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Businesswoman in an office. (Ciaran Griffin/Getty Images)
Businesswoman in an office. (Ciaran Griffin/Getty Images)

Ask a career coach

Should I leave law for another career? Add to ...

The question

I am in my mid-40s and have been practising law for 11-12 years in a very specialized area. I am competent and well-liked but have been receiving mixed signals concerning promotion. Another reason for considering a new career is that I am not enamoured of the field of law that I am in (tax).

Several years ago, I applied for a position at another law firm in an entirely different area of law (environmental). I was interviewed, but the firm was not willing to consider hiring me, even though I offered to start as a junior associate, because I lacked experience in that area.

Is it possible to leave law for another career? I have frequently been told that “law opens many doors,” but I don't see them. Do I need to go back to school? In addition to a law degree, I have an undergraduate degree (English and history) and a masters degree in public policy (international affairs).

The answer

I understand that you are not really interested in the field of tax law and that you are getting mixed signals regarding promotion. It sounds like you had an interest in environmental law but are disappointed about the experience you had a few years ago in exploring this option with another firm.

The simple answer to your question of can you leave law for another career is yes, most definitely. You have a broad educational background at the undergraduate and graduate levels and interests in a number of different fields.

Figure out what you really want for your next career move. Reflect on whether you would have any regrets leaving law. If you were to secure a position in another area of law that you are more interested in, such as environmental law, would you want it?

If you feel that you are truly done with the field of law, then you need to reflect on what your ideal career would entail. Also think about what you wanted to be before you went into law. Consider what you are really interested in and who you truly admire in the work force.

If the career that you are truly interested in is in a completely different field from your educational background and experience, then you may have to consider retraining in the new field. However, with your skills in English, history, public policy, international affairs and law, just think of the number of jobs or careers in new fields that need good writers, historians or archivists, policy analysts, problem solvers, decision makers, etc. Employers are often looking for staff who have excellent communication, presentation, relationship, interpersonal, problem solving, and critical analysis skills. You are obviously bright and can pick up on new information and concepts quickly.

Some of the major keys are how you position yourself, present yourself, get clear on what you want, and network with key individuals in the fields that you are interested in. Your résumé and cover letter should be customized to target the fields you want to work in, highlight the strengths and skills that potential employers are looking for in both writing and presentations.

You should also do research in the areas that you are interested in and attend professional and association meetings in these areas so that you can network with people in these fields. Also consider doing volunteer work to get experience in these new areas. Then set up information interviews with key officials in these areas and tell them why you would be a great asset to their organization on either a short-term consulting or long-term employment basis.

Remember, you are much more than the degrees and work experience that you have. Be clear on what you want, be open to possibilities, be curious about new areas, and let prospective employers know of your interest and what you can do for them and their companies.

Bruce Sandy is principal of BruceSandy.com and Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting.

Have a question for one of our career coaches? Send it to careerquestion@globeandmail.com . Please be advised that while The Globe and Mail may publish your submission, your name and address will be kept confidential.

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