By Vicki Voisin, ACP
Do you love your job but feel the itch for a new challenge? The solution may be as simple as moving into a new practice area…for example, from litigation to intellectual property.
I can hear you now: “Vicki, That sounds easy, but it’s not! All my experience is in litigation and I know nothing about intellectual property!”
My answer? I said the solution was simple, I never said anything about the process being easy. This is doable, though, and you can do anything you decide to do.
Here are a few strategies to make your new challenge a reality:
Don’t think you have to change jobs to change practice areas. Be sure to look for opportunities to make this change right where you’re currently working. You don’t want to give up the seniority, benefits and privileges you’ve earned (and also the friends and relationships you’ve established) unless you absolutely have to. Think about being the little fish in the big pond…or low man on the totem pole…this may not be where you want to be.
Take advantage of continuing education opportunities. Never say you’re not going to a continuing education event because you don’t practice in that area. Instead, go to everything available because you never know when you might land there. This is especially true when you think you might like to cross the bridge into another area.
Network, network, network! Did I mention ‘network’? You bet! Within the firm, this is where you’ll hear about new opportunities and form relationships that might get you recommended for the change. Outside the firm, you’ll find opportunities that might be happening elsewhere. Your network will also offer suggestions such as what skills you’ll need for the new practice area and what you’ll need to learn to get there.
Find a Mentor. This is the person who will guide you and advise you as you take on your new challenge. Perhaps this is a person who is working in the new practice area or a person who made the leap in the past. Listen, learn…and appreciate the knowledge this person has to offer.
Volunteer to do some work in the new area of interest. Ask to assist at trial or to work on a file in the new area. Take on even the smallest job because you will learn from everything you do. You may have to use your own time to do this but it will be worth it in the end.
If your firm offers in-house training, be there! You would be a silly goose if you missed opportunities that are (a) f*ree, (b) usually done during the work day, and (c) say you are serious about learning! Don’t pass up this ‘abc’ strategy!
Get advanced certifications. Do you want to work with contracts and know just enough about the Statute of Frauds to be dangerous? Take an advanced certification course!
These are offered by paralegal professional associations and by state bars. For more information, go to your state bar’s web site. Also, check out NALS (http://nals.org), NFPA (http://paralegals.org) and NALA (http://nala.org). NALA also offers web-based advanced certifications, currently in 17 different areas, with more being offered all the time.
Explore every avenue…this is a slick way to get the credibility you need for your new area of interest.
Ask for what you want. If you don’t ask, you don’t get! Be sure your managing partner, paralegal manager or HR Director knows you are interested in moving to a new area. Stress that you are NOT unhappy where you are, but that you’re looking for a new challenge and want to be kept in mind should the opportunity crop up. Be subtle, but let that person know the steps you’ve taken to learn the ins and outs of the new practice area.
One word of caution: It is always a good idea to take a good look at the work available where you currently work, as well as research trends both in your geographic area and across the nation. You need to be sure you can sustain yourself in the new specialty area. You don’t want to specialize your way out of a job!
Your challenge: Whether you’re interested in a new practice area or not, you need to keep yourself positioned to make a change if necessary. Think about what area you’d like to work in IF you moved from your current specialty. Think about where you want your career to be in one, five and ten years. What will challenge you and keep your job interesting? Examine the strategies offered and choose one or two you can begin working on today. If you have a plan, you’re set to take steps to reach your goal.
©2011 Vicki Voisin, Inc. Do you want to use this article in your newsletter, ezine or Web site? You can so long as you include this entire blurb with it:
Vicki Voisin, “The Paralegal Mentor”, delivers simple strategies for paralegals and other professionals to create success and satisfaction by achieving goals and determining the direction they will take their careers. Vicki spotlights resources, organizational tips, ethics issues, and other areas of continuing education to help paralegals and others reach their full potential. She publishes a weekly ezine titled Paralegal Strategies and co-hosts The Paralegal Voice, a monthly podcast produced by Legal Talk Network. More information is available at http://www.paralegalmentor.com.