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The third step in leaving the law behind: Hone the informational interview

by Casey on April 25, 2012

To leave law behind, you need to meet with people.  Other people are the best way to find out what we want to do with our life, and then help us find the resources to get there.

Of course this sounds obvious, but to leave law behind, we will need to branch out in ways we likely can’t conceive of now.  We need to be open and honest with our tight circle about our goals and needs and aspirations, so those that care about us can begin to brainstorm and network for us.  We need to plan to have coffees and “informational interviews” with at least 8 to 10 new professionals, lawyers, business people, sales people, engineering folks, local politicians and other contacts each month in order to build a valuable support web of like-minded people.  We need to be confident and not desperate to find a job.  We need to gather information and make an informed decision.  It will take a while (6, 9, 12, 18, 24 months) and won’t happen overnight . . but we have the time.  Build it organically and correctly and the opportunities will come into clear view.

Before we get into the details of how to execute on this plan, let’s remember the two prong goal:  These coffees allow us to (i) meet new people and learn about their experiences and gain as much info as possible whether leaving the law, and pursuing this person’s profession, is something we’d actually like to do, and (ii) gain leads:  more people with which to have these informational interviews, a wider network, more potential job offers and a greater chance of coming across a fantastic opportunity to leave the law behind for good.

HOW TO FIND PEOPLE WHO WILL LET YOU BUY THEM COFFEE

First off, we need to find people to meet with us.  Begin with our current network:  Talk with friends, family and others.  Of course, this will likely take some courage, as it may take admitting to some that your current role as a lawyer is not making you happy, but feel free to phrase it as you are “exploring other opportunities to use my legal expertise” or “looking to segue into another professional role” or (as was the case with me) “looking to leave the reactive space of practicing the law for something more proactive” (like business development, operations or banking) “where I can use my legal degree in other ways”.  We need to practice these words in the mirror so they become our own . . . and, of course, so we sincerely believe them.

In addition, we can’t just wait for our friends and colleagues to bring ideas to us.  We need to see who they know through LinkedIn and ask if we can contact them (of course we need to ask for permission).  If we’re interested in exploring what Business Development is like at a tech firm, and our friend is connected with a biz dev guy at Twitter, let’s see if a connection can be made.

THE EMAIL SCRIPT

Feel free to use and modify the following script when reaching out to people for an informational interview.

Possible subject line:

John Doe suggested I contact you – (warm lead)

or

Attorney interested in SUCH-AND-SUCH role looking to (briefly) speak with you about your career and experience
– (colder lead)

The Email body:

Hi NAME

I hope you are well.  JOHN DOE thought it might be interesting for me to meet with you.  I am an attorney DESCRIBE YOURSELF with a focus in AREA and I would love to learn more about your role, background and overall experience working at COMPANY.

I know you are very busy, but I wanted to reach out to you and see if you had a brief window of time for me to come to your office or buy you a cup of coffee and learn more about what you do and how this can help me as I refine my professional focus and career search . . . and possibly leave the practice of law.

When might be a convenient time for me to get onto your calendar? Would TIME on DATE work for you? If not, I’m fairly flexible, let me know some times that are better for you.

Thank you very much and I look forward to meeting you.
YOUR NAME

The goal here is to (i) use the name of a colleague, if possible, to “open the door” and have your email actually read and responded to, (ii) flatter the recipient (who doesn’t want to talk about themselves for 20 minutes!?) and (iii) propose a specific time to meet, so you don’t go back and forth trying to manage your schedules.

Of course, some of these will not work out, but some will.

WHAT TO SAY AT THE COFFEE

Once you do get a bite and sit down for coffee with this person, you want to focus on 9 things:

(i)     Profusely thanking them for meeting with you (“I really appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to meet with me.”)

(ii)    Buying them their coffee (if you don’t meet at their office).

(iii)    Being sensitive to their time (“Tell me again, how much time do you have?  I want to be sensitive to your schedule.”)

(iv)    Giving them some brief background on who you are (“As some background, I am an attorney focused on AREA, but I’m exploring new and creative ways to use my degree.  What you do is something that is of real interest to me, and JOHN DOE thought we should meet so I could learn more about what you do and see if it is a fit with my skill set and focus.”)

(v)    Asking them about themselves (“Can you give me some background about yourself, and how you got to where you are now?”)

(vi)    Asking them about their day to day.  (“What’s a normal day like for you?”)

(vii)    Asking them how you might be able to do what they do (“Can you see a lawyer like me doing something similar to what you do?  Where might I be a fit?  What gaps might I have?”)

(viii)    Asking them if they enjoy their job and . . . not to pry, why or why not?

(ix)    Ending by thanking them profusely and, most importantly, seeing if they can introduce you to others they know (“Well, thank you very much for your time, I want to let you get back to your office.  Before you go, is there anyone else you have in mind that might be good for me to speak with?”)

The goals of these 9 steps are to (i) make a new contact who likes you, (ii) gain a good understanding of what this person does (and whether, in reality, you think you could and want to do it for a living and (iii) get leads for more information interviews and build contacts.

AFTER THE COFFEE

Email that day and say thanks again.  Possibly follow up with a handwritten note.  Email them in a few weeks if they haven’t suggested anyone else for you to speak with.  Keep them updated every six months or so on what you end up doing.

Repeat.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt Racine June 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Love the informational interview script. I have had law students buy me coffee, and I really appreciate it when they ask me questions similar to those you outlined above. There is nothing worse than just sitting there and feeling like you need to do the talking when you are the one doing someone the favor. When I do informational interviews from time to time, I try to have a script. Your example has given me some ideas of other things to include. Thanks.

Casey June 19, 2012 at 10:26 pm

Thanks Matt, I appreciate the comment. When you nail down some of those other ideas or scripts, please do share them, I’d love to see them.

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