How to Think outside the Box in Your Legal Career

Faye Gelb

Thinking outside the box in your legal career takes guts!

When you speak with people about thinking outside the box in law, you quickly learn that you are still a minority. People perceive Big Law as the prestigious path to law success and, for many, everything else does not rate. But, it's time to seriously think about this assumption.

Why? The shocking answer is it holds us back. Have you ever tried to fit something and it wasn't for you? Were you able to honestly admit that or did you feel societal pressure, peer pressure, family pressure to continue down that path.

Freedom is being able to choose a career path in line with our values and our own personal definition of success.

It means being open to other possibilities. To be curious about what hasn't been tried or what could be instead of assuming the answers. But it's hard to get there if we view the journey as less worthy before it's even started.

In this article we look at untraditional legal paths. Why? Because it's time.

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Speaking with the CEOs of alternative services providers, it is clear that many feel that working at such firms / organizations is often perceived as not as prestigious, lucrative or as rewarding as one that is traditional.

And to top it off, it can definitely be hard to think of practicing law in novel ways. When I entered law I thought of it as a profession and after law school and articling, I just wanted a job and to learn the skills I needed. The furthest thing from my mind was approaching my legal path in a "different" way.

Strategic Success in Your Legal Path

My approach to law decreased my options. It definitely wasn't a strategic path to legal success. I always looked it as a profession and not a business and when you take law outside of the business that it is, you can potentially rely on your work as demonstrating your expertise and your value. But speaking from experience, it isn't enough.

Why? You can do tremendous work and not have it reflected in your billings or the value you bring to the position. Work may not be billable, you might not be working on lucrative files, you may end up under-estimating your time because you think the work should be done faster, you shouldn't bill for things "you should know" or correcting any mistakes is not billable time. You might think your work has to be perfect because it is representing your skills and you are competing with others for recognition. And, no matter how we view our work, it is only part of the equation.

Thinking of Law as a Business

Thinking of law as a business means that you continually assess your work product, the type of work you are obtaining, your billables and your goals. My goals consisted of producing great quality work. I had no long term goals of where I wanted to go or any concrete plan on how to get there. Consequently, I failed to:

  • see how others could be part of a supportive network,
  • who I could also learn from and who I could support,
  • what type of work best showcased my talents and
  • how I could consistently obtain better work.

What Does Law as a Business have to do with Untraditional Legal Paths?

So what does this have to do with untraditional legal paths?

If you think of law as a business, it is not a huge leap to look at and critically assess your legal path with questions such as: are there other ways of delivering legal services right now, who could I work with / for, how could I work, where, and what methods could I employ?

And it moves on from there to additional questions:

  • What are gaps in legal fields?
  • What areas of law need additional lawyers?
  • What are lucrative areas?
  • Up and coming areas?
  • What are alternative service providers out there?
  • What do they offer?
  • Is it a right fit for me?
  • Could I create something to address my needs and a gap in the market?
  • Do I want to do this?
  • If I did, where can I learn more, what's involved, how can I get started?
  • Can I consider being an expert in a developing area of law?

Defining Success in Law for Ourselves

Defining success for ourselves is a critical component of being able to see how an untraditional legal path may be of use to you. If we separate out other people's expectations, what is supposed to be the "best" legal path and the desire to have the milestones others recognize as being equated with success in law, we can arrive at our own definition. Your own definition opens up how a legal path can best fit your needs, not the other way around.

If you've struggled to find a balance and find yourself pushing your self-care away, ignoring fatigue and putting in long hours that don't leave any time for a personal life, asking about your definition of success now can be one of the best things you can do to ensure a positive future.

We all make choices and it is definitely part of the journey that the beginning requires a certain amount of time to acquire skills, knowledge and expertise in your chosen area. But if that's your lifestyle for years, it is important to ask if it is meeting your needs.

Examples of Untraditional Legal Path Providers

The following are some examples to check out:

Looking to your goals and how you want the journey to unfold is part of ensuring your success. An untraditional path might provide the additional flexibility, entrepreneurial, and business opportunities that create the success you've defined for you.

I encourage you to look closely at these options, not with the view of necessarily joining any of them, but just to see the possibilities.

You never know where it could lead. Below is a quick roadmap to thinking outside the box!

Roadmap to Strategic Career Success

1. Leave behind assumptions.

2. Be curious.

3. Explore.

4. Be willing to chart your own course.

5. Expect objections.

6. Be persistent.

7. Use your values to guide you.

8. Be prepared to define success in a way that aligns with you.

9. Remember why you started your legal journey and envision where you want it to go.

There's a whole world out there and Big Law may or may not be for you. But at least allow for an informed and curious journey whose path can lead you to surprising and potentially interesting and lucrative areas of law.

Lawyer, Faye Gelb, Founder, Her Legal Global

About Faye Gelb

Faye Gelb, founder of Her Legal Global is passionate about empowering lawyers to have a career that makes them smile when they wake up in the morning. Lawyer, Entrepreneur, Startup Cofounder, Front End Web Developer, Photographer and Business Consultant. Her goal is to help you learn skills. We don't just talk about issues, we provide solutions! Listen to Her Legal Global Podcast for expert interviews providing you with immediate support and actionable information!