The past few years have brought about many personal and professional revelations. There are many reasons why a lawyer might decide it’s time to change their area of practice or take on an additional practice area.
Perhaps they’d like to expand their practice to include adjacent areas of law. Or maybe they’ve been inspired to tackle something new. They want a change of pace and to play the role of the student again.
If you are actively weighing your options, you need to ask yourself a few fundamental questions to help get to the bottom of why you want to switch practice areas.
As with anything in life, there are no guarantees for success. Because of this, you should have your reasons worked out and a plan in the works before leaping.
It’s not that you shouldn’t leap, but you ought to look first.
When considering changing your practice area, ask yourself these questions first.
Is Your Desire to Change Practice Areas the Result Of Burnout?
Every lawyer knows about the grind. Being a successful lawyer takes a nearly inhuman amount of time and energy. It doesn’t help that the work culture heavily emphasizes overworking associates to collapse.
When indoctrinated into the Jutsu as young, impressionable associate layers, unhealthy habits can stick around and dictate a lawyer’s work ethic and, more importantly, their self-esteem when they can’t sustain those high standards.
One psychological reaction to burnout is escapism, which is the tendency to engage in thoughts and behaviors that actively avoid dealing with reality. If you’ve developed an unhealthy relationship with your work, then fantasizing about leaving it constantly is probably more of a sign that you need to change how you work rather than what you do for work.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t also change practice areas. Instead, you need to be aware of why you have the impulse to change. Remember—wherever you go, there you are. If you switch practice areas but don’t address why you wanted to switch, you’ll fall back into the same behavior patterns after a few months.
Do You Want to Change Practice Areas Because You’ve Found a New Passion or Area of Interest?
Are you feeling impassioned by a new and exciting area of law? Our interests mature and develop as we move through time. What once captivated you might not create the same excitement and wonder you once felt.
Part of this could have to do with your experience in your particular field. If you feel bored and disengaged, perhaps you already know too much about your topic. For many lawyers, the challenge of learning and the intrigue of the unknown kept them in their books, hungry for more.
But what happens when you find yourself on the other side of that mountain of books? It’s okay not to want to look back. It’s also okay to seek new intellectual peaks to climb. If you are the kind of person that loves to learn and who considers yourself to be an eternal student, tackling a new area of law might be just the thing you need to feel reinvigorated in your career.
Do You Want to Change Practice Areas Because You Need More Money?
There may be genuine fiscal reasons why you want to change or expand your practice areas. It’s no secret that some regions of law generate more money for attorneys than others.
If you find yourself weighed down by economic stressors like student loan payments, mortgage or rent payments, or even the cost of living, switching practice areas to make more money is a legitimate step to take.
If you are switching or expanding practice areas for monetary reasons, you’ll want to look at your strengths as an attorney and apply them to the market demand in your particular jurisdiction.
Steps You Need to Take to Successfully Switch Practice Areas
Now that you have a better idea of why you want to switch, you can start planning the how. Remember the five “Ps.” Prior preparation prevents poor performance. If you’re going to make the switch to a different practice area, you’ll need to practice patience if you are sure to persevere (okay, there were 8 “Ps” worked into that).
Make sure you take the time to check the following items:
Check with Your Network of Lawyers
How deep is your pocket? The more connections you have with other attorneys, the more likely it is that someone knows someone who can help you out. Networking is a fundamental part of any success story, whether it be in the food industry or the medical field. It’s no different for law.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to colleagues or acquaintances and strengthen those ties. Perhaps you could offer a hand in writing legal briefs or send over some referral work in exchange for a contact or a conversation. Get creative with your networking.
Find a Mentor in the Practice Area You Want to Move Into
You must find an experienced attorney (or attorneys) in the practice area you want to work in. Find someone you trust who is doing the work you’d like to do and offer to buy them lunch or coffee in exchange for a conversation.
They might be interested in hiring you under their wing, or they can provide you with plentiful resources to give you a leg up. It might be as simple as them knowing someone in the industry that you should speak to. If you glean anything in exchange for a cup of coffee, it’s probably worth it.
Be ready to not know the answers. When taking on a new practice area, you’ll likely be a novice once more, and that’s okay. Some people become invigorated by the idea of learning. Try to embody this attitude when facing new challenges.
Become a Student Once More (Affordably)
Likely, you are still paying down your student loans from law school, so you probably want to avoid taking on more debt unless you figure it is absolutely worth the additional financial burden.
Regardless of whether or not you go back to law school, you can still be a law student. Make sure you are doing your due diligence and learning all you can. Use free or next-to-free legal resources. Pull out the alum card and hit the library.
You don’t need to be enrolled to be knowledge-enriched.
It’s Never a Bad Idea to Brush Up on Your Business Skills
Take this time to learn more about the business end of practicing law. When you were caught up in your work previously, you might not have even considered ways you could sharpen your business acumen.
Could your web presence use a facelift? How about your marketing skills? How can you guarantee that your new practice will be more successful in the future?