Are you feeling stuck right now as you contemplate the idea of changing careers or making a big move within law?
If you are, it is probably because you are trying to solve your career change problem with the wrong type of thinking.
You see, the problem you are facing is complex, but you are probably thinking about it in a way that only really works on problems that are complicated.
Complicated? Complex? Aren’t these the just same thing?
In everyday language, they usually are.
But, there is a distinction between the two which can help us understand why some of the difficulties we face in life seem so intractable, no matter how much we try to think our way through them.
For many of us, changing career can fall into this category.
One of the things that we, as lawyers, often do when we’re trying to resolve a difficult problem is to assume that an answer already exists and that we just need to use our powers of reasoning and analysis to find it.
We do this because we have often found it to be true.
And, if the problem is complicated, it is true.
Complicated problems are the kinds of problems that have one or more solutions that can be worked out in advance. They may not be easy to resolve, but with expert knowledge, it is possible to ascertain with a reasonable level of certainty what might happen if a given set of circumstances arises.
These are the kinds of problems lawyers routinely deal with. You examine the facts for patterns of cause and effect and apply your knowledge of the law to these scenarios to determine, for example, where fault lies or what kinds of risks need to be provided for.
In fact, you can make the case for saying that legal practice is all about solving complicated problems through the application of specialised knowledge of the law.
The trouble is, if a problem is complex, this way of thinking doesn’t help us at all.
It’s more than complicated – it’s complex
This complicated/complex distinction comes from complexity theory which is concerned with the uncertainty and non-linearity present in complex systems.
You may not have thought about them in this way before, but we all operate within various complex systems on a daily basis. Systems of this type are the sum of all of the people, processes, relationships, interactions and norms that exist and operate within the system. For example, our family is a complex system, the organisation we work for is a complex system and the law is complex system.
In complex systems, where there are large numbers of interactive elements, the webs of influence are so complex that the answers to some questions (e.g. “what would happen if…?”) are completely unpredictable. In fact, patterns of cause and effect are only really visible in hindsight.
These kinds of questions are complex problems and, because of the dynamic quality of complex systems, solutions to complex problems cannot be imposed upon the system. Instead they emerge from the interactions that take place within the system.
Here is what complicated and complex problems look like side by side:
Career change as a complex problem
As you can therefore probably see, on this analysis, questions relating to changing career and leaving law are, at least in the early stages of the process, complex questions.
There are multiple possibilities, large numbers of moving parts and it is pretty much impossible to know how things are going to turn out.
Yet because you’re used to dealing with complicated questions on a daily basis, you probably treat the idea of changing your career like a complicated problem and, because of that, you think that you should really have all the answers.
This is why changing careers is so difficult and why, although you might feel quite desperate to make make a change, you may just feel stuck.
The emergence of change
So, what you need to do is treat the question of leaving law as a complex problem, not a complicated one.
In complex systems, all change is emergent – it reveals itself as a consequence of the interactions that occur within the system – and this is how solutions to complex problems are found.
This means you should try to create the circumstances that will allow your career change solutions to emerge for you, for example, by doing some ‘safe to fail experiments’, such as:
- Going through an intentional process of working out your values, strengths, needs, interests and talents
- Do some short training courses in areas that interest you
- Make some contacts among people working in careers that are possible options for you and talk to these people about what their work is like
Take the process step by step, seek answers to the questions that you are immediately presented with, adjust your course as you go, get some help if you need it and let the outcome emerge.
If you need some help kicking all of this off, or maybe putting your career plans back on track, click on the button below to get my 7 Step Career Change Road Map for Lawyers.
This free download will give the exact framework to create the circumstances for your career change solutions to emerge.
Simple Habits for Complex Times by Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston, 2015 Stanford Business Books
A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making, Snowden, D. and Boone, M.E., 2007, HBR