Mind Your Business

How to make a professional transition during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Gary Mitchell headshot

Gary Mitchell.

Do you find yourself living with the stark reality of having to make a transition during COVID-19? Are you looking at changing practice areas or making a move to a new firm? Change in the best of times can be daunting. Add to that the various challenges we are currently facing with restrictions and lockdowns, and it may seem insurmountable. But it doesn’t have to be.

This is one of those times in your life and your career where you can’t afford to wait and see what the other guy is doing. To survive and thrive, you must get out in front of your competitors. You must take the lead. And yes, this will include taking some risks.

This column serves as an introduction to the concept of transitioning. Change. Creating the new you. What will follow will be more specific suggestions depending on which category you find yourself in.

Take a deep dive

Before you embark on this journey, I highly recommend that you spend some time reflecting by doing a deep dive to determine what you really want. What is your endgame? What is your ideal scenario? If you are going to go to the trouble to make adjustments to your career, you might as well ensure you will end up exactly where you want to be.

Once you have a clear picture in your mind of where you want to get to, the next step is to …


With your endgame in mind, start to reverse-engineer and create benchmarks and goals for 10 years, five years, two years, one year, six months, three months, one month, one week and today. Starting today, what are the actions you need to put into place to start you in the direction of reaching your goals? You can use this exercise to formulate …

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Your plan

Now, and especially during these times, it’s critical that you remain flexible and adaptable to changing times. If there is one thing we have learned from 2020, it’s that we must expect the unexpected. Don’t let that let you get off track. Sure, your plan might and probably will change, but without one to start, you will be flailing in the wind.

Things you should consider including in your plan:

• Your goals (as above: one year, two years, five years and 10 years).

• Your SWOT analysis (strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats). This will help you determine where to put your time and energy.

• Target market research (or target firm).

• Who are they?

• Where are they?

• How do you reach them?

• Market trends.

• Competitive intelligence: Who is your current—and likely future—competition?

• Profiling your ideal clients.

• Identifying transferable skills. What are you doing now, and what have you done in the past to grow your practice? What worked? What didn’t work?

• Marketing plan.

• Business development plan.

• Identifying developmental needs (CLE, etc.).

• Creating your top 10 action list: What are the top 10 actions you need to take to make this happen?

• Building in benchmarks and deadlines to accomplish your actions.

Marketing: What’s different?

While COVID-19 has changed the way you can market, the fundamentals are the same. You need to get in front of your target audience, demonstrate your expertise and begin to build relationships.

Conventions and group meetings are out. Networking is out. Speaking live is out. But what is in? Zoom or Webex presentations. You can still get in front of your target audience and follow the same proven strategies of demonstrating your expertise and beginning to build relationships with your target audience.

Team up with organizations or other professionals who also target the same audience. Offer yourself as a contributor on panel discussions that serve your target audience, or host your own webinars.

And there is still always writing. Writing for publications that serve your target audience: journals, newsletters and so on. Blogging has also become more popular and is another effective way of providing your target audience valuable information.

LinkedIn can be another effective tool when used strategically. Look for groups on LinkedIn that serve your target audience. Post your blog or articles or other content regularly to those groups.

Business development: What’s different?

Much the same as your marketing strategy, COVID-19 has changed the way you engage in business development. But it shouldn’t change your focus or goals or stop you from building trusted relationships one-on-one with other professionals and top client prospects.

Yes, in-person meetings are out. But you can pick up the phone or schedule Zoom meetings with your contacts. Pretty much everything has gone virtual.

Human resources: What’s changed?

A lot has changed on the talent pool front. As a result of COVID-19, many talented people have been laid off or let go. With more and more people working from home, this can be an advantage for you. There is more qualified talent out there and available in many ways: on contract, part-time and flexible. You can use this to your advantage to build a solid talented team around you.

Now, let’s look at some specifics dealing with changing practice areas and changing firms.

Changing practice areas

• As mentioned above, it’s critical to understand what transferable skills you can adapt to your new chosen or considered practice area.

• If you work with other lawyers at a firm, reach out and see how their clients might either have needs or the potential to make introductions for you.

• Look at your current client and contact list. Can any of your current clients or contacts make introductions for you?

• Obviously, you are looking at taking some CLE courses to get up to speed in this new area.

• Remember, you are not starting from scratch. You are simply reinventing yourself. You have experience. You have a network. Leverage all that you do have to take you to the next stage of your career.

Moving to a new firm

• In addition to what has been mentioned already, in this case, you will want to pay a lot of attention to your new colleagues, starting with the managing partner. Ask them to help you identify the partners and associates who will be most willing to introduce you to their clients.

• Target your best current clients and give them all the attention they deserve/require to ensure the majority move with you.

• Reach out to all your professional contacts to let them know of your move and what it could mean for them and their clients. A new platform. A broader offering of services. Farther reach, etc.

One of my clients moved from a safe and comfortable equity partnership role at a small firm to a nonequity role at a national firm six weeks before the COVID-19 shutdown occurred in March.

She was still able to make a positive transition by following the above strategies. Have a plan. Do the work. See the results.

As a Canadian lawyer coach pioneer, Gary Mitchell has tailored his business coaching practice for the legal industry since 2005. His third book, Growing a Law Practice During COVID-19, will be released by LexisNexis Canada on May 31. He can be reached at [email protected].

Mind Your Business is a series of columns written by lawyers, legal professionals and others within the legal industry. The purpose of these columns is to offer practical guidance for attorneys on how to run their practices, provide information about the latest trends in legal technology, and how it can help lawyers work more efficiently, and strategies for building a thriving business.

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