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Lessons in Navigating Your In-House Legal Career Path

October 30, 2020 4 min read

Contributing writer

Lessons in Navigating Career Path

Career transitions can be a potent mix of excitement and uncertainty, even in the best of times. So how do you manage a job change in this environment, where the market is volatile and people interact virtually?

For our virtual session Navigating a Legal Career Pivot in “Not” So Normal Times, we gathered a panel of experts to find out. In a lively discussion, Taylor Miller, Managing Director at Whistler Partners, Vivian Wexler, Director of Talent Management at Vantage Partners, and Zach Golden, Associate General Counsel at The RMR Group, shared their insights on the job market, career visions and successful execution.

What is the current state of the job market?

The prevailing sentiment on hiring conditions was cautious optimism. Taylor described high volatility in the market, noting hiring confidence shifts every two weeks, with more changes likely ahead as the election and a possible second wave of COVID approach.

Amid this uncertainty, certain sectors shine. In tech, media and entertainment, where Taylor focuses, hiring remains relatively strong. This contrasts with real estate, where Zach specializes, which has slowed hiring considerably. Finally, even within strong sectors, Vivian noted the difference between hiring rates for revenue-generating roles and roles that don’t directly contribute to the bottom line.

Given the variation in hiring by timing, industry and role, the panelists’ recommendation was to avoid getting distracted by averages and instead speak to people at your target companies to understand their specific hiring needs.

How do you define your career vision?

Vivian said job seekers should start by outlining their “VIP”:

  • Values: What you care about
  • Interests: What excites you
  • Proficiencies: What you’re good at

Have a clear sense of what brings you joy, and what you are good at. If you are having a hard time with your self-inventory, diagnostics such as MBTI, DiSC and Strengthsfinder are good places to start as you build a hypothesis. Once you have a working hypothesis, panelists advised testing it in the marketplace by meeting people in those roles or companies, getting real-time feedback.

Both Taylor and Vivian advocated for realism when developing your career vision, which the conversations with your network can elicit. Ideally, your skills and interests align; otherwise, you may be in for an awakening as Vivian had as a child, when she realized that becoming an astronaut required much more math than advertised during summer space camps.

In Taylor’s experience as a recruiter, when these gaps exist, it’s helpful to revise near-term expectations and search for a job that gets where you want to go, instead of focusing only on the destination. Vivian differed slightly heret, outlining the cognitive fallacies we make when forecasting the future — most notably, that we expect the world of tomorrow to be just like the world we operate in today.

No matter how far into the future you’re comfortable planning, and if the job you want isn’t aligned with your experience, relax you may still have more flexibility than you think. The panelists suggested changing parameters (e.g., geography and finances) to make the most of the shift toward remote work, reducing your costs, and exploring alternative revenue streams to pursue your passion.

What steps should you take to execute on your career vision?

The panelists outlined three steps to make your career vision a reality.

Get as much experience as you can in your current role. Before starting a job search, Zach advised getting as much experience in your field while still in your current role.

This accomplishes two things. First, new experiences confirm or invalidate your hypothesis that the role you want aligns with your skillset. Second, you’ll have concrete experience to reference when you network and interview.

Cast a wide net. Once you pass the first stage—or, if it’s not an option—concentrate on the second step. Talk to as many people as possible, casting a wider net than you feel comfortable with.

Most job-seekers spend too much time applying to jobs and not enough time talking to people. For a successful job search, Vivian advised candidates spend 75% of their time talking to people in companies or roles of interest, and only 25% on filling out actual job applications.

Focus on what you can control. A job search can feel uncertain or overwhelming, even more so in today’s current job market. , So focus on factors under your control: materials (résumé, deal sheet, portfolio, etc.), networking and your attitude.

A positive attitude is contagious, especially in uncertain times. Taking time to replenish yourself and connect with your joy goes a long way toward a polished interview and presenting yourself as a colleague other people want to work with.

Watch the playback

To review or share the presentation, go here. And if you’re seeking a role in-house in a legal operations function, check out this post from Atlassian’s Head of Global Legal Operations Mooni Patel.

How to Navigate a Legal Career Pivot Playback


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