A Radical Approach to Career Transition

Quite often a lawyer will approach a career change with limited perspective or experience in understanding the scope of a career transition. This is the case when changing companies, changing industries, moving from a law firm to an in-house role or to a non-profit position. Not defining the scope of the transition or understanding internal timelines can cause frustration, disappointment and may at times feel like a personal failure. It’s not.

Here’s a radical approach that empowers you to define a plan and bring it to the market vs. allowing the market to define your plan.

Number one: Define your Market. How many opportunities exist within the specified geographic area that you are willing to travel? How many of those opportunities are in the same industry that you are in? For example, if you are a regulatory attorney in life sciences, how many regulatory attorneys are there within the life sciences industry in the geography that you are targeting? What does your competition look like? You don’t need a hard number, an approximation will do.

Note: You will always be more marketable in the same or similar industry. If you are looking to transition from one industry to another, you can. However, success will depend in part on how effectively you can communicate your transferrable skills and competencies. Competencies are transferrable- if you can demonstrate how your skills and competencies apply to the new industry.

Number two: What’s the turnover rate? Do you know the turnover for regulatory attorneys in life sciences within your specified geographic area? If you don’t know the number, the national average is 20% for all professions. Take the number of openings times 20%, and that’s how many positions will most likely become available on a yearly basis. Now you know an approximate number of the positions that you are targeting. If the number is under ten, you may want to consider broadening your scope.

Number three: Which Positions will Turn over? How do you know which one of these positions will turn over in the specified period of time that you are embarking on a search? The answer is you will not know definitively which companies or which positions will turn over in the prescribed timeframe. You will need to take a look at the life sciences companies within your specified geographies that employ regulatory attorneys as your starting point of contacts. At least now you have a game plan and a list of organizations to contact.

Number four: Your Network is Critical. Approach your network with no more than three companies that you are targeting at any one time. Ask people in your network if they know anyone within the legal department that you might be able to meet with to explore possibilities. You are still in the exploratory stages. This makes it easier for introductions as well as for the person to meet with you inside or outside their organization.

Search firms that specialize in the placement of top tier legal talent should be part of your network for two reasons. One, search firms like PLSG are retained on particular assignments. Two, they may know of opportunities or have a relationship with some of your targeted companies. Relationships matter in search and in the hiring process. Make sure to include a search partner as part of your network.

Number five: Be Prepared. When meeting with people on your targeted list, be prepared to ask open-ended questions. They can be questions like what is the organizational structure of your legal team – does it work well? What is it about the organization that engages you personally and professionally? What advice or counsel would you give someone wanting to work in this organization?

Number six: Ask for Referrals to other people in your target organization or to other lawyers in the industry. Being prepared and doing your homework allows you to know when you have found the right opportunity.

In summary, this strategy empowers you to be prepared and to bring yourself to the market – knowing what you are looking for versus letting the market define what you’ll accept for your next career opportunity. You are driving the process rather than letting the process drive you.

Let’s layer in a hiring organizations’ process:

  • Someone leaves or is promoted. The legal team or outside counsel will be assigned additional workflow until an attorney is hired. Neither scenario is optimal for the long term.
  • Once approvals have been secured and there is a green light to move forward with a search, an introduction from a network connection or through a trusted search partner can expedite the process. Relationships matter- trust and rapport have already been established.
  • It is critical to understand where the organization is in its timeline for a number of reasons. If they are ready to hire and you are still conducting your research or if you have a competing offer, the timelines may not align. Another consideration is compensation. Is it in line with market conditions? Has the position been competitively assessed and is it clear what the organization is looking for?
  • Keep in mind that your timeline may not be the same as a company’s timeline: A search partner or an inside contact is a tremendous resource and can give you a competitive advantage in accessing the critical data points in the career decision making process.

Having a pulse on the market, knowing the probability of openings, access to competitive compensation data, external and internal trend indicators for your practice area, profession and industry is a lot to navigate. Working with a search partner in conjunction with your network leads to a radical approach to career search that will keep you empowered by driving the process. Map out your plan and begin your journey.


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