How to overcome being “typecast as a lawyer” when changing careers. 1/05

 I have searched for a job for 5 years without success in my hometown. As a result, I have been forced to work out of state and return home on the weekends. I am married, 43, with 3 children. While employed as an attorney, I despise my job and my profession. I feel like a failure, having failed the California Bar Examination 4 times, the New York Bar Examination 2 times, and the Pennsylvania Bar Examination once. If I could re-live my life, I would have pursued a PhD in History. Here’s my question–how do I successfully market myself for careers outside the law in my hometown if employers typecast me as a lawyer? It doesn’t help that I graduated from Harvard Law School, a background that only adds to the typecasting To respond to this question, we turned to Linda Lerner, an executive coach and a human resources consultant who writes a “Job Doc” column for the Boston Globe. Here is her response:

It’s probably hard for you to believe but changing careers and leaving even the most lucrative professions have become a common experience. It is not taboo for mid-career professionals to decide that the choices they made in their twenties no longer work for them in their 40’s and 50’s. Your “secret” of hating the practice of law needs to be transformed into an acceptable and open conversation about the personal transition you are planning. Something like: In the past law has been exciting for me but my interests have changed and I find that I am less interested in the field. I want to work in the X field or pursue my interest in X. Or I am in the process of transitioning or changing careers or looking for opportunities where I can apply my law background toward different challenges.

Once you become comfortable with the reality that this change is one that you can discuss openly, you then need to face the fact that you will experience some fear in beginning to make such a major change. Acknowledge the fear and have the conversation anyway. Fortunately, there are a good number of books on this subject of transitioning and switching careers. You should start by getting a couple of them from the library or your local bookstore. You should also consider seeing a career counselor, as soon as you can, in order to get assistance in assessing the possible jobs that you are best suited for and also for assistance in how to approach potential employers. Role playing, and other forms of practicing your approach with a counselor, or with a friend, can ease your concerns about how you will be received by people in your own community.

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