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Career choice: International governance consultant

Jennifer Button  

Name: Jennifer Button
Level of PQE: Qualified 29 years
Current position and immediate former position: I am now a consultant, with a focus on international work. My former position was that of constitutional legal advisor to government (in Canada).

Why did you go into the law in the first place?

I went into law because I was unable to get a job as a teacher when my husband and I moved. I had taught in school for two years and loved it. I missed teaching but once I was established in my job as constitutional solicitor, I found the work completely fascinating. Many and varied issues. I was also able to use my teaching skills to some extent by offering short courses for other lawyers and for government officials.

What was your first job as a qualified solicitor?

I got my job with government as soon as I qualified. After a few years I moved to become one of two constitutional legal advisors. I stayed in this position for my entire legal career.

What was your reason(s) for choosing your career path?

I stayed in my government position as long as I did because of family responsibilities and because it was an excellent job, interesting and demanding. It suited perfectly the stage of life I was in at the time.

I decided to leave because I had been in the position for 21 years and felt that I needed new challenges. My family was grown up and I had the potential to introduce more flexibility into my life. As well, I have always had a keen interest in international events and issues.

What steps did you take to make that move a reality (include details of resources that you found particularly helpful)?

While I was still a government lawyer, I began to do volunteer work which gave me varied international experience. For instance, I took leave from work and spent a summer as a visiting professional at the International Criminal Court and I joined the Board of a local NGO which funded projects in Africa. I also did courses in such subjects as monitoring and evaluation, and I wrote several articles on issues of international interest.

How easy or difficult did you find the move?

Moving into international consulting is not easy. There is a lot of work which is potentially available, but getting the first contracts can be very difficult. Also, this is not simply a move from one job to another, but rather a complete career change, from long-term, secure employee to independent consultant with inconsistent income.

What do you consider to have been the key factor in enabling you to make that successful move?

I felt very passionately that I needed to move in this direction. My fascination with international issues has kept me interested and engaged. Very importantly, as well, I have unquestioning support from friends and family.

How did you find the transition after you made the move?

Not having a secure and constant income, after years as an employee, has been challenging! However, I would not go back. This has been a 'growing' experience.

What do you most enjoy about your current role?

I am fascinated by the issues. In addition, I love the opportunity for qualitative research, a welcome change from the almost exclusively book-centred research that I did for many years. There is also plenty of potential for me to use my teaching skills in capacity building work.

What did you learn about how to make change effectively and what would you have done differently?

Confidence in financial resources is key. As are in-person meetings with potential employers – email contact, on its own, is ineffective.

I would engage a  career coach earlier than I have done. Help with this kind of transition is crucial.

What are your three tips for a successful change in career direction?

I think that these factors are crucial:

  • Make sure that you are financially able to deal with the change if work doesn't appear as soon as hoped.
  • Do your homework - make yourself as knowledgeable as possible about your chosen path and its potential employers.
  • Invest in help from an experienced coach. S/he will give you many tips that you would never otherwise think of.

A fourth crucial factor: perseverance!

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