“I’m an attorney. More specifically, I’m a litigator. Even more specifically, I’m a products defense attorney.” Great – that’s the type of law that you practice, but what do you DO?

The general type of law that you practice is important to start a discussion about a new job, but it doesn’t answer the question of what you do – which is imperative to think about when contemplating a job change.

As a legal recruiter, we always ask exactly that – what do you do? It’s an insightful question that often goes overlooked by candidates.

Thinking about your job in terms of what you actually do is important because it forces you to evaluate your specific skillset when considering a new position. It can force you to see deficiencies in your resume and can get you out of a career rut.

We recently worked with an attorney at a big firm. She is a litigator at a large, national firm and for the past seven years she has been comfortable doing what she has been asked to do – reviewing documents and researching case law. She was recently passed over for partnership and is now wondering why she isn’t attractive to other employers. She never stopped to ask what she actually did. She assumed she was a litigator. She assumed that other firms would always want to hire her because she was “litigating”. Because she never really thought about what a litigator actually does (compared with what she actually did on a day to day basis), she never thought to expand her skillset to make herself more marketable. She also learned a powerful lesson (and the topic of a future blog post) – don’t rely on your firm to advance your career; YOU need to make sure that you have the skills you need to advance.

Had this attorney taken some time to reflect on her career – that she was still doing important work, but not increasingly complicated work on litigation matters, she would have realized that what she was doing was a thin slice of what a litigator does. She was not, in fact, a seasoned litigator and her value to other firms was severely diminished as a result.

What could she have done? Maybe she could have taken on more responsibility at her firm. Maybe she could have tried to market her practice to get some of her own clients (of which she could have taken on a larger litigation role). Maybe she could have realized that her firm was making her increasingly unmarketable and tried to find a new job earlier. Whatever the case may be, the best time to think about what you actually do is NOW – not later.

Another very common example of how not understanding what someone DOES can affect their chance at career change comes in the legal resume. Too often people let their job title stand alone on the resume, not putting ample thought into parsing out what skills they have learned and what accomplishments they have had in their current (or past) roles. Simply putting “litigation attorney” on your resume doesn’t make you competent in all facets of litigation. Think about all areas of your practice and make sure they are clearly laid out in the resume. Essentially, this is forcing you to answer the question of “what do I do?”.

As many of us ramp our work schedules up with summer (sadly) behind us, take some time to really think about the question of what you do if you want to advance your career!