The Career of a Lawyer: Creating Success at Each Stage

Finding one’s niche in the legal profession can be challenging. It is common for lawyers to start their job search by seeking jobs they can fit themselves into rather than seeking a job that best fits them. Whether it is experience or foresight that guides us as lawyers in our job search, one element that is crucial to achieving career change or satisfaction is self-assessment. This year on November 2, 2018, the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program held its all-day career CLE entitled “The Career of a Lawyer: Creating Success at Each Stage.” The focus was on using self-assessment to create success and satisfaction in one’s legal career from the early stages through retirement.

Assistant Director and Attorney Counselor Shari R. Gregory, LCSW, JD, and Attorney Counselor Bryan Welch, JD, CADC I, framed the day by making a “case for self-assessment.” They explained the need for considering our strengths as lawyers and becoming  more organized in the manner we assess our values, psychological needs, communication style, skills, and job environment.

The morning segment also featured leadership coach and consultant Kirsten Meneghello, JD, PCC, who spoke on “Leveraging Your Leadership Strengths.” Kirsten shared one self-assessment tool that can be used by lawyers to attain greater self-awareness, the Everything DiSC Workplace (see article, “Leveraging Your Leadership Style” on page 6). Although we do not always view ourselves as leaders, the nature of our legal work often calls us to step into leadership roles in which our expertise, influence, and capacity to make decisions are relied on by those we serve. Kirsten informed us that we can leverage the characteristics we prioritize based on our DiSC style depending on the situation we face at work and achieve better outcomes. Using our strengths in this way allows us to excel as leaders in our workplace. Toward the end of the morning segment, the OAAP presented a diverse panel of attorneys: Nathan Morales, JD; Myah Kehoe, JD; and Jacqueline Alarcon, JD. These inspiring attorneys each shared their journey into their current careers. They discussed some of their challenges and successes during their five to ten years in the practice of law.

The afternoon segment featured career coach Susanne Aronowitz, JD, ACC, who guided us through “Successfully Navigating Lawyer Career Crossroads at Midlife.” She explained that our path to achievement using time and effort is not always a linear process but can follow a chain of “s curves.” We find “hacks” to accelerate our learning, and we develop new skills in advance of us “plateauing  on [our] existing ones.” The key is not to allow fear to constrain us so we can jump from one curve to the next. To help overcome our fear when confronted by crossroads in our careers, Susanne relayed five steps: (1) identify the focus of our curiosity; (2) identify areas of dissonance; (3) understand the context for our resonance/dissonance; (4) apply context to our situation; and (5) design an action plan. She also introduced us to the concept of “SCARF” (status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness) as another way of addressing our stress response system. All five aspects of “SCARF” activate the primary reward system in our brain, and when any of these areas are threatened, we experience a threat to our life. When we are unable to make a decision or change, it is  important to consider the aspect of “SCARF” involved, its impact, our “SCARF” goals, and how we may blend our interests with the areas of “SCARF” that are threatened so we can move to our next “s curve.”

Shari and Bryan subsequently discussed how we may progress toward retirement using William Bridges’ model of transition. This model is composed of three phases: first an ending; followed by an “in-between” period of exploration and often confusion or challenges for most; and a new beginning. Bryan also shared the utility of cultivating resilience to maintain well-being during this period.

The afternoon segment concluded with Attorney Counselor Douglas Querin, JD, LPC, CADC I, moderating a panel of seasoned attorneys who successfully retired from the practice of law: Scott Jonsson, JD; Nancie Potter, JD, LMFT; and Douglas Hagen, JD. These courageous attorneys shared their own journey toward retirement and how they continue to live with purpose and meaning after retirement.

From our guest speakers and panel members, we learned that it is possible to move beyond fear and uncertainty to change and satisfaction. For those of you still searching for a niche, what steps might you take toward your own self-assessment?

A huge thank you to all our speakers and the lawyers who participated at our career CLE. Our event would not have been possible without you.

Karen A. Neri, JD
OAAP Attorney Counselor