At the beginning of a career in the legal industry, many paralegals expect steady progress. However, a legal career can be extremely unpredictable, and at some point, many people begin to feel like they’ve stagnated. Here’s what it means to be stuck in a career rut, how to tell if you’re in one, and strategies for breaking out it:
What does it mean to be ‘stuck in a rut?’
One day, you may find yourself feeling stuck in the same office, sitting at the same desk, working with the same people, and performing the same tasks that used to be challenging, but now seem mundane and uninspiring. You’ve just found yourself stuck in a career rut.
Feeling stalled in your career can happen to anyone, even paralegals who have stayed the course, worked their way up, and maybe even scored a promotion or two. So how do you know if it’s happening to you?
How you can tell if you’re really in a rut
Career ruts are generally pretty simple to identify. You start to get a feeling of dread on Sunday night that turns into a sick feeling come Monday morning; you’re jealous when a friend or colleague gets a new job; and when somebody asks you about your career, you’re quick to change the subject.
Once you’re determined that you are in a rut, you need to focus on what might be behind your dissatisfaction. Are you bored? Do you have more work than you can possibly do in a day? Is the quality of your work beginning to suffer? Are you no longer passionate about law, or maybe just the area of law you’re working in?
5 strategies for breaking out of the doldrums
Once you conclude that you’re ready for change, take stock of where you are right now and set some goals regarding where you’d like to be. Here are some strategies that will allow you to break free of the rut you are in:
- Do your research. Figure out what potential positions or career moves might be a good fit for you. Your goal should be to look for opportunities that allow you to capitalize on the things you like in your current role and avoid what you don’t. Is there something you love to do that you could look for in a legal job – writing, research, or problem-solving?
- Make a game plan. Once you’ve decided on a direction you’d like to pursue, weigh your options and decide which appeals to you the most or seems most attainable at this point in your career. When you choose a goal, map out what you’ll need to do to achieve it.
- Assess your technical skills. One of the first things you’ll probably have to consider is the level of your technical skills. Have you been keeping up with recent changes in technology within your practice area? Are you up-to-date regarding the latest legal software and cloud-based systems? Or is it time to take a continuing legal education (CLE) class or join a peer-to-peer group where you can benefit from the intelligence of others?
- Evaluate your soft skills. Besides taking stock of your legal and technical abilities, you should also review your interpersonal skills. Do colleagues seem to find you easy to work with, or difficult at times? Are you open to change or do you avoid it? To get an honest evaluation you might need to ask an objective coworker to grade your soft skills – anything under a B probably means your interactive skills need some work if you want to move forward.
- Invest in your professional network. When legal professionals get busy, many begin to neglect their professional networks. If this describes you, try to reconnect with former colleagues and build new professional relationships, in person and on social media.
Challenge yourself keep up with current events in the legal industry and make time to interact with thought leaders. Former colleagues, mentors, and career-savvy friends an all be great assets when you’re trying to bust out of a rut and recharge your career.
Do you know of other ways to tell if you’re stuck in a career rut, and what to do if you are? Tell us about them in the comments!