“For all the hours I put in, I felt that my work never really had a significant impact on anyone in the world at large.”
From Law to Own Business
What work were you doing previously?
Until 2010, I was a lawyer working in London.
What are you doing now?
I'm based in Munich and run my own business, TRANSACTRAINING, which specialises in providing professional Legal English training to lawyers who are not native English speakers.
So many cross-border transactions are now completed in English; lawyers need to be familiar not only with the differences between their own legal system and others (and the relevant legal concepts), but also with the cultural differences in the way business is done. This is where Legal English training comes in.
Why did you change?
There were aspects of legal practice that I enjoyed, but two things really bothered me: constantly having to work in an adversarial environment, and feeling that, for all the hours I put in, my work never really had a significant impact on anyone in the world at large.
Closing a deal is enough for some people, but it wasn't for me.
When was the moment you decided to make the change?
I don't think there was any one defining moment, but rather the slowly dawning realisation that the work I was doing didn't align well with my aspirations.
What certainly also contributed to my decision was the fact that I witnessed firsthand the recent economic crisis and the impact that redundancies had on the lives of many of my colleagues who had to leave jobs they had always thought were secure.
Are you happy with the change?
Yes – without a shadow of a doubt.
What do you miss and what don't you miss?
I miss the sense of identity (and, yes, the prestige!) that comes with belonging to a profession that everyone understands.
I'm often met with blank stares now when I tell people what I do. After I explain, they often say things like: "Oh, so you're really a translator, then…"
I don't miss constantly being on the clock and working within a fixed hierarchy.
How did you go about making the shift?
I suppose I really made two shifts.
The first was from law into Legal English training and the second from fixed employment into running my own business.
The first shift: I knew I wanted to leave legal practice, but wasn't sure which direction to go in. I went through a long process of trying to pinpoint the things that really interested me. This was easier said than done because a large part of this process also involved asking the questions "Who am I?" and "What role do I expect work to play in my life?"
These sound like strange questions to ask, but they are important and so few of us ever really ask them critically when thinking about our choice of career. We make decisions based on pre-defined career options (butcher, baker, candlestick-maker) or the expectations of others, for example, rather than our own personality types and interests.
What really helped me was to attend a few workshops on career change and the nature of work (including a Careershifters workshop). I also read a lot about these issues.
I finally settled on the idea that I wanted to incorporate the following things into my work: my knowledge of the law, my love of the English language, and my interest in training and developing people (which is what I find most fulfilling).
The route into Legal English is through TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), so I completed a short CELTA (Cambridge English Language Assessment) course in London. I also attended a basic German course before leaving for Munich.
I freelanced as a language trainer in Munich for a few months and then found a post as a Law and Language Lecturer at a University in Bavaria.
The second shift: I wanted a better balance between teaching law students and training practising lawyers, so I asked to reduce my full-time post at the University to half time, put huge amounts of work into getting a website up and running, and started training lawyers. I soon realised that training lawyers was what I wanted to do full time, so that's what I do now.
What didn't go well? What 'wrong turns' did you take?
In the early stages of trying to identify which of my interests to incorporate into my new career, I made the mistake of thinking I had to abandon everything about the law entirely.
I tried out a couple of things (at some cost) that were completely creative (for example, a short course on interior design), and found out just how much I missed the analytical aspects of the law and being a bit of a wordsmith. In one way, this was a misstep, but it probably also played a key role in helping me find my way.
Oddly enough, some of the things I learnt as part of this 'misstep' have subsequently come in handy. For example, colour psychology is very important in interior design, but also in branding and this helped me make more informed choices when it came to thinking about TRANSACTRAINING's branding and website design.
How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?
The first shift: I had managed to save a fair amount while working as a lawyer; this meant that I could finance the CELTA and my German course.
I also took on a short-term contract at a law firm just before leaving London in order to make the move and the initial stages of finding work in Munich easier from a financial perspective.
The second shift: I built up my website while I was still working part time at the university; the additional income from training outside the university helped to finance the start-up costs of the business. I'm also fortunate in that my husband has a full-time job. This has made the transition a lot easier.
What was the most difficult thing about changing?
Undoubtedly, the loss of identity associated with leaving an established profession, and fear of failure.
Also, learning a new language (German) as an adult, starting from scratch in a new field and sometimes having to accept less than I knew I was worth in order to learn the ropes.
The biggest challenge I'm currently facing in running my own business is having to make decisions largely on my own regarding things I didn't have a clue about only a short while ago (for example, search-engine optimisation and marketing strategy!).
Strangely enough, this is also what makes running your own business exciting.
What help did you get?
Talking to others about their experiences of career change (whether at career-change events or in general) really helped, as did the support of my family and friends.
What have you learnt in the process?
I've learnt that nothing is impossible with a bit of planning and determination.
Also, I've learnt that people are much stronger and more versatile than they give themselves credit for.
What do you wish you'd done differently?
I wish I had worried less about the perceptions of others in making the change.
I also sometimes wish I had put myself under less pressure to make decisions quickly and had sought out a mentor or two along the way.
What would you advise others to do in the same situation?
Do as much as you can to find out what makes you tick and what brings you joy before making the decision.
Speak to as many people as you can, both about the process of changing career, and about potential career opportunities or ideas (but avoid naysayers!). Find someone to mentor you, if possible.
If you have the chance, try experimenting with your idea in a 'safe' way to check how viable it is. For example, if you want to start a business making wedding cakes, why not try doing this on a small scale after work or on weekends for a while? Ultimately, though, you'll need to go with your gut.
Make sure you can finance your career change all the way through. It will take longer than you think and you may earn less from your new career than you initially anticipated.
What resources would you recommend to others?
There is a lot of very useful information online on career-change websites (like Careershifters).
Attending career-change workshops or a few sessions with a coach might also help, giving you access to more information and a wider network of like-minded people.
As far as reading material goes, Flow by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi was a book that really helped me, as did Roman Krznaric's long essay Work and the Art of Living.
To find out more about Carla's services, visit www.transactraining.com.
What lessons could you take from Carla's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.