Dolan Williams
San Diego attorney Dolan Williams

More and more Americans are “re-careering,” switching careers after years, and sometimes decades, to pursue a dream. Dolan Williams, a San Diego attorney, made the decision eight years ago, taking online law classes to fulfill his life-changing goal. He tells Times of San Diego how he made the decision and how he was able to balance education, work and a growing family while changing his career.

Can you provide a brief background on what made you decide to switch careers?

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To put it simply — my family.  Back in 2010, my wife, who was at home with our three kids, was expecting our fourth child. At the time, I was working as a college advisor for a university in Phoenix. It was a good job, but there were some major, long-term issues keeping me from staying, primarily when it came to growth and career prospects. I wanted my family to have my best. I also wanted something that had a little more security, flexibility, opportunity, and purpose. Driving down the road one day with my wife, I turned to her and said, “What if I became a lawyer?” The rest is history.

What are some advanced educational options available to those looking to make a career change?

With a big family and a career, I knew that if I wanted to become a lawyer, I had to think outside the box. Attending an expensive, daytime-only law school was virtually out of the question. I was the sole provider for my family of six so I had to find something that worked with my schedule.

At the time, there was only one school that offered night classes where I lived, but it was cost-prohibitive. This meant I had to keep looking. My determination and research allowed me to find Concord Law School at Kaplan University. It is America’s first fully online law school, and an affordable option. Since I already worked for an online university, I knew that getting a degree online was possible and my best shot. Turns out, I was right.

What are your tips on balancing education, work, and family to fulfill a dream?

Understanding your priorities are critical when balancing education, work, and family while fulfilling a dream. Prior to starting law school, outside of hanging out with my wife and kids, I had interests in golfing, watching sports, socializing, and fixing things around the house. When I started law school, I knew that my priorities had to shift. So, I realized that if something did not fit in my family, work, and school schedule, then it was subject to elimination. I still watched my Arizona Cardinals every Sunday, but prioritizing my life was the smartest decision I ever made.

Do you have any advice for those looking to re-career?

I usually advise people to follow four basic steps: First, you must get to know yourself better. This means figuring your professional priorities. As I mentioned, I wanted a career that had security, opportunity, flexibility, and a sense of purpose. Do not look through the lens of how others see you, but what you see for yourself. The next step is to just get started. People often wait until they feel confident before taking a step in the direction of their dreams, but confidence can only come through preparation, practice, review, and repetition; not by waiting. Next, trust yourself and your instincts. If you don’t trust yourself, how can anyone else trust you?  Finally, just be yourself.  I had lawyer friends question my choice to attend an online law school, but I learned from the same books, passed the same exams, and, now, I have the same credentials, and I did it in a way that worked for me.  By being myself, I achieved more than I could have ever imagined.

How could one leverage what they know today with their new career tomorrow?

My previous career helped me considerably in my current career as an attorney. In the past, I worked primarily in education. This area is a highly regulated industry governed tightly by state and federal agencies and laws that would make a person’s head spin. When I graduated from law school and passed the bar exam, I applied to law firms specializing in education because I believed I could use my experience to bolster my chances of winning the job. I was right.

Although some jobs had dozens of applicants, all of whom were new lawyers like myself, the reason I won a position at a prominent, mid-sized law firm was because I could speak intelligently about those same agencies and laws that are specific to education. The firm saw this as an opportunity to save everyone time and money. For those looking for a career change, understand that previous knowledge and expertise in a different industry can be of high value in a new career, and leveraging that knowledge will give you an edge over even the best candidates.

Dolan Williams is an attorney with a civil litigation practice in San Diego. He has a bachelor’s degree from Northern Arizona University, a graduate degree from Arizona State University, and a law degree from Concord Law School at Kaplan University.