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Law & Order Does Good

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Ronnie Abrams appointment as special counsel for pro bono to one of New York's prestigious law firms (Davis Polk & Wardwell) is big enough news that it earned coverage in last Friday's New York Times. Why? Reporter Karen Donovan knows that it's more than a strategic move for a smart, successful lawyer whose career she describes as "a real-life version of 'Law & Order'". Donovan writes that she's part of a trend by law firms grappling with ways to meet the pro bono challenge.

Of course, New Radicals get that this appointment is part of a much wider movement. Ronnie Abrams has become a New Radical Innovator -- someone who stays inside their field or organization and drives change from within. Smart firms know that introducing Innovators like Abrams makes good sense on every level. In fact, Donovan quotes Esther F. Lardent, president of the Pro Bono Institute on this very point, "It's become much more important in terms of client relations, recruitment, and marketing."

My last column was about how to encourage New Radical Innovation in your organization, so I won't repeat myself. Instead, I'll begin to answer the question I get asked most often, "How can I become a New Radical?". New Radicals ask themselves three key questions as they begin to reinvent themselves:

1. What do I have to offer?
2. What moves me?
3. What does the world need?

Let's tackle the first question, which can help you begin to assess your experience and expertise. Beginning with an inventory of what you bring to the table makes sense because you aren't simply following the traditional career trajectory -- you're applying what you've learned in the first part of your working life to something new. And in order to do so, you must first detach these abilities from your original profession. To create what I think of as a portfolio of transferable skills.

There are many variations on this theme. Including New Radicals who discover that their first and second careers can work in tandem. Mark Brayne had been a foreign correspondent for BBC World for several decades. At midlife, he started studying psychology, and all he could think about was getting out of journalism. But the further he got down the new path, the more he realized there were parallels with the old one. "One day I realized, hang on a moment, there are real overlaps here. Rather than running away from journalism, what I need to do is circle back in. in fact, I could bring things that I was learning on the psychology track to bear on the practice and experience of journalism." As a consultant to news organizations, he is now sharing his thoughts on these overlaps -- such as attentive and respectful listening, context, and setting boundaries -- with others.

Now it's your turn: what do you have to offer?