How the Pandemic Could Mark the Chance for a Fresh Start in Your Legal Career
Rebecca Adlington, Marketing Coordinator
The disruption of the coronavirus pandemic has unsettled our routines, pulled us out of our comfort zones and made planning ahead extremely challenging, especially for those wanting to make big decisions with regards to their career.
With many restrictions still in place for the foreseeable future, it’s time to take control and pursue your career goals. According to Herminia Ibarra, London Business School professor and author of ‘Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader,’ for those hit by job uncertainty, the pandemic could mark the chance for a fresh start.
Writing in Harvard Business Review, Ibarra, who has studied career change for the past two decades – including the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, outlines 5 keys principles to help readers progress their career in turbulent times.
Below we explore how legal professionals can apply Ibarra’s principles to navigate uncertainty or identify new opportunities…
1) Develop Many ‘Possible Selves’
When sudden change occurs, it is wise to mitigate risk by diversifying one’s options. Therefore, Ibarra recommends that we look into our ‘possible selves.’ These are the ideas we all have about who we might want to become. Some are concrete and well informed by experience; others are vague, nascent and untested. Some are realistic; others are pure fantasy. And, naturally, some appeal more to us than others.
Think about a diverse set of possible selves and futures, do you imagine yourself striving for a position in a top-tier firm in the city or could you see yourself enjoying a slower pace of life working for a law firm offshore? Explore as many possible selves as you can. Write them down. This will give you a variety of career ‘options’ which you can then rank and prioiritse.
2) Embrace the ‘Lininal’ Period
The next point made by Ibarra, highlights the emotional experience of ‘liminality.’ In a nutshell, liminality is the feeling of confusion and loss of control that occurs between a transitional period, in this case, when you are stuck between a past career (or legal role) that is gone or no longer desired and a future that is uncertain.
‘Liminality can be an unpleasant state to inhabit emotionally,’ states Ibarra. People going through this period are likely to feel uneasy and worried, however, this stage is a necessary part of the journey as it allows you to process your emotions and conflicting desires. Ultimately, helping you to embrace new opportunities that lie ahead.
3) Get Going on Projects
Just because you are un-employed or uncertain about your next path, does not mean you should stop practicing your professional skills. If anything, now is the best time to work on projects you are passionate about. Not only will it help you find new opportunities, but it will keep you motivated.
Ibarra’s third principle involves doing something on the side – ‘cultivating knowledge, skills, resources, and relationships until you’ve got strong new legs to walk on. Take part-time courses, do pro-bono or advisory work, update your CV, build your LinkedIn page and make sure you are up-to-date with digital resources that are aiding the evolution of the legal industry.
If you are a recent law graduate this is your opportunity to work on several activities at once and ask yourself practical questions about what you want from your legal career. Who am I? Who do I want to become? Where can I best contribute?
4) Work your ‘Dormant’ Ties
Networking is difficult during the lockdown. There is nothing quite like meeting someone face-to-face for a discussion or better yet, having a drink in the pub. In the current environment, people are left wondering how they can initiate and build relationships. Fortunately, technology is on our side, with LinkedIn being the social media platform used by professionals for just this purpose.
The golden rule for networking for career progression is to ‘mobilize your weak ties’ – that is, the relationships you have with people you don’t know that well to maximise your chances of learning things you don’t already know. The issue with friends and family is that they want to help you, of course, however, they will unlikely be able to help you think creatively and enhance your skills.
Unfortunately, your weak ties, the people who are more likely to be a source of useful information and resources, are unlikely to be motivated to help you. So technically we have a weak tie/ strong tie conundrum. To solve this issue, Ibarra recommends that we use our ‘dormant ties’ – the relationships with people we used to be close with but haven’t been in contact with for a while (3 years specifically). These people could be old colleagues, professors or long-lost friends you went to university with. Reach out for some help and guidance and see what feedback you get.
On a side note – our consultants at Sonder are happy to put some time aside each week to help those who need some advice or guidance during these challenging times, just reach out to us on – firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set up a call.
5) Talk it Out
From his ‘Working Identity’ research Ibarra learnt quickly that solitary reflection, when not coupled with active experimentation, is dangerous, because ‘it can cause us to get stuck in the realm of daydreams,’ which provides neither new employment nor career fulfilment.
Talking out loud in social exchanges, be it video call, with people in similar situations who, respond, sympathise, questions, read body language and share their own experiences will make self-reflection pro-active. One of the reasons potential career changers benefit so much from attending courses is that their fellow students represent a ready-made community of kindred spirits to talk to. Create a zoon group that meets weekly to share thoughts and plans, schedule walks that respect social distancing guidelines and reach out to legal consultants who have experience in talking to several people in the same position.
In the words of Ibarra, ‘’the time to get going is now – but don’t do it alone.’ If you are a legal professional and need some career guidance, reach out to our team of friendly consultants and we will be on hand to guide you through this period and into a new and more suiting legal role
“The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.”
– Oprah Winfrey