When was the last time you thought about your own career path in law? Was it in the last week? Perhaps last month? Or even as long ago as at your annual appraisal/practice review meeting?
When I practised as a criminal barrister, I recall it was at most annually, in a brief conversation with the Senior Clerk about how I thought my practice was going and how he thought it should develop. I don’t recall ever really being asked how I thought it should develop, or what I personally hoped to achieve. When did you last ask yourself where you were headed and what your Professional Business/Career goals were, and how to achieve them?
As an enthusiastic, go-getting 22 year old, I had a clear career objective. I wasn’t going to let long-in-the-tooth-lawyers’-talk of anti-social working hours and cuts in fees at the UK Criminal Bar put me off my ambition to defend those facing injustice. After a 3-year law degree at Balliol College Oxford and another year doing Bar Finals at the Inns of Court School of Law, London, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. And so I did. For 19 years, I practised as a Criminal Barrister at Broadway House Chambers, Bradford.
3 years in, I experienced a curve ball – an unexpected chink in motivation and drive. Prosecuting in local Magistrates courts, day after day, left me under-utilised and unfulfilled. I used this as time to reflect.
Goal Setting/Action Planning
In 2000, I set about a plan to make my career more stimulating. Over the next 4 years, I completed a 3 months Scholarship to New Zealand working with a Silk (Queen’s Counsel) specialising in Maori Land Law, and over a period of 18 months made countless pro bono visits to the then murder capital of the world, Kingston, Jamaica, to assist attorneys in the Defence of Capital Cases. Wow. What a difference. I was on fire with energy and passion for the work that I was undertaking, voluntarily supporting those in absolute desperate need of justice.
The Importance of Personal Congruency
Fast forward to 2004. A return to the UK, and some incredible career successes: I became the most junior Grade 4 Prosecutor in Chambers, and unusually early on in my career, a Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Prosecutor. With this, the daily diet of Child Sexual Abuse trials created within me a conflict as to the worth and value of my UK practice compared to that in Jamaica. It was at this point that I first experienced Coaching, understood the process of going “From Good to Great”, and began working with more purpose, vigour and personal congruency.
Making the job work for you, rather than you working for the job
Over time, I found a way to make the job “work”: a fancy car, Caribbean holidays, and (being really honest), good food/wine. But where did that leave me in terms of my personal congruency? Was I being authentic?
The financial/ lifestyle incentives worked for me for a while. However, over time, it became apparent that within me personal incongruence persisted; my motivations were not in sync with my values and beliefs. I had a strong desire to help people in an authentic and positive environment, which was not being met in law. Countless colleagues of mine also continued to bemoan the unpredictability of the lifestyle and fees.
Keeping your “Why” under constant review
I made a plan. Between 2010 and 2012, whilst still working full time at The Bar, I trained to become a Corporate and Executive Coach with the highly-acclaimed Coaching Academy, and an Neuro-Linguistic Programming Practitioner with the NLP Academy, sowing the seeds for my specialist Corporate and Executive Coaching business, Nikki Alderson Coaching.
In 2012, I started a family. During 3 periods of maternity leave, I had cause to reflect further on my situation, my skills, my training, and most importantly my values and beliefs. I acknowledged that my priorities, and the route to how I would achieve my goals, had altered. These had altered dramatically when comparing the aspirations of a fresh faced 22 year old law graduate with those of a 40-something Criminal Barrister with 3 children under the age of 5, a husband working away mid-week, and significant responsibilities both at work and at home. There is a certain inevitability around the flexing and changing of goals over a period of years. Important then, to keep them under review.
Getting back in Sync
On 10th February 2018, I left Chambers after a career that commenced September 1996. The strangest sensation? No histrionics, no drama, just an overwhelming sense of internal calm, and the realisation that without hesitation this was totally the right thing to do. Now I am back in sync.
Creative thinking, hard work & courage to take an authentic path
As long as we think creatively about how to make our legal careers work for us, and are prepared to put in some hard graft re-training if we decide it isn’t in fact for us, then either way, we will be keeping up positive momentum towards a defined goal: for me, finding a means by which to be authentic. Without a goal, it is difficult to score.
Be courageous in finding forward movement. As the Yogi Berra saying goes, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”
Empowerment through Coaching
I have learnt a lot from my successful career as a barrister, having gained great insights into the responsibilities, pressures and “expected” career paths, particularly of women working in law, and from personal experience can recommend coaching as a means by which to achieve synchronicity and personal congruency, within the legal profession – for nearly 20 years- and then outside of a career in law.