Happy in law? – finding your legal niche

Are you happy at your law firm? After spending years dreaming of becoming a lawyer and a small fortune earning the credential needed to count yourself as one, are you fulfilled? Is it what you always dreamed it would be?

For many of you, the answer might very well be yes. If that’s the case, stop reading now. The information below might not be for you.

But if you are among those who wake up in the morning dreading the day and wondering what happened along the way to make you unhappy in law, don’t despair. All is not lost.

True, after careful examination you may very well find that you should have been a doctor, marketing professional, or banker after all. However, for those of you who are still scratching their heads and wondering what that feeling of unease is inside, take a moment to use your considerable problem solving skills to uncover what exactly is fueling that unease.

Is it the dynamics of your firm that’s getting you down? Could it be the people you are associating with at work? Are you fulfilled in the area of expertise that you’ve fallen into either by design or by assignment? Would you be happier in a different setting?

Let’s take a look.


By way of a thorough self-assessment, you can discover the missing puzzle pieces of your happiness in the legal profession. It is a way to discover your strengths and your skills and how best to put them to work in a way that will bring you the workplace fulfillment that you crave.

By doing a self-assessment, you can uncover whether you are on the right career path, what’s working for you and what isn’t, and what will ultimately make you happy at work.

One of the first things to examine is your innate abilities and aptitudes. Although highly motivated people like lawyers can work against their natural abilities, those who do so are rarely satisfied. Understanding if you have a knack for numbers, design, organizing concepts, inductive reasoning, or the ability to be able visualize in three dimensions can go a long way in determining if you are following the right course in your career.

The Highlands Ability Battery is a reliable assessment tool that measures nineteen natural aptitudes. In addition, the Highlands Company is shortly introducing the “Highlands Lawyers Report” specifically designed to help lawyers discover their natural strengths in law and point them towards what areas they would most enjoy. For more information about this instrument you can visit www.highlandsco.com.

Enjoying what you do is most important for long-term happiness at work. If you are working at something you are interested in, work becomes fun and something to look forward to each day. Furthermore, finding that niche can very quickly develop into a passion. Do you gravitate to sports or entertainment? Then maybe entertainment law is for you? Do you like to tinker in your home workshop in your spare time and have a mechanical engineering background? Maybe patent law, where you can help others fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams is a perfect fit. Perhaps math games float-your-boat? If so, tax law is where you should be.

If you have a hard time discerning what those interests are, you only have to look at the magazines you pick up, the hobbies you are drawn to, or the books you read. The Self Directed Search (SDS), which is available on line at www.self-directed-search.com can help you understand more about yourself and how your individual skills and interests are related to career choice. There are many other “interests” inventories too.

Skills, experience and values

Skills and experiences accumulated through your lifetime are bankable assets that can be easily overlooked. Transferable skills, unlike content skills that are specific to the job function, are generic even if you have learned them in a different context. Are you a crackerjack writer and spent years honing those skills on the college newspaper or “law review?” Then maybe you should be guiding your practice in such a way that writing becomes more a part of your business like being a litigator. Moreover, your years doing community theatre in your spare time have honed your presentation abilities but they are being overlooked in the work place. If you are at a huge law firm, you may want to switch to a smaller firm where you can go to court more frequently.

Then there are your core values that make up a large part of your identity. It’s no secret that people prefer to work with others who share their values, and are happiest when working in an environment that fosters them. Lack of congruence between one’s values and their work is one of the most frequent causes of career stress. It helps determine factors that motivate you such as service, prestige, power, autonomy or balance between your personal life and career. There are many assessment tools that career counselors use to assess values, such as the Hogan’s Motives Values and Preference Inventory.  If you would like further information about this instrument, you can go to www.hoganassessments.com.

Personal style

Personal style has to do with how you interact with others and this can greatly influence your happiness and productivity. Are you the type who likes a lot of personal interaction throughout the day or are you satisfied working alone? Do you crave structure or do you work best when things are changeable and fluid? Do you like to work on projects that last a few months or are you fine with longer term projects that can last years? What type of person do you work best with?  What type of environment or situation do you thrive in? There are many tools that can help you answer these questions such as the Birkman Method (www.birkman.com), the Highland Ability Battery (www.highlandsco.com) and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (www.cpp.com).


Perhaps you just need to change your setting to a corporation, university, foundation, or non-governmental organization?

So what does it all mean?

Your happiness in your chosen profession is paramount. You worked hard to get where you are so now it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. However, realize you can’t do it alone. Working with a qualified career counselor who specializes in working with people in the legal profession can be the first step toward getting control of your career and your happiness.

A list of qualified career counselors can be found by going to the International Association of Career Professionals at www.acpinternational.org  or, in some cases, your bar association. A career counselor can help you determine the best areas of law for you, or possible alternative career paths that capitalize on your aptitudes, skills, interests, personal style, values and more. Make sure you use a qualified professional who employs some of the career assessment tools featured in the article.

With your willingness to explore new ways of thinking, along with a better understanding of your needs, your happiness in the legal profession can be within your grasp.

Written by Sheryl A. Odentz, President of Progress in Work LLC, a career management firm for attorneys. She can be reached at sodentz@progressinwork.com or www.progressinwork.com.  This article was published in the December 2011/January 2012 edition of the New York City Bar’s The Lawyers Connect E-Newsletter.