eyes open

eyes open
"know thyself" is the cure, the answer, the process, the goal, the result


Bruised Reeds: "Counseling"--A Distinct Paradigm for Attorneys Contemplating an Exit Strategy

In a continuing effort to encourage high-functioning attorneys to compete at the highest levels, I’ve asked the attorney career counselors at Celia Paul Associates in New York to chime in on the benefits that such services can provide. I have found it interesting to compare their approach to that of other professional coaches that specifically target attorneys (for example, click here). Regardless, it is clear that these professionals bring immense value-added to the lives of the professionals they work with.

The Celia Paul group refer to themselves as career "counselors", not coaches. The distinction being that as counselors, they focus on working with attorneys who are contemplating an exit from practice. Conversely, coaches focus on working with attorneys who are committed to remaining in practice. My questions:

What are the three most important reasons that (first) a rising associate (and second) a partner needs your service?

A lawyer's career counselor is one who works with an attorney who is not satisfied being at a firm, or being in house, or being a traditional lawyer. The career counselor:

(1) identifies the options (maybe a venue-change, maybe a change in direction within or outside of the law, maybe an entrepreneurial activity) available to him or her;
(2) helps identify whether those options exist in the actual marketplace; and then
(3)helps the individual land the job. (A "career coach" is one who works with a lawyer who's planning to stay on the job).

The three most important reasons that an attorney might wish to see a 'career counselor' are...

1) the attorney is dispirited, distressed, disappointed, or fed up with the law or his job;
2) the attorney is looking for more satisfaction, balance, fulfillment, or a well-lived life;
3) the attorney has been downsized, fired, excessed, or made redundant.

In short, the career counselor's focus is not the firm's efficiency or bottom line, but rather the attorney's career well-being. (These are not incompatible.) In fact, we've developed a "Career Well-Being Inventory" which you can scrutinize to compare yourself against those lawyers who have changed career directions and who say their new or current career provides career satisfaction and well-being. We have been using this 47-item career well-being inventory to help partners and associates measure their satisfaction at work, and how readily they could change directions if they wish.

Okay, what's the point of having a career counselor who claims an expertise in lawyer's problems? For that matter, are there really problems particular to lawyers that other business professionals don't have?

The point is twenty five-years of experience counseling lawyers has given us the perspective that lawyers’ career issue are both unique to them, and also shared by other professionals like doctors and scientists. This counts when lawyers refer other lawyers to us.

Are there problems unique to lawyers? The unique problems: law-firm work-life balance, partnership demands, rain-making, long hours. “Getting tenure” and “making partner” are not unique.

In a study of why lawyers are unhappy, three reasons emerged:

1) much law, especially litigation, is a 'zero-sum game', meaning someone wins, someone loses;
2) most lawyers (partners & associates) have a small 'locus of control', meaning others tell them what to do;
3) people who are attracted to law tend to be prudent; prudent people may tend be pessimists (optimists live longer, but pessimists are more realistic); some pessimists may tend to become disaffected or depressed.

These issues are not unique to lawyers, as we have found physicians and scientists with similar career issues.

Alright, what is this counseling thing all about anyway? Lawyers are so socially conservative as a group (I don't mean politically, of course)--and they get only more so with "age" in the industry.

Is your life a worthy expression of who you are? Is your life a well-lived life? How does it feel to get up in the morning to go to work?

Here’s what career well-being feels like . . . You fully enjoy the exercise of your talents, skills, and signature strengths. Your work is ‘a worthy expression of who you are’. Your work (in law at a firm, in-house, or in public service) feels as if it is inevitable, like the good fit of a hand-in-glove. You feel energized by an area of law (working on a matter, or with a client, or in the courtroom, or doing public service, or simply ‘lawyering’). You feel good when learning new legal skills or exercising your favorite muscles. You often think of new ways to use these skills, or others related to the job or career.

Thus, if I talk with you as a counselor , are we going to be doing funky guided meditations? Group hugs? Or is this something that a hard-boiled professional can get his/her arms around? We are NOT going to be talking about our childhoods, right?

Career counseling for lawyers is a logical, systematic, and orderly approach to lawyers’ career circumstances period. No hugs, no meditations -- no ‘ands’, ‘ ifs’, or ‘buts’. (It’s not astrology, not touchy-feely, on the one hand -- but on the other, it is not Newton's Laws or Quantum Mechanics either. Indeed, our career counseling instruments quantify “career disappointment” and give you, the lawyer, concrete next steps.)

Your profile, you and the market place, and organizing your campaign are the three concrete steps that our lawyer-clients find orderly, systematic, and logical:

(1) your profile…
The purpose in the first step, "Assessment", is to identify a range of desirable career options for you, given who you are, and to help you acquire the ability to describe yourself clearly, fluently, and self-confidently during interviews in your new career direction(s).

(2) you and the marketplace…
The second step, "Options Exploration Research", develops timely knowledge and realistic marketplace data -- as they pertain to you -- for each of the options above.

(3) organizing your campaign…
The third step, "Implementation", gets you where you want to be. Our purpose is to produce an efficient job-landing in a career direction that provides career satisfaction. For details, click here.

What do you see as the major challenges facing first, partners, and second, associates, in living up to their potential as practitioners/ rainmakers?

The major challenge -- from our perspective of 25 years counseling lawyers -- is to find the type of (legal or other) environment that makes you, the lawyer, feel "this career or job was inevitable for who I am--the best possible career circumstances I could hope for at this point in my life". In short, finding a balanced life.

So why should I have my candidates contact you? What makes someone a great counselor?

You shouldn't! They should decide for themselves if career well-being is important to them, and discuss with us if we are able to deliver the goods...career well-being.

Many of our former clients say we're good at what we do. Take a look at our success stories.

By the way, we pioneered distance career counseling to lawyers anywhere in the US and overseas.

What if I as a potential candidate really do have some problems (performance issues, personality deficit (wink), maybe some other inappropriate behaviors)? Can you handle this?

Short answer: some we can deal with, such as pessimism; others such as clinical depression we refer to appropriate professionals. In several cases, we were given permission to exchange views with our client’s clinician. See the study referred to above...”Why lawyers are unhappy?”

To sum up, what is your operating philosophy towards success and professional development in the legal market? How do I know you and I would have a similar idea about what constitutes a "healthy", "successful" career?

If you fully enjoy the exercise of your talents, skills, and signature strengths, your work will be “a worthy expression of your life”. This is what it feels like…

1. a sense of ownership, authenticity in exercising your skills (‘this is the real me’)
2. a feeling of excitement when using or displaying them
3. a rapid learning curve as the strengths or skills are developed and used
4. continuous learning of new ways to enact the strengths or skills
5. a sense of yearning to find ways to use them
6. a feeling of inevitability in using them (‘try and stop me’)
7. invigoration rather than exhaustion while using the skills or strengths
8. creation and pursuit of personal projects that revolve around signature strengths, that tap skills and strengths
9. joy, zest, enthusiasm, (perhaps even bliss or rapture) while exercising them
10. the sense that you could “whistle while you work”
11. the central feeling that your job, career, or vocation is “nice work”. (Based on M. Seligman)

If you agree that you possess all of these qualities… no further improvement is possible. You already have found “nice work”. You do not need to change jobs or careers. You do not need career counseling. You have a "calling".

Bios of Stephen Rosen & Celia Paul.

Celia Paul Associates specializes in career change, career planning, and career coaching for lawyers. Since 1980 we have guided over two thousand lawyers to satisfying careers both within and outside of the law. Celia Paul Associates is the largest, oldest, and most well known U.S. career management firm specializing in attorneys. Articles about the firm's premium career planning services have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, National Law Journal, New York Law Journal, and in Bar Association publications. Several thousand attorneys have participated in the career transitions programs developed especially for lawyers by Celia Paul Associates. The firm is also consulted by well-known large law firms on the outplacement of their partners and associates, and on the professional development and retention of senior and junior law firm associates.

subscribe to AD ARGUENDO now

Creative Commons License

return to today's post