From divorce law to HR: How to make a 180-career change

Jessica Satherley
From divorce law to HR: How to make a 180-career change
Christopher McIntosh, former divorce lawyer

Making a mid-career 180 direction-change seems a daunting prospect for many – but it is possible as Christopher McIntosh demonstrates. 

After a total of six years of studying and two years of training, Christopher had become a divorce lawyer for High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI) in London. 

“I didn’t appreciate at first the extent to which I had narrowed my career options. 

“Due to jurisdiction issues, I could only work in England and Wales and, in this specialism, I could only work in London because there wouldn’t be enough HNWI outside of the capital,” He said. 

But by the age of 36, six years after working as a successful divorce lawyer, McIntosh realised he wanted to leave divorce law in search of a more fulfilling career. 

Career Management Specialist from Career Clinic, Janet Tuck, says that the desire to want to change career is a common scenario. 

“But you need to ask yourself, ‘What is the driver for wanting this change?’ 

“You need to take time to reflect on what’s not working where you currently are," Tuck says. 

In McIntosh’s case, he was in a financial position to spend two years experimenting with a couple of entrepreneurial ventures after leaving his job. 

His first passion project was writing and publishing a book, by using his divorce law skills to write about how to separate without having to spend thousands of pounds. 

But he soon realised that the cost required for marketing far exceeded the income he would make from actually selling the book. 

“I then bought a franchise, which was a local marketing business, but it didn’t end up offering as much to the clients as I thought it would and there was a lot of pressure to ‘sell, sell, sell’.  

“I still worked on the franchise for one-and-a-half years, but it wasn't providing me with the job satisfaction that I was looking for. 

“During this period, I read a book called ‘Pivot, The Only Move That Matters is Your Next One’, by Jenny Blake, which helped me focus on what I really wanted out of a job.  This led me to study a masters in HR. 

“After completing that course, I worked as an employment lawyer and HR consultant. 

“Leveraging my legal experience provided me with credibility to clients and gave me the specific HR experience, which was lacking from my CV,” he said.  

At the age of 39 he and his husband decided to move to New Zealand, and it was here that McIntosh decided to make the full transition into HR. 

"There’s a lot of law in HR so my skills were transferrable.  By this point I knew I wanted to work for a large company in a role that had a lot of variety. 

"Westpac ticked all the boxes and they hired me as an HR Consultant, partly because they liked my legal background.   

“I genuinely love the people at Westpac and feel fulfilled now in my career,” McIntosh, now aged 42, said. 

His advice to others thinking about a career change is to explore your options. 

“Don’t wait until it becomes a crisis point. If you’re thinking about it, explore your options early.  I also recommend the Pivot book to everyone thinking about changing careers,” he said. 

Janet Tuck says to think clearly before making a jump though. 

“If you’re not sure of the reason you want to change careers, you might find the same problems somewhere else. 

“There could be ways to change your current role which might increase your career or enjoyment, like having a flexi time arrangement, working from home or even making career change within your current company. 

“If there’s a new career that interests you, speak to someone who works in it to find out what it’s like.   

“Often, we know our own career, but we don’t have tangible evidence on the new thing that seems attractive. 

“Also, know what your work values are and the type of people you want to work with when you start looking at other careers. 

“Write down what your strengths and skills are and see what you could transition into or research what you would need to up-skill to,” Tuck says. 

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