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Ask the Experts

Q: I've been a practicing litigator for 10 years and have done some personal/life coaching on the side for the past 2 years.  I very much want to transition into professional development at a firm and, although I have had some great feedback, it comes down to the old conundrum:  I don't have experience and I can't GET experience.  Is there a certification program etc... that would be helpful/useful?

A: There's no particular certification program that is required for work in the legal professional development field. If you'd like to attend a program to show your interest in the area, you might try some of the programs organized by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), such as the Professional Development Institute or the Newer Professionals Forum. Information about these programs is available on the NALP website.

Another option is to pursue some sort of further study through a university. For example, New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies offers professional certificates in Human Resource Management, Leadership and Organizational Development, and Coaching. Other universities may offer comparable courses. Some former lawyers have used these programs to help them move into the Professional Development field.

Alternatively, you may be able to find opportunities to gain experience in professional development even in your current position, regardless of whether it is in a firm or a company. Some ideas are as follows.

– Involve yourself in the recruiting and hiring processes. – Help develop CLE or other training programs. – Create or advance the mentoring program where you work. – Volunteer to serve on committees or task forces dealing with work life balance, diversity, or continuing education. – Write an article that relates to the field. – Take responsibility for managing staffing.

The experience you would gain from doing any of these things will not only show potential employers that you are interested and committed to the area of professional development, but it will also help you to learn more about the area to allow you to make a more informed choice about your move and the areas in which you'd like to focus. If it's difficult to do these things in your current employment, look for opportunities to do these things as part of a bar association or legal organization in your practice area. Also, make sure you're highlighting the experience you already have, in areas like these and also in coaching.

Even if it seems like everyone requires previous experience in the area, don't be discouraged. Not every employer requires previous professional development experience. In fact, a significant number of people working in legal professional development today moved straight into the area from the practice of law. If you read job advertisements carefully, you may realize that firms and other employers will recognize previous legal experience as an attorney and don't necessarily require legal professional development experience. Closely monitor positions advertised in the area so that when a position comes along that is a good fit for you, you'll be able to apply right away.

Good luck!