Shifting from Lawyer to Professional Development and Legal Recruiting with Adriana Paris [TFLP220]

On today’s podcast, Sarah is chatting with Adriana Paris. Adriana stopped practicing law after ten years and moved into a new role at a law firm. She is the director of professional development and legal recruiting for a regional law firm with about 100 lawyers. In addition, she has a coaching business on the side where she helps lawyers with personal productivity, which helps them create time and space for themselves. 

No Plan Led to Law School

Adriana has been a long-time listener of the podcast, and her story aligns with so many of the other former lawyers interviewed. It’s very similar to Sarah’s own story as well. She graduated college with a degree in political science. Because school came easy to her and there weren’t many job options during the global recession, the idea of law school was appealing. 

After law school, Adriana didn’t really have a plan. She didn’t know anyone who was a lawyer and didn’t really have any ideas about what lawyers did. There was an assumption that you could do a lot with a law degree, but Adriana didn’t really have her sights set on anything specific. 

Adriana went through the interview process without much preparation. She had one suit that she wore and didn’t really have a prepared resume and story to share. Others were getting many offers, and she knew she was missing something. But she ended up in Biglaw, so she did something right. 

Fast forward to today, Adriana sees a lot of the same attitudes in the interviews she gives. She runs all of the initial interviews of summer and fall associates. She often feels like she needs to put words in their mouth, especially when asking, “Why do you want this job?” They are just following the crowd and checking things off the list. 

How Litigation Helped Break Up the Soul-Sucking Cycle

After graduation, Adriana was a summer associate at the firm where she ended up working. It’s supposed to give you a glimpse of what it’s like to work there. But in reality, you aren’t working on anything substantive because of the timeframe, so it’s not an accurate depiction. 

When Adriana started as a first-year associate, she was in the litigation department. One specific type of litigation was prevalent in Florida, and the firm was one of the main firms trying those cases. She went to trial early on but was mostly behind the scenes, playing a fairly insignificant role. It was exciting to be a part of it early in her career. 

In between the trials, Adriana would start to get those feelings of the job being a bit “soul-sucking,” and then another trial would come up, and she’d be enthralled again. This cycle continued for four years. It’s a common experience for many lawyers to have a reset moment, like they are back in school and have finished a semester. But, eventually, you realize there is no reset. 

Adriana realized that the longer you stay in a job and become more senior, the more the partners start giving you messages about their expectations of your career. At that moment, she recognized that people expected her to stay there forever, which was terrifying. It was never a problem with the people she worked with, but she could see how much of their lives were dedicated to their work, and she didn’t want that. 

The business side started looking really appealing to Adriana. When you’re an associate, you aren’t involved in the business side of the firm. She thought it would be interesting to see how the business runs. 

Transitioning to An In-House Position

A nationwide company was headquartered in Tampa, and Ariana got an in-house job there. She became the youngest director in the whole company. It was a whole new experience with a big learning curve. She had never really worked with anyone other than lawyers. Suddenly, she worked with marketing teams, salespeople, and other roles. It felt like learning a new language for communication. 

There is a saying that a company’s legal department is where good ideas go to die. Adriana felt like this was true. She could feel the energy of people shift when they approached her. There is some power in people asking for permission, but being an in-house lawyer also requires proving that you add value to the company. You’re self-governing and have to teach yourself a lot of the necessary information.

When switching to an in-house position, Adriana only had a few other senior lawyers with whom she worked. She didn’t love her boss and had some difficult relationships there. It was that tough situation that terminated her interest in being in-house. She wanted the chance to be able to feel valued. At this point, she returned to her old firm, where she knew she liked the people even if it wasn’t a forever situation.

Employment Law Was Appealing for the Human Connection

One thing Adriana learned from working in-house was that she enjoyed employment law. She likes working with people in ways that will contribute to her life. Employment law is a people-oriented practice. Back at her previous firm, she made an effort to get involved in employment law. The firm gave her some employment law, but they also gave her back some of the cases that were still around. 

After another few years at her original firm, Adriana was approached by a large employment law firm about coming on board to practice employment law solely. She made the change, but it was also around this time that she knew she didn’t want this career long-term. Employment law was something she thought she would like but still wasn’t happy when it was all she did. There is a human element to employment law that can be soul-crushing at times. 

It only took Adriana six months of working at the employment law firm before she knew she needed to quit. Six months is plenty of time to learn about a job and get a feeling for whether or not it’s a good fit. Looking back, she knows she probably shouldn’t have gone there in the first place, but she realized quickly that it was not what she was looking for. 

Finding a New Path on the Business Side

During this transition, Adriana got off social media and avoided the temptation to just rapid-fire apply to many jobs. She made a list of everything she’s ever done in a job that she liked doing. Then, she wrote a list of all the things she disliked doing, and then finally, she listed out the things she could tolerate as part of a job. This is her list of likes, dislikes, and tolerates. It’s a constant work in progress.

It’s so rare that lawyers take the time to reflect like this about their work. Sarah always recommends therapy for lawyers because it will help bring some of these reflections to light. External factors influence most decisions lawyers make, so people rarely take the time to figure out what they like and don’t like. Making a list, as Adriana does, is an excellent resource, and it doesn’t require any outside perspective or research. 

The pandemic hit while Adriana was trying to figure out her next step, so she actually went back to her original firm again. The courts were closed down, so she didn’t have any litigation. It gave her time to think. The job didn’t require her to learn anything new, so she could devote some attention to figuring out what she wanted. 

Adriana realized that she was interested in law firm administration because she enjoyed working in a law firm environment and the structure. Law firms often hire people with law degrees to do other jobs, like human resources and marketing. She started reaching out to people with interesting roles and learning more about what they do each day. Using LinkedIn, she cold-connected with people and asked if they would be willing to talk. It was a fact-finding mission. 

Diving into Professional Development and Legal Recruiting

Adriana learned more about professional development during the LinkedIn conversations and enjoyed it. She focused her job search on that and quickly found a job—director of professional development and legal recruiting. The job falls into a few different buckets. First is the legal recruiting. She is the first person that any applicant speaks to at the firm to do their screening, and then she helps them move through the interview process. Once the lawyers join the firm, she is the welcoming committee that takes them through orientation. 

On the professional development side, Adriana works to find the best people for any training requests. She helps organize the materials and presentations for these development sessions. The job is incredibly social. She is meeting people all the time over Zoom and face-to-face. There are follow-ups with new hires and recruits to see how they are doing. 

If professional development and legal recruiting intrigue you, be prepared for a bit of a learning curve. Anytime you take a new job, you must be ready and open to new experiences. Lawyers have tons of qualifications, even if they’re not specifically related to a new opportunity. Just having experience as a lawyer made Adriana stronger in her role. New recruits have many questions about the daily experience of practicing law, and she has the experience to speak about. 

What’s Next for Adriana and How to Connect

Adriana’s new endeavor is her coaching practice. She has given out so much free advice, so she decided to take herself more seriously. Her work has been helping lawyers cut out the things that aren’t important to them. She believes that doing fewer things really well can help adults in any profession. LinkedIn is the best place to find her if you want to connect with Adriana.

Ready to leave the law? Learn more about Collab Plus.

Sarah Cottrell: Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Cottrell. I practiced law for 10 years and now I help unhappy lawyers ditch their soul-sucking jobs. On this show, I share advice and strategies for aspiring former lawyers, and interviews with former lawyers who have left the law behind to find careers and lives that they love.

This week, I'm sharing my conversation with Adriana Paris. Adriana left practice and now works in a professional development role at a law firm. I know that professional development is something that many of you who are listening might be considering so I'm excited to share this conversation with you. Let's get to my conversation with Adriana.

If you like the idea of the Collab but would like to do some one-on-one coaching in addition, then you should consider the Collab Plus One-on-One Program. It's a hybrid program which combines the Collab with one-on-one coaching, three months of one-on-one support from me to help you move through The Former Lawyer Framework.

The way that it works is that you get everything you get in the Collab including lifetime access to the Collab, you get four 60-minute one-on-one coaching calls with me that you can schedule anytime over three months. You also get a free video resume review where you send me a copy of your revised resume during those three months and I will send you back a video reviewing it giving suggestions for how to change, add, etc, and then you're also going to get two free assessments that are otherwise paid: one is a strengths assessment and one is a personality assessment.

The goal of the Collab Plus One-on-One Program is to give you access to some one-on-one coaching and also all of the resources of the Collab. So, if you're someone who's thought about the Collab but is also drawn to the idea of one-on-one coaching, then definitely go to the website and check out the information. It's

Hi, Adriana, welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast.

Adriana Paris: Hey, happy to be here.

Sarah Cottrell: Why don't we start with you introducing yourself to the listeners?

Adriana Paris: Sure. I'm Adriana. I was a lawyer for 10 years. I literally waited until my 10-year anniversary of graduating from law school to switch things up. For the past almost two years now, I have been the director of professional development and legal recruiting for a law firm here in Florida. It's a regional law firm but we have over 100 lawyers so it's kind of on the larger side of regional law firms.

I also somewhat recently started a side coaching business where I help lawyers on what I call personal productivity. I'm sure we'll get into that a little more but it's not productivity for the sake of doing more stuff and being busier, it's productivity for the sake of having more time for yourself.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, I'm excited to talk about this because professional development is something that comes up with a lot of my clients because many people who became lawyers really care a lot about helping people and sometimes depending on the structure of the work in the workplace, professional development can be a way to bring some of their previous experience to bear but also move into something that is a little bit more people-ly for lack of a better term. We will get there. Of course, on this podcast, we always like to start basically back at the beginning. Can you tell me why you decided to go to law school?

Adriana Paris: Yeah, well, it's so surreal that I'm doing this because I've been listening to your podcast from the beginning. I think I've probably heard every single episode.

Sarah Cottrell: Oh, my gosh. Thank you for listening.

Adriana Paris: I know. I’m a big fan. But I've heard, I feel like, so many variations of kind of the same story I have, which is political science major, graduated college in 2009, grim job options, notwithstanding the global recession, but also just in general, what do people do with a poli-sci degree?

Law school was just something that a lot of my friends had talked about pursuing and the idea of more school sounds good when you generally excel in school, and so I was like, “Yep, let's give it a go.” So, that's how I ended up in law school.

Sarah Cottrell: That is very relatable. As you know, if you've listened to all the episodes of the podcast, I was an international studies major and I graduated from law school in 2008. But I mean, there are so many stories of people who are coming out of undergrad around that time, similar background, some sort of liberal arts degree, job market was not great, especially for someone for whom school has been one of their things, it just makes sense. Like, “Oh, sure, law school,” and of course, there's the “You can do anything with a law degree.”

Adriana Paris: Yeah, well, which is so funny because I literally did not know what I was going to do after graduating law school. Part two of the plan did not happen for me because I just went in not really thinking about what I would do after. Again, like many other people, I didn't know a single person who was a lawyer, really had no idea what lawyers did, didn't know anything about salaries, how to get a job, all of that was a complete mystery to me.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. Oh, I relate so much. I mean, when I went to law school, I didn't really know, for example, that Biglaw was a thing. I really didn’t know about salaries, which again, I know I've said this in the podcast before, but looking back now, like, “What? How?”

Adriana Paris: I know.

Sarah Cottrell: But, I think it was what it was. Okay, so you went into law school, it sounds like you weren't someone who was like, “I wanted to be a lawyer forever and I have all these ideas necessarily about what it's going to be like,” so when you got to law school, were you like, “Sure this is fine, whatever,” or was there some other reaction?

Adriana Paris: Yeah, I mean, I surprisingly really enjoyed law school. I remember finishing my first semester, getting my grades. Again, I didn't know there was a curve really until I was like in my classes and people were talking about it. I was like, “Oh, my God, this is terrifying.” I got my grades, I did pretty well, I was honestly shocked. I mean, I couldn’t believe that not because I didn't think I was smart enough or anything like that but just because it made me realize that other people did worse than me just because that's how the curve works.

I was like, “What are these people going to do? I mean, we're all in a school together fighting for the same jobs,” but putting that aside, I really liked my classes, I liked my professors. I ended up making really good friends. I went to the University of Florida for law school, which is a big school in general, and we had a lot of fun.

I mean, we went to football tailgates, we went to baseball games, and basketball games, and happy hours. I mean, very much a lot of us treat it like college. I think that's why I had such a good experience because I had a lot of fun. But then when it comes to interviewing, OCI, and all that stuff, I mean, I was just completely unprepared.

I just rolled up in my interviews and the one suit I had, which probably looked terrible. I didn't bring copies of my resume with me. I didn't have a cool folder like some of the other people did. When I was sitting in these interviews, and they would ask you, “Tell us your story,” I mean, I would just talk out of my butt.

I mean, I’m not really prepared. I didn't read about what are the things you're supposed to say. I didn't have this well-prepared speech. I just sort of chatted away very informally, which I don't think helped me very much because I didn't get a ton of offers. I got a couple. I know some of my friends were getting like six offers and I was like, “What are you guys doing?”

But I did end up in Biglaw following graduation so I “did something right” I guess. But honestly, it was like one of the few job offers that I got so I just accepted it. I really didn't know what else I was going to do. I was like, “Well, I have a job offer. I'm just going to take it.”

Sarah Cottrell: Well, and I think often, that is how things are presented in law school. I will hear from law students now who are in law school that are wanting to do something nontraditional with their degree and often—this isn't always true and I think it's improving some—but often when they go to career services, for example, it's like the entire path is go to OCI, get a firm job, and if that doesn't work, do these following things to try to get a firm job. The end. There is almost this sense of like, “If this doesn't work for you then too bad, so sad.”

Adriana Paris: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it was certainly that way for us 10-plus years ago. I see it today. Obviously, I interview a lot of people in law school because we hire summer associates at the firm and we hire brand new fall associates. I do all the initial interviews, and I sometimes feel like I have to put words in their mouth, which I don't do, but sometimes I'm like, “Why do you want this job?” and they're just like, “I don't know.”

Sarah Cottrell: “Well, I was told this is the job I should want.”

Adriana Paris: Exactly.

Sarah Cottrell: No criticism, to be clear. I mean, this is true for, I mean, it's been talked about on the podcast so many times, and this was my experience as well was like, “Oh, I need a job. This is how they're saying I get a job,” and, of course, I also was in law school back in the battle days where things were not quite so grim, so yeah, I think it's really easy to just end up like, “Here I am. I'm doing this job and I haven't necessarily given really any thought to whether it is going to be a good fit for who I am as a person.”

Adriana Paris: I mean, I did a summer associate position at this firm that I ended up working at. Again, the purpose of a summer associate job is to get a glimpse of what it's like working there, but we all know that a summer associate job is like all vacation. I mean, you're getting paid, you're not really working on anything substantive so you don't really get a picture of what it's like to work somewhere.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, and even when you're working hard, it is rarely that you're really getting the true experience of what it's going to be when you are an associate for a lot of different reasons. Because I think in part, one of the things about the summer-associated experience is like you're getting things that are carved off, like, “Oh, do this memo. Oh, go to this thing. Oh, help prep for whatever,” and people are being very careful to only give you what they think you could handle.

Okay, you land this job, you graduate, you start practicing, tell me, what are your thoughts? Are you like, “I have arrived”? Are you like, “This is the worst. What?”

Adriana Paris: I had a combination of all the thoughts, I feel like. Just to set the preview because I know we'll talk about sort of the jobs I had while I practiced but the firm I summered at and the firm I started at after I graduated, I was at that firm for a combined seven years, except that I left like twice to take two different jobs and then came back.

A little bit unusual, I think, for a lot of people to return to a job. But I think that again, it's a preview of the fact that it wasn't that bad of a job in all honesty because obviously, I chose it over other jobs that I had tried and didn't work out but my first stint working at this law firm, I was there for almost four years.

I was in the litigation department. We actually had a lot of trials. There was a specific type of litigation that was prevalent in Florida during that time that we were just one of the main firms trying those cases. So I, as a first-year associate, went to trial, a pretty big significant trial.

Now, I was a nobody, I played no significant part in this trial. I was basically in the back office writing memos, motions, stuff like that, and outlines. But we did go to a lot of trials which I think as a young, brand new graduate who had not really worked a serious office job before, it was kind of exciting.

Just when you were starting to be like, “Oh my gosh, this job is kind of soul-sucking,” you would go to another trial, you were busy, and you sort of forgot about your existence as a lawyer. You just kind of were very much enthralled in this big litigation that we were very focused on and kind of like wrapped up in it.

So the first four years really flew by for me, I wasn't introspective at all. I didn't really ask myself “Is this something I enjoyed? Am I good at this? Do I like it? What is my future?” I really didn't ask myself any of those questions. I just kept, again, going from trial to trial or from case to case. That was the first few years.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. Sort of just like, “I'm here,” so basically like, “Why would I even think about do I want to be here? Do I like being here?” I think it's very common, especially for those of us who became lawyers because we tend to be often more academically inclined and we're so used to that school schedule, where things kind of reset eventually, something externally resets.

I know this was true for me and I've heard this from other lawyers as well that you get out, you start practicing, and at some point you realize, “Oh, there is no reset.” If I want to shift things, if I want a change, it's going to have to come from me internally because it's not going to come from a new academic year, a new semester, or whatever.

Adriana Paris: I mean, you’re basically on a train and you don’t know where the train is going but it just keeps moving.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, it’s going, it’s not stopping.

Adriana Paris: And you’re just kind of riding the train, hoping you're getting somewhere good.

Sarah Cottrell: Oh, man, so relatable. Okay, so talk to me about what happens to you, you’re four years in, you haven't really reflected very much, what happens next?

Adriana Paris: Yeah. I did actually start to ask myself, “Is this a path that I wanted?” I think something that happens, the longer you stay in a job and the more senior you become, I do think that the partners in the firm start giving you messages about their expectations of your career, and they start talking to you about, “You're going to be a senior associate and then you're going to be a partner.” They start having those conversations with you.

I think that's when it kind of hit me like, “Oh, these people will expect me to stay here forever. One day, they want me to try cases and have my own clients.” That thought just became terrifying for me, not because they were putting pressure on me that I thought it was something I couldn't do but it was more just the fact that I started to look at the partners who I was working with, and again, super, super awesome, nice people that I worked with, I fortunately never had one of the experiences that we've all heard about of partners screaming at you, being rude, and totally imposing on your personal time, I never had that, but it was just more the fact that I saw how much they dedicated themselves to their jobs and how hard they worked and I was like, “But what do you get out of it? Besides the money, what do you get out of it?”

Nobody seemed to be joyous about their jobs, which is an odd thing to say, I think to most lawyers, because I think most lawyers will be like, “Of course, this is not a joyous job.” But why not? I mean, doctors, not all but there are doctors who love their jobs. There are business owners who love their businesses. There are company VPs who love the product their company makes and they totally buy into like, “This is what our company does.”

I just never saw that about any of the lawyers I worked with. I didn't know what else to do because, plot twist, I never knew what to do so how could I possibly have figured it out now? But what seemed interesting to me was going in-house, and I can't really tell you why that was, it wasn't because I wanted fewer hours or a more relaxed job.

I mean, that really wasn't the case. I just thought it would be interesting to be on the business side. Because again, law firms are businesses, but when you're an associate, and you're not involved in the business making of a law firm, you have no idea what happens. So I thought it would be interesting to see how a business actually runs.

I ended up getting an in-house job with a company here in Tampa. It's a nationwide company, but their headquarters are here in Tampa so that was super convenient. I was essentially a director at the age of 29. I was the youngest director in the whole company. I was a director of litigation.

It was just a whole new experience. I mean, we talk about how little law school prepares you for being a lawyer. It absolutely does not prepare you at all for any in-house position ever, in-house, whatsoever. I mean, I sort of felt like a first-year lawyer all over again, there was just such a big learning curve.

I had never really worked with people who are not lawyers. In law firms, that's all who you work with. Your clients are lawyers, everyone you interact with is a lawyer. I had to work with marketing people, sales, accounting, and all these different professionals. I essentially had to learn to speak a new language to be able to communicate with them.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, to be clear for most people, it's not like, “Oh, my goodness, I have to work with people who aren't lawyers.”

Adriana Paris: Oh, yeah.

Sarah Cottrell: And I know that's not what you're saying. It's this issue. You're so used to, if you've been working in a firm, just everyone understanding certain things in terms of having the same priorities about just the way you think about legal issues and when you go into an in-house role, you're immediately working with people who have a different set of priorities.

Instead of everyone having more or less the same priorities, you suddenly have a huge range of them and often they're competing. This is one of the conversations we have about going in-house. When people talk about going in-house and thinking that it will be a better fit for them, often that can be the case, but there are a lot of things about being in-house that are very different from practicing in another way and can also be very challenging because you end up in situations where it's like, “Hey, I want to do this thing,” or “Hey, I did this thing, hope that’s okay,” and you're like, “Ah, that is actually not in any way okay.”

I think for a lot of people, too, there couldn't be this business side feeling like the legal side is like the Department of No. That's in a certain sense like the job but you're navigating a very different set of relational dynamics in your job than the kind of dynamics you might navigate when you're in a law firm.

To your point, I think that the law school experience really does not prepare you for that because again, in law school, you're in this environment where everyone is at least on the same page about, “The law is a big deal and we care about it.”

Adriana Paris: Yeah, it's so funny. I've heard this said a few times and it was certainly my experience, but they say that the legal department of our company is where good ideas die.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, yeah.

Adriana Paris: I mean, it's so true. You can just tell the way somebody approaches you when they know you are the legal department when they come up and you see them talking amongst their other team members about something, they're excited, and they're ready to go, then they come to you, and they're a little bit sheepish. Like, “We want to do this thing. Will you bless it for us?”

The other thing too, that's interesting, I mean, I don't want people to get the impression that being an in-house lawyer means you have some authority that other members of the company don't have, and everyone comes to you to ask you for permission.

In some ways, they do. But in other ways, it's like you actually need to ask them for permission in many ways for you to do your job because you're a call center for them. You're not producing the product or the service that the company makes money off of. You are, a lot of times, spending money on litigation, contracts, on other things so it's like you have to kind of sell yourself too to them to know that “I add value to this company. I'm not just a person who says no to everything. I'm not just a person who will get you out of trouble if something has gone wrong. I'm also somebody who can contribute to ideas and concepts, and generally try to make your life easier.”

Initially, people don't buy that. You do have to be your own advocate in a way that you don't have to a law firm, for the reasons that you mentioned. I don't have to sell myself to another lawyer and the law firm of what I do, they just know, but when you were in-house, yeah, the dynamics are just completely different.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, and I think the other thing about in-house roles, and it varies a ton of course from role to role and place to place, but to your point, it's very common that even if you're in a department with other lawyers, you don't have a lot of oversight necessarily, if you're working in a law firm in general, especially as an associate, you have a partner, or at least one or maybe a senior associate that you're working closely with who is kind of a backstop where you can be like, “Well, if I'm doing something really questionable, at least this person might be like, Hey, that might be malpractice.”

When you're in-house, it's a lot more like you're just teaching yourself and maybe not with any sort of person in a mentor role.

Adriana Paris: Yeah. You're self-governing in a lot of ways.

Sarah Cottrell: And I think it can be kind of shocking, especially when you come out of the law firm experience as an associate because you're like, “Oh, there's no line to be like, hey,” and obviously you're identifying situations where maybe you should ask for more input and these sorts of things. But that's another piece that I know can be a bit of a surprise for someone who hasn't been in that.

Okay. So you were at the law firm for years, then you moved to this in-house role, tell me what happened next.

Adriana Paris: Yeah. I mean, it was basically a good segue to what you just said about oversight, because when I was in-house, I reported to the general counsel of the company, and he, without getting into too much detail, was not good in a lot of ways. He was a very difficult person to work for.

That was another lesson for me and for whoever's listening and is interested in going in-house, you will most likely work with like one or maybe two other senior lawyers in-house. If you don't get along with them, you don't see eye to eye, or they don't know how to mentor or how to work with you in a way that you have worked with previously, it can be a really difficult relationship and there's nowhere else you can go to.

The legal department is the legal department, unless you are like, “I'm just going to move departments completely and become a marketer,” which some people do. For the most part, you're sort of stuck with that person. That is what eventually terminated my interest in the in-house because I had such a kind of rough relationship with them, with my boss that I wanted to go somewhere where I knew what I was doing and I felt valued.

My old firm was that place. It was like a comfortable place with people I knew. Honestly, I had such a not great experience in-house that it really dissuaded me from applying to other in-house jobs. I just didn't want to be in that position again, where I only have one boss, and if that person isn't a good fit, then what do I do? This is why I went back to my old firm.

Sarah Cottrell: A lot of times in situations like what you're describing, basically sometimes when people boomerang back in spades, it’s because it's like, “This situation is bad. I need to get out of it. This other option I know is decent. But I'm not necessarily thinking I'm going to go back and be there forever.” I'm wondering for you, once you started back, what happened next?

Adriana Paris: I was in the latter camp of I knew I probably wasn't going to be there forever. I mean, there was a reason I left that job to begin with. Even back then, I realized that but I wanted to work somewhere. I didn't want to be unemployed as most people do.

Sarah Cottrell: Fair. Here in the real world where we needed income.

Adriana Paris: Where we have to support ourselves, yeah. But I knew that, like you said, I wouldn't be there forever. What I did learn working in-house is being the director of litigation, one of the main areas of law that I worked in was employment law. I had never really done employment law prior to going in-house, but I really liked it, because kind of the common thread that you might be seeing as we continue on this journey is that I like people. That's what drives me.

I like working with people and not just like, “Oh, you work with other people,” but like actually working with other people in ways that I feel like I'm contributing to their lives in a significant way. Employment law to me seemed to be the most people-oriented practice area that I had done. So when I went back to my firm, I made more of an effort to get involved in employment law cases.

To their credit, they did give me some employment law cases, but they really wanted to slot me back in the position I was in before I left and do the same type of litigation I was doing before. Because I had an experience, they're like, “Oh, you're back. You can take these cases on again,” which by the way, they're still around because this case is live on forever.

I literally took cases that I had left two years before that were still in discovery. I stayed at the firm for another two years or so. Then I was approached by a large employment law firm about going over to practice solely employment law. That was 2019. By then, I had been practicing for about seven years.

I will say that it was a year where I started realizing that I probably wasn't going to practice law for very long, that this was not the career that I was going to have long term, which was a scary thought, because I mean, on the one hand, I just fell into this career anyway. It's not like a lot of planning had gone into it. But still, I now had been doing this job for seven years and it's scary to think that this may not be it, especially when you don't know what it is.

I ended up going to this employment law firm, but it's like I knew that I probably wasn't taking the right step but I sort of got antsy and I was like, “Well, I gotta do something. This seems like something worth doing.” But I think part of me knew that it just wasn't the right fit.

So I did that job for a little while. I did not enjoy it, which again, was proving my point by that time of, “Okay, I'm doing an area of the law that I thought would bring me closer to people that I thought would be a better fit for me,” and I'm doing that right now, 100% of my time is devoted to employment law, and yet, I'm still like, “I don't love this.”

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, well, it's interesting, I've worked with several people who chose employment law for a very similar reason. They care about the human element, but in certain ways, and depending on the job, being an employment lawyer can be very satisfying in that way, especially if you're on the plaintiff's side.

But in a lot of ways, if you're someone who cares a lot about that human element, it can actually be a bit soul-crushing, because, for example, you end up in situations where maybe the appropriate legal result based on all the things, law, precedents, etc, is that the plaintiff doesn't recover but as a general human matter, that can feel really bad.

I find that a lot of people who go into employment law because of their concern for people, for individuals, find it more satisfying in certain ways, but also, it can actually be very difficult in a lot of ways as well. Okay, so how long were you practicing just employment law before you were like, “This? Maybe not so much.”

Adriana Paris: Yeah, so I'm not proud about this, but I was at that firm for six months, and I just quit.

Sarah Cottrell: I think that's a perfect amount of time. Actually, I love that you share that because there are a lot of people—by people, I mean lawyers—who tie themselves up in not over those making a decision to do something else because they're like, “Well, if I go and it's not a fit, then like I'm going to have to stay for x whatever amount of time they have in their head.”

Honestly, my experience has been, now with many lawyers who I've worked with, if something isn't a good fit, and you need to leave, it's actually not as big of a deal I think as many lawyers make it in their mind because we have this idea that there's this one way to do everything and if we don't do it that way, it's wrong.

Sometimes it's like no, hey, six months, I'm just going to say from my experience working with lawyers, six months is plenty of time to know whether or not something is fundamentally a good fit or not for you, in most cases.

Adriana Paris: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, there's honestly no reason to torture yourself just for the sake of meeting some magical one year that no one has ever said that that's the appropriate amount of time to stay somewhere. We just made that up and we all follow it.

Sarah Cottrell: Even though you're really good as a lawyer at torturing yourself, you've been trained into that and you are the best at doing the most, even if it makes you miserable, you don't actually have to do it.

Adriana Paris: Absolutely. I mean, yeah, and I say I'm not proud of it only because it's not because I only say that for six months, but it's because I went there, to begin with. I really wish I would have listened to myself sooner because there was a voice inside of me that we all have and we all shut it down frequently, that was telling me, “This is not the right choice.”

I really should have never gone there, to begin with. But once I did, and I was in that situation, and I realized this was not the “it” I was looking for, I was like, “I can’t keep wasting time.” So I left at the six-month mark. It was around December so I basically took December off and I kind of forced myself to not rage apply to a bunch of jobs, quickly try to find something else, which is hard to do.

I got off social media. I tried to really sit with myself and just be quiet. I made myself do this less than I have advised any lawyer ever, even if you're not thinking that you need a career change, you should do this list regardless, I basically wrote out a list of everything that I've ever done in a job that I liked doing. Write it out, even if it's stupid.

I like responding to emails, which no one does, but whatever, anything you like that you've done, write it down, and then everything that you really dislike, write it down. Then the third section is anything that you could tolerate. Not something that you're wanting to do every day but if you have to do it every other week, or a couple of times a year, you can tolerate. I literally call it my likes, dislikes, and tolerates list.

Sarah Cottrell: I love it. In fact, in the framework, in the Colalb, one of the exercises is the likes, dislikes, and the neutral list.

Adriana Paris: Oh, I love it.

Sarah Cottrell: The reason for it, and I know that you'll understand this, is that so many of us as lawyers, we don't actually know what we like, we know what we get good feedback on and so we think we like things because we're good at them. Often, that's not the case. Often, it's in fact the opposite.

To your point—and this is one of the many reasons why I also am a huge advocate for therapy for lawyers—we have been trained by our profession, etc, our upbringing, some combination, different for each lawyer, to not listen to what our internal wisdom is telling us about like, “Is this a good fit?” Because we're so used to keying our decisions off external factors, external authorities, and just even being able to figure out, “What do I like and what don't I like” is a huge part of the process.

Adriana Paris: Yeah, and I don't know, I mean, I'm sure your clients and the people in the Collab have had this experience, but when you write this list down and you were sort of close to being finished with it, in my opinion, you're never finished with it because you'll always be adding and maybe subtracting things from it.

But when you have written down a lot on this list, and you look at it, it's almost like someone is showing you a mirror of yourself and you've never seen yourself in that image before but you're like, “Oh my God, this is me.” It's so revealing about who you are as a person and what makes you unique. Anyway, I was like, “Why didn’t I do this sooner? Adriana, why did you wait so long to do this list?”

But it's an excellent resource. But again, it doesn't require any outside perspective. You don't have to go research anything. You don't have to read a book about it. Literally just ask yourself, “What are things that I like, things I don't like, and things I could tolerate?” That's it.

Sarah Cottrell: Love it. Amazing. Okay, so tell me what happened next.

Adriana Paris: The saga of me taking jobs that I shouldn't continued because now we are heading into the pandemic. Pandemic hits. Obviously, everyone is panicking. The world is shutting down. I ended up at my old firm once again, which was a blessing in a lot of ways because I again, haven't done litigation this whole time during a pandemic, the courts were closed so there were no trials, nobody was litigating anything.

It gave me a lot of time to really think about what I wanted to do. It gave me the space to be able to do it at a place that, again, I knew what I was doing, I didn't have to learn any new skills. I didn't have to meet new people, work with new people, all of that takes a big emotional toll on your ability to think clearly.

That's why I always advise people not to rage apply to jobs when you start getting antsy, just take a breather, sit in your discomfort but try to figure out what it is that you want to do before you just go and apply to the first job that pops up. I was able to get some clarity on what I wanted to do.

It hit me just randomly that I was interested in law firm administration because I actually enjoyed working in a law firm environment like having been in-house and seeing how a non-law firm company works and they're working in a law firm, I just liked it better. I like the structure better. I understand it.

So I started thinking about what jobs within a law firm on the law firm administrative side I could do and I feel like so many lawyers disregard this, but many, many large law firms and even midsize law firms employ lawyers in several jobs other than practicing law.

There's marketing, I mean, there are people in finance who have law degrees. There are conflicts, there's human resources, diversity, equity, and inclusion. I mean, there are just so many different jobs that people can do with law degrees.

I just started to reach out to people who had roles that seemed interesting to me. I mean, I would just find someone on LinkedIn who was a director of professional development. I was like, “What does this person do?” I would just cold-email them on LinkedIn and ask if they would talk to me about their jobs.

I did this for several jobs. Like I mentioned, marketing, human resources, business development, and practice support that's a job that's becoming really common. If you're in a law firm, there are different practice groups. Now each practice group has a practice support director or manager who basically does all the things required for that practice to keep going.

I just emailed and talked to a bunch of people to try to figure out what would be the next job that I wanted to have, and everyone was so kind. So if you're out there and you see someone with a cool job, and you're afraid to bother them, I promise you, lawyers love talking about themselves so reach out.

Worst case scenario, they ignore you and don't respond and that's fine. You move on with your life. Best case scenario, they give you 30 minutes or an hour of their day for you to pick their brain and see what exactly they do. Long story short, I did that and realized that I've really enjoyed professional development.

So I started focusing my job search on that, and like the universe was listening because I found that job very, very soon thereafter. The firm I work at now, which I've been at for about a year and a half now, they posted a job of a director of professional development and legal recruiting. I had never done legal recruiting in my life, but I thought I would enjoy it and it turns out that I did. So here I am.

Sarah Cottrell: Okay, so can you talk a little bit about what your day-to-day looks like or what sort of buckets, the different things you're doing fall into? Because I think that there are a lot of layers where like, “Oh, professional development sounds interesting,” like working with people. Then if you were to ask them, “Okay, but what do you think that would look like?” They'd be like, “I'm not really sure about the specifics.”

Adriana Paris: I mean, that was me. I was like, “Professional development sounds cool, but what is it?” I like the idea of buckets because essentially my job falls into several buckets. I mentioned legal recruiting, and I spoke a little earlier about the fact that I'm the first person that any law student or lawyer applicant talks to.

Whether it's for a summer associate job or just a lateral move, I am the person that has the initial screening call with them, and then I move them along through the interview process. I arranged for them to meet with the lawyers who they'll actually be working with and several offices that we have.

If they're applying for a job in Orlando, then I'll arrange for them to meet with lawyers in Orlando. I sort of just oversee them as they continue to progress through applying to work for us. Then if they get hired, and then they end up working for us, I do their orientation. I've put together a first-week training agenda for all of our lawyers. I walk them through that.

I'm basically their main point of contact in terms of like, “Where do I find our CLEs?” or “How do I get to this LexisNexis, how do I sign in?” I'm essentially like the welcoming committee for new lawyers. That goes nicely into the professional development piece because any training that people request, specifically any training that associates are asking for, I am the person who will find a partner or a couple of partners to present on a topic and we'll record it and we'll put together PowerPoints, materials, and things like that. So, anything related to how to practice at our firm, I am essentially the person who puts all of that together.

I'll say that probably the biggest aspect of this job that people should be aware of if they're considering doing this is it is a very social job. If you think you're going to be sitting at your computer, reading resumes and materials, and not talking to people, that's not going to happen.

I am on Zoom all the time. I'm on the phone all the time. I'm constantly meeting people and talking to them. I'm constantly checking in with our current associates to see how they're doing. I travel to our offices to see how everybody's doing. I like that. This is one of the things that is on my likes list. But if this is on your tolerates list, you might have a hard time just because professional development cannot be done virtually or it cannot be done by email only. You have to interact with people.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, I think that it just shows the importance of really thinking through, one, your likes and dislikes, etc, also your values. I think that's a huge piece of the process, then also just actually finding out, “What is it going to look like if I do this role?” All of those things are so super important.

If there are people listening who are interested in potentially pursuing some sort of professional development role, which I'm sure there are because this is something that comes up a lot, one of the things that lawyers will often sort of say once they kind of identify something like this is they're like, “Well, I don't really have a lot of experience,” then there are questions about like, “Do I need to go do certifications or do I need to go to training? How do I position myself for a role like this?” Can you talk a little bit about was there anything particular like that that you did? If not, what suggestions do you have for people? If so, what would you suggest people do?

Adriana Paris: Absolutely. Lawyers love certifications.

Sarah Cottrell: They do. We really do.

Adriana Paris: Yeah. I mean, yeah, I get it, there's something about the accomplishment of having that little piece of paper that's like, “Congratulations! You're certified in blah, blah, blah.” But really, so many jobs do not require any additional certifications of any way.

But what I always like to remind people is any job you take, whether it's totally related to your current legal practice, or it's a bit of a stretch job like this professional development that you haven't done before, everything is going to require a learning curve. Everything.

Whether you're just meeting new people, you have new clients, or your day-to-day looks different than it did before, you have to just keep that mindset of “I am learning something constantly” because you'll never be able to truly master anything, even this job that I love, and I've been doing for a year and a half, I've never mastered it. I'm not the best professional development director that's ever lived. I don't know who is. I mean, we're all continuously improving.

I know what you mean, Sarah, there are so many lawyers who are like, “Oh, I have no qualifications. How can I ever do this?” I mean, you have a ton of qualifications. I cannot imagine this job being done by somebody who did not practice law. I just can't. I relate to the lawyers in ways that somebody who doesn't have those experiences just cannot.

Even when I interview law students, they're asking questions that I think only somebody who has practiced law in the past can answer. They want to know, “What are your clients like? What's the practice like? What do people do all day?” If I hadn't done that job myself, I just don't know how I could answer that.

Then in terms of professional development, sometimes I'll see a few associates ask me for a topic that they aren't really sure about and that we'd like more training on, I'm able to take that topic and find other related subjects that should be included in the training only because I know when I was in their shoes, and I had those questions, there were actually other things I needed to know about, but I just didn't know how to ask.

I think having been a lawyer is super important to me doing a good job in this role. I can only see former lawyers doing professional development and legal recruiting. There are obviously legal recruiters out there who are not lawyers, and some are super, super great, but I just think you have a way of relating to other lawyers and you can only have if you've been a lawyer yourself.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, I think one of the biggest hurdles to lawyers moving into a different role that's not practicing role is getting over this idea that they don't have enough to bring to a particular job. I'm not saying that there aren't roles where maybe some sort of like certification or something else might be helpful, but that sense, so if you're listening, that sense that you have that you're just not qualified for anything else, it's just not actually true. It feels very real. Again, I'm not like, “I can't believe you feel this way. Who would ever feel this way?” I felt that way.

Adriana Paris: Yeah. We sympathize. But at the same time, we are telling you that it's not true.

Sarah Cottrell: Yes, totally. Totally. Okay. Adriana, as we get to the end of our conversation, is there anything else that you'd like to share that we haven't touched on yet?

Adriana Paris: I mean, the one thing you and I spoke about before we got on this call is I recently started a coaching practice and it's only on the side because I have a full-time job so I can't handle a ton of clients. But in my role as professional development director, I get a ton of emails and calls from people just generally asking about other jobs, careers, and stuff like that.

I have given a lot of free advice, which I'm sure you did too, Sarah, before starting a business. I've decided that perhaps I should start taking myself more seriously when it comes to somebody who can give advice. So I'm coaching lawyers on productivity, but not in the sense of like, “Let's all do more things so we can get more done and just generally be running around doing a bunch of sh*t,” it’s more like I want you to get rid of things that are not really important, but you think they're important because you keep doing them but they don't actually get you anywhere.

You get rid of all that stuff, focus on just a few quality things that you want to achieve in your career, and chase those things at the cost of everything else just going by the wayside because they don't really matter. That's kind of a philosophy I developed as I've progressed in my career that I was trying to do so many different things only because other people were asking me to do them. But when I sat down and thought about, “Why am I doing this?” I didn't have a good answer for it.

This is kind of my mantra is do fewer things, but do them really well. I think that's something that not just lawyers, but really all adults could do these days.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, I feel like do less. Instead of doing the most, do less. I like that as a philosophy. Okay, Adriana, if people want to connect with you, where can they find you on the internet?

Adriana Paris: Yeah. Oh, the internet. I'm trying to do very little social media because again, it's part of my do-less mantra but my favorite social media platform is LinkedIn. I'm pretty easily found on there. Adriana Paris, if you just search that on LinkedIn, I'll pop up. I do have a website, That's easy to find. That's about it.

Sarah Cottrell: Great, and we will link those in the show notes and on the blog post for this episode. Adriana, I really appreciate you reaching out and coming on the podcast. This was really interesting. I know there are a lot of people who are considering professional development for whom this will be really helpful so thank you.

Adriana Paris: Thank you. I had such a blast talking to you. It's so surreal because, like I said, I’ve been listening to your podcast for so long, it's such an excellent resource for people so I'm really happy to be a small part of it.

Sarah Cottrell: Oh, my goodness, thank you so much. I literally love having people on the podcast who are listeners. It's such a full-circle experience.

Adriana Paris: Yeah, you've done an amazing job with it so thank you.

Sarah Cottrell: Thanks so much for listening. I absolutely love getting to share this podcast with you. If you haven't yet, I invite you to download my free guide: First Steps to Leaving the Law at Until next time, have a great week.