While specialisation is a goal for many lawyers, there are a number of benefits that come from opening oneself up to different career avenues.
Speaking at Lawyers Weekly’s inaugural Careers Expo & Emerging Leaders Summit (CEELS), Wenee Yap and Linda Kochanski delivered an insightful session dubbed “Progressive Pathways: Achieve your career goals through in-demand CPD and postgraduate specialisation”.
Following the session, Ms Yap, who has held various roles including as a lecturer and marketing manager at College of Law and founder of Survive Law, spoke to Lawyers Weekly in response to questions posed by the audience about how they could go about balancing specialisation versus pigeonholing themselves into any one practice area.
The key to this, Ms Yap said, is opening yourself up “to as many areas of law as possible early in your career”.
“In fact, be open to whatever career law might lead you to — like every field, the job you might have in a decade may not even exist today,” she said.
“Amy Poehler (not a lawyer, I know) made a great observation about choosing your career; focus on what you don’t like, the tasks and things you absolutely hate, and work from there.
“A good starting point is this: Consider what you like. Consider what you’re unusually good at doing. Consider what the world might pay you to do. Now include a sense of service and purpose; not only is a sense of public service central to our role as lawyers, it also stops you from being solely selfish in your ambitions.
“Think of your early career as your jazz period; it’s a period of wild experimentation (insofar as lawyers look like wildly experimental types). In your work, get involved in whatever interests you, and if there’s not a lot of scope to do that in your work, dip your toes via online/in-person events in intriguing areas.
“For me, this was technology and innovation, and how we could help lawyers work better, be happier, and probably deliver more legal services to more people, thereby improving access to justice. But it was also, fairly oddly, Sydney’s first space-themed cat café (still operational!) and a mafia bar (not so much). Remember, this is your jazz period.”
The next step is to regularly step back and assess the results of your experiments, Ms Yap said, noting that it’s important to ask yourself the following questions: What worked? What didn’t? What did you love or hate or want to learn more about?
“There’s no hard and fast rule about how often you do this, but aim for at least every quarter,” she advised.
“Remember, too, performance reviews and quarterly reviews and the whole shebang of professional life is there for an organisation to help bring out the best in you ... to serve the interests of your organisation. That’s fantastic if your interests align with those of your organisation. But if your values don’t align with management or with a shift in direction (or perhaps no shift in direction), then there’s nothing wrong with taking a step back and conducting your own, far less high stakes, ‘quarterly reviews’ of your own life, ambitions and interests."
From here on out, Ms Yap told young lawyers they can start to formulate what they really want out of their career in law.
“From here, you can, over time, determine what you would like to specialise in — and minimise the risk of pigeonholing yourself into a specialisation suitable for your organisation or mentor or employer, but perhaps not suitable for you," she said.
“Be brave, and bold, even as the world turns through seismic change. Remember, the world is always apparently ending. Don’t be afraid to do what appears to be nothing at all. Sometimes you can only work out what works best for you ... by doing nothing at all, for a little while. People may not understand, but remember, this is about your life and career, not theirs.”
To listen to Ms Yap and Ms Kochanski’s full session at the Careers Expo & Emerging Leaders Summit, click here.
To see all other sessions, check out the Lawyers Weekly Knowledge Centre here.