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Is It Safe To Deviate From The “Traditional” Legal Career Path?

By Parul Patel, with special guest Lori Lorenzo

Do you think there is a direct route destined to take you to the legal career you desire? Do you question whether you’re on the right path or missed out on a career-changing opportunity?

If you have a legal role model, it’s easy to idolise how they reached their level of success, but what if you adopted a more unconventional route and still made the progress you desired?

I’ve been chatting to the managing director of Transactions and Business Analytics at a Big 5 consultancy firm Lori Lorenzo, on the Water+Air podcast. She also leads Research and Insights for the Chief Legal Officer (CLO) Program. So I’ve nicknamed her role as the “CLO Whisperer”.

Lori’s route to success is a little different to that of your typical lawyer. Her parents were immigrants from Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Her dad worked as a mechanic and her mum, a homemaker, told Lori she should be a doctor or a lawyer because they were the only esteemed professions in the world.

Lori was the first in her family to go to college and the only one to proceed to a professional school after college. Because Lori enjoyed public speaking and her teacher told her she was a good writer, she decided law was her preferred option (she also didn’t have the stomach for blood and guts - so she quickly crossed “doctor” off the list of target careers).

Over the years, after qualifying as a successful transactions and restructuring attorney, she deviated from her legal career to open a gym in Florida, and spent time working as a waitress. Not quite what you’d expect, but just like one of Fuel+Move’s mottos, “when you can’t do what you want, focus on doing what you can”. And there are few better places to meet a wide range of people (and potential future employers) than in a bar. I know this first hand from my time as a restauranteur in Barcelona that opened the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, backgrounds and professions. Not even LinkedIn could facilitate with such ease.

Anyway, back to Lori’s story. When she was waitressing, Lori told as many people as she could that she was a lawyer. It was an unconventional strategy that paid off. While serving a table of public defenders, one of them told Lori that their friend at a local law school was recruiting for a careers adviser. She got the job.

And that was the start of the virtuous cycle of transitions that led her to where she is now - the person that whispers to CLOs, ensuring that they are forearmed about what the future most likely holds for them, their organisation and sector, and how to best prepare for it. And the unexpected factor is that she got there without ever being a legal counsel or CLO herself!

One of the things that really impressed me about Lori is her attitude to alternative types of skill and competence building. She took the route less well travelled; joining an improvisation class and enrolling at Toastmasters to hone her public speaking, and quickly adapted skills and insights to serve her next challenge!

If you’re contemplating your legal career journey, trust that there is no one-size-fits-all approach; Lori has presented evidence that speaks for itself! She advocates that you keep an open mind.

Lori: “Talk to everyone and anyone about what they do, what their journey has been, what advice they might have. You don’t have to take everyone's advice, but get as much information as you possibly can and entertain every possibility.

Even to this day, I accept every single phone call; if someone emails me and offers me a job, I want to know why they contacted me and what they thought was a good fit, because that tells me about what's marketable about me.”

In addition to an open mind, she encourages you to keep a personal inventory.

Lori: You also need to list all the things that you have done and learned each year. For me, running a gym wasn’t just about the day-to-day process, it was also about developing emotional intelligence and understanding people’s motivation. Keep close track of what you’ve learned, because you’ll start to notice patterns and preferences as you advance in your career.”

What have you learnt so far this year? Have you been open to opportunities or did you have a set career path in mind? It’s inspiring to hear Lori’s story and how rooted she is in her role now, perhaps partly because she knows who she is deep down.

She also shared three tips to help continuously develop your legal career.

1. Build resilience

Lori: “In the US, we tend to look to the past to understand the future, but that’s not always the best recipe for resilience. You don’t need to throw away everything that happened before, but get more comfortable with change and the pace of change.

2. Focus on strategy

Lori: “For many of us, strategy wasn't something we learned to do in law school; there is an art and a science to having strategy. And I think it's important that as we advance in our careers, we understand what that is, even if we're not part of the decision-making team, so we can understand how a decision was made and then do our job in service of those strategic choices.”

3. Develop your emotional intelligence

Lori: “Your emotional intelligence could be the defining element of your career success; whether you're litigating running contracts or a CLO whisperer, your success is always, always impacted by the people around you (to a greater or lesser degree), but it's never just you.

When I mentor junior team members at our firm, I encourage them to ask themselves, ‘What is it like to work with me? Are people enjoying the experience of working with me? Are they learning from me? Do I do anything that’s frustrating?’

By asking those questions, you will develop insight about who you are. We have to be aware of how others perceive us so we can have a real view of who we are and build from that informed perspective.”

With these fundamental building blocks in place, you are far more able to carve out a legal career that you are passionate about. There’s no point in climbing the career ladder if you find that it’s leaning up against the wrong wall!

What’s your favourite insight? I love the concept of getting to know what makes you tick as a lawyer (you can read more about that in my earlier blog 3 Steps To Help You Rock Your First Management Role In Law and 5 Ways To Help You Make The Right Move In Your Legal Career).

If you’re ready to disrupt the status quo when it comes to career development and forge the path that’s right for you, you might like to check out the Fuel+Move career gym and our range of training programmes.

Parul Patel

Parul is an experienced international lawyer, demanding client, disruptive consultant and thought-provoking non-executive director and board advisor.

She's advised law firms and big global brands like Nike, Speedo and Manchester United, as well as supporting inner-city social change programmes, startups and scale-ups. Fuel+Move is born of her passion to improve interaction with the legal sector and achieve a better experience with better outcomes for its stakeholders.

Parul Patel can be found here:

Lori Lorenzo

Lori is a researcher, innovator and executive educator focused on transformation. Her practice centers on advising, coaching and enabling Chief Legal Officers and Chief Compliance Officers and their leadership teams to understand and adapt to change in the profession with the goal of helping leaders to get, and stay, ahead of the challenges and changes in business. Lori is responsible for producing the Take Note publication, a bi-monthly publication for legal leaders, and the legal track of Deloitte’s Resilient podcast. She also facilitates interactive workshops for legal leaders and leadership teams on legal department transformation.

Lori brings a data backed perspective and people-focused leadership to the teams she works on. She is an author and frequent speaker on diversity, equity and inclusion, technology, innovation, talent, and leadership.

Lori Lorenzo can be found here:

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