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I’m a midlevel associate in a highly specialized practice area and want to change practice areas. How can I overcome my pigeonhole status?
As an attorney in a highly specialized practice area, you will encounter some challenges as you seek to shift gears. Just how high these hurdles will be will depend on factors both in…and out of your control. So as you strategize your transition, the following roadmap will help maximize your success:
Big Firm: Retooling your practice at a prestigious AmLaw100/Magic Circle/International law firm is the quickest way to reinvent yourself. But unless you are very junior and your academic credentials and grades are in the stratosphere, a big firm move will be a less likely option. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, but know the market reality and manage your expectations accordingly.
Small/Midsize Firm: These law firms can be more practice flexible than their big firm counterparts. So this could be a good option as you think about expanding your experience. You may not be able to completely abandon your current practice, but building up your expertise in other areas will enhance your marketability for future opportunities. Some of these firms will hire you as a complete retool if you are well credentialed and willing to be flexible on level and compensation.
In House: The in house market has heated up and corporate legal departments are adding more diverse practices to their ranks. So there are an increasing number of in house opportunities for lawyers in both public and private companies. Some of these employers will hire lawyers that don’t check all the boxes…as long as other important qualities exist. If you can make your case, you’ll get your shot.
Making a career U-turn is not for the faint of heart. It can be extremely difficult as well as demoralizing. But it can be done. With patience and the right expectations, preparation and attitude, you can take your pigeonhole status and feed it to the birds.
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