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Leaving law: deciding which alternative career is right for you

As published in The Lawyer magazine:

So you have decided that law may not be the right career for you, and you have a few vague ideas of alternative jobs that you may want to do. This is a great start. However, the next step is a particularly hard one – choosing which career to pursue instead. Here are some tips to help.

Lifestyle criteria

This part is practical and realistic, and is an important first step to take. Take the ‘what do I want to do’ out of the equation for a moment and create a wider set of essential criteria. These are your non-negotiables, and are based on lifestyle.

The list should have no more than two or three things on it, and may include things like working hours or location. If you definitely want to stay in London for family reasons, it will help you evaluate more easily whether a career as a foreign correspondent is right for you, and so on.

This mental checklist will help frame options that could really work for you more clearly. If at any time you think your criteria need updating, just adjust them and carry on.


If you have a few options in mind, make a note of the main questions or concerns you have about each one, and then find out as much as you can about them. Use your lifestyle criteria and these principal questions as a guide for your research.

Ask friends if they know people in those fields who can chat to you over a coffee or on the phone. Ask them everything you want to know and for any words of advice. People love talking to other (genuinely interested) people about their jobs, so do not feel shy about asking for their time, and they may put you in touch with other useful connections.

Knowledge is power so think out of the box for your research. Can you do some related voluntary work to get a deeper understanding? Or perhaps you can join online forums or sign up to relevant newsletters to learn more, or try attending related talks or events.

Get creative with where you already are. If you are interested in music, start a choir at your current workplace and see how you feel doing it. Look into evening, weekend or lunchtime courses you can start now. If you can be more flexible, consider going part time while you try something else out or take a sabbatical to do some training.

Explore your skills

It is common for lawyers to forget just how many transferable, incredible skills they have. Start observing the skills you are using everyday and note them down in a dedicated document. From ‘analysing and simplifying complex information’ to ‘building exceptionally strong client relationships requiring a high level of trust and confidence’– it is all amazing stuff that you are probably taking for granted.

Start to notice which skills you enjoy using the most and which tasks you find the most satisfying. Use these observations to evaluate your alternative career options.

Trusted advice

Still confused? A great exercise to try is to email four or five people you fully trust and who know you well. Ask them to write back to you with what roles they think you would be good at, and the reasons why. You may be surprised at what you learn. They may come up with some great new ideas, or confirm some of the options you are considering (in which case their reasoning will be helpful to you).


Moving in a new career direction is rarely a case of deciding what you want to do instead of your current role and sticking to that decision forever and ever (and thank goodness, as no one would move anywhere with that much pressure on a choice). Get used to the fact that this is more of a process – a series of stepping stones. At each stepping stone, review, take stock and make any necessary changes.

Keep a note of things you are learning, the pros and cons you are identifying, and the questions you still have so that your evaluations can evolve. Also record practical considerations, such as potential earnings and how much re-training would be needed. Do not be afraid to conclude that something is not right for you, or introduce a new option as a potential avenue to explore. This is the real value of the reviews afterall.

Be honest

Many of us already know, deep down, which alternative is the one we really want to go for. It may not be the easiest option, but then the right ones rarely are. Get excited about this opportunity. If you had a dream you gave up on and are scared of taking the leap now, just start the ball rolling and see how things go…

(Want some extra support with all this? Why not consider some one-to-one coaching sessions with Red Arbre.)

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