The first steps

Most of the lawyers we work with at Career Contours have looked into alternative careers long before we have met. Many of them have read  the interviews on with admiration and often envy. Some have ideas about what they could or should do next, or have friends and relatives (sometimes helpful, sometimes less so) with other ideas about what they could or should do next.


Nearly all however have not got much beyond that. Not because of a lack of willpower or transferable skills (lawyers usually have these in abundance), but because they lack the confidence to take the first steps along a different career path. Caution is part of the legal training – ‘what can go wrong and how do I avoid it happening?’ are great questions to ask oneself  - but they can undermine our capacity to look at risk with a balanced viewpoint. Caution without confidence in what we can achieve comes at a high price- the price of assuming that the only alternative is to stick with what we have and not go chasing what we want.


Having confidence in the decisions we make for our first steps can be tough, especially if these decisions fly in the face of what others think is best for us. Having a thorough, tried and trusted  process to  identify what we do well and what we really love doing is essential to informing our next steps.  Having a process that also helps us to work out the practicalities of what this means in terms of our options - how to choose between them and how then to pursue them - is just as important.  With the evidence that such a process provides, we can make decisions based on something other than a hunch and a prayer.  Armed with confidence in both ourselves and our decisions, we can go on to work  out what hurdles might lie in the road ahead, what resources we have to overcome them - and indeed whether  the road ahead is leading to where we really want to go.


It is true that it is rare to fall into a career we love in one fell swoop.  Reading between the lines of some of the inspiring stories on moretolaw it is clear that a lot of hard work has been done  in getting out there, exploring different roads, gathering  information, making contacts and building new networks .


Much of the current research and indeed our own experience at Career Contours shows that we often change careers in stages, in sometimes small steps. The ‘stepping stone’ role is a prime example –lawyers who have moved into HR or Business Development Roles in law firms for example may ultimately be heading up departments in entirely different sectors and industries. 


Experimenting with options for the right ‘fit’ can (and sometimes has to) be carried out alongside the day job.  One of our clients volunteered in a variety of specifically chosen roles for a charity close to his heart. PR and communications, fundraising and recruitment were all areas he helped out with before focusing on communications for his next role. His confidence in his own motivations and skills, in the path he had ultimately chosen and the experience he had acquired were vital in enabling him to secure a new role in the field.


Another very senior client had enjoyed several years as a Chair of Governors of a large London school. When reflecting upon his career, and looking closely at what he had really enjoyed and done well, he realised his more meaningful achievements had been in this arena rather than in his role as a lawyer.  His experience, contacts and focus proved invaluable when making his transition from partnership to a portfolio career involving consultancy and non-executive roles.


Timescales differ of course. Some of us make career transitions over a matter of months, in others it can be a process that evolves over years. No transition will ever happen of course, without making those first, focused, steps.


Some lawyers do this entirely without anyone else’s help.  I have a bias of course, but from what clients tell us, it seems that investing in a good career coach can make that real difference if you have tried the solo route and are still feeling stuck – for whatever reason.


Karen is a former solicitor and qualified coach who has worked with lawyers for over 20 years. If you would like to discuss your current situation in complete confidence, please contact Karen Gill at Career Contours on 020 7398 6631 or at



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