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Easily Distracted? Maybe You Shouldn't Be A Lawyer

Vivia Chen

January 24, 2020

Girl-388652_1280Maybe it’s you. And not the firm.

Of course, there are jerks galore in Big Law who make your job unnecessarily stressful. God knows there are unpleasant, greedy, beady-eyed fellows at every corner of every firm in America.

We all know the type, and nobody ever said being a lawyer was a pleasant experience. But has it occurred to you that you have no business being a lawyer in the first place? Besides having a hard shell, you need something more fundamental to be a successful lawyer: a preternatural ability to focus on details that would drive a lot of people crazy. In other words, maybe some personality types simply shouldn’t be lawyers.

I’m bringing this up because the Harvard Business Review recently featured an article about productivity in the digital age of constant distractions. The upshot was that some people are just prone to distraction and should consider careers that make the most of that trait.

Let me say that the article strikes home: I was a miserable little lawyer once upon a time, and I clearly didn’t have the attention span to stay in the profession for the long haul. For my entire legal career—and years later—I felt guilty and unworthy because I couldn’t get excited about loan documents, arcane securities regulations or other fine points of corporate law. Instead of immersing myself in the Securities Act, I was secretly perusing my stash of newspapers, magazines and even catalogs (yeah, this was pre-internet) in my office.

So here’s to my kindred spirits: Celebrate your attention deficit. In HBR, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, the chief talent scientist at ManpowerGroup, writes that “it is useful to remember that distractibility has the potential to enhance curiosity and creativity: the less seemingly irrelevant information you filter out or censor, the more original and unusual your ideas and inventions may be.”

A “better antidote,” writes Chamorro-Premuzic, is to find a career that “provides the right amount of distractions for your natural temperament or personality.” He offers four options that “may benefit from higher levels of mind wandering and distractibility:”

1. Entrepreneur. You know what this is: Open a bake shop. Become a personal trainer, career coach, Feng Shui expert. Whatever.

2. PR/Media Production. The beauty of this job is that you'll get to work with all types of businesses. What's required is that you "absorb and synthesize vast amounts of information, filtering out as little as possible, and turning distractions into the raw materials of their content and stories." In other words, you can be shallow!

3. Consultant. This is supposed to require skill. But "note that while expertise is the dominant currency in consulting, what you know is less important than what you are willing to learn." Translation: Fake it until you make it. 

4. Journalist. For those with a hyperactive mind," journalism is the "final option." It actually combines all the other three careers: "You need to brand and sell yourself like an entrepreneur, you need to be always open and reactive to the news and real-world events, and you need to be able to switch from one topic to another, always exploring new questions." 

I don't know whether I should be proud or embarrassed but I've had all four of the above careers—and I'm still searching for the ideal. But considering that I've been a journalist for almost 20 years—by far my longest gig—I guess I've learned to deploy my weakness into a paying job. (I was a lawyer for five years, but who's counting?)

Which is to say that if you're a miserably cast as a lawyer, you shouldn't give up hope that there's something out there where your scattered, distracted mind might be an asset. That said, I'm not advocating anyone become a journalist, especially if you're used to the perks of a Big Law salary.

But that's another topic for another day.


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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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