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Making another career mistake?

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Question: During my early years as an admin, I thought I wanted to be a legal secretary. I liked the image of the legal profession: the well-tailored suits, square-cornered briefcases, the idea of being involved in court cases, etc. So, I trained and finally became a legal secretary.

After four years in the profession, in two different jobs, I find that it’s not quite what I expected. My work, for the most part, has involved extensive word processing and back-and-forthing with lawyers. I work at a high level of risk and exposure: leaving out a paragraph or missing a lawyer’s correction can lead to disaster. The pressure is extreme.

Now that I’ve worked hard to get here, though, I’m not excited about redirecting my career once again. What if I make another career mistake?

Any and all advice is welcome!  -- H.P., Tampa, Fla.


Apply for administrative assistant positions outside of legal. You are obviously well trained in all areas of the job - with more focus on the legal aspect. There is no need to stay in that role if you are unhappy. Your experience in that intense, high profile profession will make you a hot commodity on the job market. Good luck!

You might something new this year: omitting all personal gift giving and having a pot luck luncheon. This would be a way for everyone to share and participate.

Even the guys might bring a great item that all could enjoy!

I was a legal secretary for 27 years, I left the "legel" society for this reason and many more. When I typed all documents, I printed the final version out and read it myself, making sure that I had everything corrected, spell checked, punctuation, etc. Saved me a lot of headaches and embarassment. I had no problems transferring my skills as a legal secretary to my position now. I am more respected in the company and field I am in now too, and I do more than just word process, make copies and be the go-between for attorneys.

I was in your same situation several years ago. What helped me was realizing that I had not necessarily made a career mistake. After all, the training I had received was easily transferrable, I had learned more about my own skills, and about what was important to me in a job. Instead of seeing it as a mistake, I saw it as one rung on the career stepladder. The next rung used my administrative skills in the sales and marketing arena, which was also not quite a fit for me, but that led me into Human Resources, in which I have my niche. Last year I obtained my certification as a Human Resources Professional, and I am very happy. I do not regret my previous jobs, because each one helped me to refine my understanding of what career was a good match for me. I would recommend that you look at what you DID enjoy about your job, and see if there is another job that would utilize your well-developed skills and provide those aspects that you liked.

One last thing...I have been in HR for four years now, and see many resumes and applications come through my desk. Changing career paths is very, very common.

Great News! You are certainly not the first person to feel this way about their career. My advice would be to find what you are passionate about and then find out how you can make money in that field. I know that you don't want to start over but you can only be productive in that which you are truly passionate. Go for it!

I have to agree with Michelle. It took me a while to find the field as an Administrative Assistant that I was passionate about; and I too realized that my skills, etc. were flexible in any office environment as long as you take a position that is an up move that challenges your skills and knowledge. Good Luck!

I also began my career as a legal secretary and did not enjoy the ethics of the job. That experience has proven beneficial in the current job I have that I love. I am responsible for the patent information for the company and have the legal background I need. I work for the Vice President in the Product Development Department and find my job to be creative and I am given many new opportunities to use my skills. Challenge yourself to look for the position that fits you. Although it is scary, you can do it!

Try getting a skills assessment as a first step in figuring out which careeers correspond with your natural strengths. Depending on the results, you could look into some part-time volunteer opportunities in that field. This way you could see the environment for what it really is before you change careers.

Good luck!

re: Career Mistake?

My philosophy is life's too short to stay in a job you hate.

There are lots of jobs out go find one that better suits your desires.

In short - go for it!

Any time you start a new job or decide on a new career path it is taking a chance. No one can predict what the outcomes will be but if you are unhappy you need to make a change. It's a terrible thing to go to work every morning in a job that you are not happy with. If you must work for a living it certainly is a lot better to do something that you are not only satisfied with but don't dread doing. Good lulck!

In a former life, I hired administrative talent. I would look for former legal assistants for many reasons. Mainly, they came to the position professionally-oriented. That is, their dress code did not need to be discussed nor did I have to train someone how to answer the phone. You would not believe how many times one has to remind new employees that "Yeah" or a simple "Hello" is not appropriate in the business setting.

They came in and made an impact. Most legal assistant types I've met bring instant value to the organization because of their attention to detail. While I ran a low-key organization, I do like it to appear that it is a sharp organization. Folks from the legal side bring that.

Good luck with whatever you do.

I had a similiar situation. I looked at my department and noticed there were opportunities for me to do different tasks without leaving my department. I did a proposal and submitted it to management. I didn't get additional money, I had the same job title, but my responsibilities changed. See if there are other opportunities that aren't necessarily apparent to everyone and then "create" your new job. Make a list of what you like about your job and see if you can find a way to eliminate the things you don't like about it. If you can't change what you don't like then maybe finding a new job or a new career is the right answer. Before you make the change, you need to do some soul searching, find out what you really want to do-what your'e passionate about. If there's another career you're interested in, research, and interview others. You may want to consider talking to a career coach. You say you trained to be a legal secretary, did you go to a school? If so, see if you can speak to the counselors at your school. Many schools offer job assistance and career counseling to their former students. With the skills and experience you have, you may want to consider starting your own legal services company. There are alot of attorneys who outsource some of their legal adminstrative tasks. You'll still be involved in the legal field but you probably won't have to deal with the issues you're faced with in your current position. There are several opportunities out there you just have to start looking for them. Not every opportunity is going to be found in the Want Ads.

I am a legal secretary working at a county office of education in California. I have never worked as a legal secretary in the private sector, and I understand from talking with co-workers who came from private law firms that this is a particularly stressful environment that is driven by billable dollars charged to each client. Many of the attorneys and secretaries who are here have come from private law firms to avoid the high stress and it has proven to be a good choice for all of them. I would suggest that, since you have the legal secretarial background, and you are not excited about making a career change after all of the hard work you probably put in to learn the field (who could blame you), you try becoming a legal secretary at some sort of government/public agency. Public agencies do not bill their clients by the hour - rather, they offer a service which is usually a set cost to each entity that uses their services, regardless of how often they use their services. This seems to translate into a lower key and less stressful environment because there is not quite the amount of pressure put on all legal staff to work on the matter as quickly and efficiently as possible in order to keep attorneys fees at a reasonable level. Also, many of these offices do not deal in lots of litigation, so the court filings can be minimal. Rather, many of these offices provide information to their clients in order to keep them out of hot water, rather than putting together court cases to get them out of hot water. Check your local school districts, sheriffs departments, political offices, etc., etc. - all of these probably have their own legal services departments and your skills would be ideal for the hiring.

I have the same situation. I am the senior legal assistant at a law firm and have been working there for about 6 years, I now support the President of the company ane one junior associate.

I realize two years ago that I do not like the legal environment as a legal assistant and I have been looking for another position outside of the legal arena, I have had no luck thus far.

I would say that if you do not enjoy your legal career that you definitely look for something else that you would enjoy. The skills that you have acquired as a legal secretary will definitely be an asset to any position that you might obtain.

I am still looking as well, so I hope you find that position that you will enjoy and be able to advance your career at the same time.

Good Luck!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Beth Luciano March 4, 2011 at 11:14 am

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