you might be the perfect way to enliven an otherwise uninspired career trajectory. Not only will a new project give you something fresh and exciting to work toward, but it can help propel your career to new heights. Tackling a big project can show your supervisors that you’re ready for the next step in your career. Plus, many projects are collaborative, so you might just end up making new friends or professional allies along the way.
Clean Up Your Finances
When personal finances are weighing you down, it can negatively impact your work life. (With a load of law school debt you’re likely carrying, this can come as no surprise.) Not only can money worries leave you with a sense of being personally out of control, they can also make you feel like you’re forced to stay at a certain job or workplace, simply to make ends meet. Taking control of your personal finances can help galvanize you personally and professionally.
So take the time to create a budget, setting aside amounts for living expenses, savings, and a bit extra for fun. Learn ways to track and build your credit score over time. The benefits derived by taking control of your personal life often will trickle into the workplace, improving your mindset and performance. And sometimes clarifying things with a personal budget can help you realize you’re freer than you’d imagined to accept a new opportunity or position.
Not only is networking a great way to meet new people, but it also can be a perfect way to identify new opportunities. Try to connect with co-workers involved in other specialties and different cases. Learning about new departments and opportunities within your workplace can lead to promotions or opportunities to take on a different role.
A change of scenery with new tasks and duties can be enough to reignite a career. Or you can broaden your scope by networking with people outside your firm but within the legal field. You never know when a new opportunity will arise. Having friends and colleagues throughout the industry can be beneficial at any time — and especially when you need change and inspiration.
A career rut can be demoralizing if you’re stuck in one for too long. It can not only stall your life professionally, but it can weigh on you personally. Monotonous tasks and repetitive obstacles can make any workplace boring, but luckily, there are ways to break free. By following these tips, you can break out of your career rut and realize your full potential.