lawyer should narrow the list of potential careers to three.
the best way for a lawyer to investigate a new career is to
conduct a series of informational interviews.
that are valued in the general marketplace are infused within
the everyday tasks accomplished by a lawyer during a basic workday.
over two years ago, I left the traditional practice of law after seven
years of private practice and embarked upon a new career as an academic
administrator at Ave Maria School of Law, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Although this change has proven to be one of the most rewarding experiences
of my life, the process of leaving the traditional practice of law and
cross- ing over into a new field has been at times, stressful, frustrating,
and a bit overwhelming.
lawyers change careers for a number of reasons, this article will not
discuss those reasons. Instead, it will focus on the steps needed to conduct
an efficient and thorough non-traditional legal or non-legal job search.
coaches can often be heard instructing their players to ‘‘get
your head in the game.’’ This piece of advice also holds true
for lawyers preparing to change careers. Changing careers is an involved
process and may, at times, inflict stress on a lawyer and those closest
to him or her. In order to meet the challenges that lie ahead, it is essential
that a lawyer first develop a positive frame of mind prior to embarking
upon a new job search.
positive frame of mind is accomplished through flexibility, humility,
determination, and humor. Flexibility is essential when called upon
to open one’s mind to new ideas, new challenges, new people, and
new environments. Humility is important when faced with learning new
skills, the possibility of taking a pay cut to secure an entry-level
position in a new career, and adapting to being the ‘‘new
kid on the block.’’ Determination will assist a lawyer in
picking himself or herself up and moving on when it appears that he
or she has reached a dead end. Humor transcends rejection and frustration,
two feelings that are traditionally linked to every job search.
for a non-legal or non-traditional legal job can be overwhelming. Once
the decision has been made to leave the confines of the traditional
practice of law, many options are presented—too many to consider
seriously. Narrowing the areas of inquiry becomes an essential component
in the overall job search.
potential career should be thoroughly researched in order to determine
whether it is suitable to the needs of the lawyer and to his or her personal
and professional development. Items to consider when investigating a potential
career include: opportunity, salary, education or special certification
requirements, personal or professional contacts in the field, geographic
location, variety, work environment and schedule, and related areas.
the lawyer should narrow the list of potential careers to three. Anything
beyond that number will not allow the lawyer to truly focus on the careers
identified. To the extent possible, narrowing the search to areas that
are somehow related, whether by geographic location or skills required,
will reduce the amount of extra work needed to achieve success.
the lawyer is having difficulty determining the types of non-legal or
non-traditional legal jobs that are available, I recommend reviewing the
following books: America’s Great Places to Work with a Law Degree
& How to Make the Most of Any Job, No Matter Where It Is (Kimm
Alayne Walton, J.D.); Nonlegal Careers for Lawyers (Gary
A. Munneke and William D. Henslee); Jobs for Lawyers: Effective Techniques
for Getting Hired in Today’s Legal Marketplace (Hillary Jane
Mantis and Kathleen Brady); and What Can You Do with a Law Degree:
A Lawyer’s Guide to Career Alternatives Inside, Outside & Around
the Law (Deborah Arron). These books identify potential legal and
non-legal careers for lawyers considering a career change.
the single best way for a lawyer to investigate a new career is to
conduct a series of informational interviews. An informational interview
is something different than a traditional job interview. The most notable
difference is that the purpose of an informational interview is to gain
information, not a job offer. Through the interviews, the lawyer looking
for a job targets a series of individuals who are currently employed in
the area. By questioning these people about their background, past work
experience, and daily activities, the lawyer can obtain a sense of how
to tailor his or her career search and find out more about the new field.
Without the pressure of a job offer, the interview is more relaxed, which
provides for the free exchange of information. The information gained
through informational interviews is invaluable to the overall job search.
and Internet research are also encouraged. These types of research tools
will be most helpful in answering questions about a specific job market
and the salaries associated with a specific job, providing contact information
for networking purposes and background information on targeted companies,
identifying ‘‘movers and shakers’’ in a given
profession, and distributing information about the company or position
first step toward preparing a cover letter and résumé
to send to potential employers who have been identified through research
is to identify job skills that the lawyer can transfer from the practice
of law to a new career. Chances are, upon first glance, a lawyer would
be hard-pressed to identify a set of skills he or she possesses that
would easily transfer to another field. However, lawyers possess more
transferable skills than they may think. Skills that are valued in the
general marketplace are infused within the everyday tasks accomplished
by a lawyer during a basic workday.
these transferable skills takes time and creativity. A simple way to identify
skills is to list tasks undertaken each day in a current job and then
expand the list to include activities performed on a less regular basis.
Once the list is complete, a lawyer should review each activity carefully,
one at a time, and extract the skills required to perform each activity.
In identifying these skills, a lawyer should consider the following general
areas: communication, writing, research, organization, leadership, teamwork,
and advocacy. Armed with a set of skills that can be transferred to any
profession sought, the lawyer is ready to move ahead to the next step—the
revision of his or her résumé and cover letter.
legal résumé will differ from a non-legal résumé,
but not considerably. The key to crafting a non-legal or non-traditional
legal résumé is creativity. A résumé must
be written with the prospectiveemployer in mind. As a lawyer, putting
oneself in the shoes of a legal employer is simple—using past work
experiences, the individual knows what experiences to stress, what skills
to highlight, and what buzz words to use. Entering into an unfamiliar
job market changes this approach. A lawyer may not be familiar with the
inner workings of a profession and is therefore forced to rely upon outside
information, rather than personal experience, to craft a set of skills
and accomplishments that might attract a prospective employer.
is this an impossible task? Certainly not! In steps three and four,
the lawyer was encouraged to research a prospective field using various
means, and then develop a set of transferable job skills that would
be valued in the chosen profession. Relying upon the information received
from these steps, the lawyer must carefully rewrite the employment section
of his or her résumé and generalize the job descriptions
under each entry. It is no longer necessary to describe legalemployment
using only legal terms. Instead, legal jargon must be substituted with
new jargon acquired during the research process. Additionally, specific
information regarding the types of law practiced, arguments created,
and various documents researched and drafted must be replaced with general
language that sets forth the skills used to create the legal documents,
research the specific issues, and learn the various areas of law practiced.
This process is time consuming and will take extra effort, but the result
will be the creation of a résumé that can be used for
opportunities beyond the law.
remember when revising a résumé that non-lawyers may not
be aware of the importance of items listed under the education component
of a résumé such as law review, moot court, clinical experience,
or related items. Likewise, membership in bar organizations may not be
as significant. These items may need to be completely removed from a résumé,
or explained to impart their importance to the new profession chosen.
a lawyer seeking non-legal or non-traditional legal work, the cover
letter is the first place the lawyer pleads his or her case to a prospective
employer. Cover letters are a significant source of information. Within
a cover letter, a lawyer can persuade a prospective employer that the
skills acquired during the practice of law or learned during law school
are the same skills necessary to thrive in a specific position. In the
cover letter, a lawyer should draw parallels to his or her legal experience
and explain to the employer how these transferable skills (see Step
4) will benefit the prospective employer and the company. Examples include
the following: ‘‘the practice of law has enabled me to handle
a multitude of responsibilities and learn the importance of time management,’’
or ‘‘preparing cases for trial has provided me with
the ability to analyze problems, decipher and evaluate facts, reach
solutions, and convincingly relay my position to others.’’
lawyer’s reference list must also be reviewed and revised. Quite
reasonably, a lawyer’s list of references likely includes former
legal employers and law school professors. Although these individuals
maintain excellent credibility as far as references go, their comments
will only extend as far as the law. As a result, when revising a list
of references, it is important to seek individuals who will be able to
provide insight into the lawyer’s broad personal and professional
skills, beyond that of only the law.
for a job interview with a non-legal or non-traditional legal employer
is akin to preparing a new résumé or cover letter. The key
to interview success is to research everything possible about the prospective
employer, the employment area, and the particular position sought prior
to walking through the door. Lawyers are trained researchers, and interview
preparation is where these skills will be put to the test.
prepared to be challenged. Non-traditional legal and non-legal employers
can be suspicious about an attorney’s desire to leave the traditional
practice of law. Prospective employers may question an attorney’s
sincerity about making a career change or may presume that the attorney
is looking elsewhere because he or she couldn’t ‘‘cut
it’’ in the legal world. Realizing that these questions
may become part of the interview process, it is important to prepare
answers to them.
answers to general interview questions is also encouraged. Sample questions
typically used during the interview process can be found in many interview
books, such as The Essential Book of Interviewing: Everything You
Need to Know from Both Sides of the Table (Arnold B. Kanter); Best
Answers to the 201 Most Frequently Asked Interview Questions (Matthew
J. Deluca); and 101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions
(Ronald W. Fry). Practicing answers to interview questions will enable
the attorney to become comfortable with selling himself or herself to
a new employer and utilizing the language of the new profession. Also,
by practicing, the lawyer will become more proficient at pointing out
transferable job skills to the prospective employer.
in the legal field, many non-traditional legal and non-legal jobs are
found through personal contacts. While cold-calling and blind résumé
mailings may lead to employment, the single best way to locate a job,
any job, is by networking.
interviews are the lawyer’s greatest asset in breaking into a
new career. As described above, an individual seeking to learn more
about a chosen field will, through research, identify certain ‘‘movers
and shakers’’ in that same field. By placing a call and
asking to set up a time to meet to talk with this person about his or
her field/career, the person seeking the job will gain both exposure
to people who can assist him or her in creating job opportunities and
gain information about a chosen career. Although a lawyer may not be
actively seeking a job offer from the person granting the interview,
the lawyer is wise to have résumés available to hand to
the person if the opportunity arises.
a group or organization that is populated with professionals engaged in
the line of work sought provides another excellent opportunity to network.
Attending dinners, receptions, or talks hosted by these organizations
provides the opportunity to both learn more about a particular career
and become acquainted with professionals working within the career. Often,
these types of social events also provide the opportunity to learn about
job leads and pass résumés to individuals who may put them
into the hands of someone who may be hiring.
gained from informational interviews, personal connections, or an individual’s
own research, a successful job search will be accomplished by following
up on all leads. At times, it may become burdensome to make yet another
telephone call, send another résumé, schedule another informational
interview, but follow-up is necessary. By being diligent and following
up on all leads, a lawyer can expect to maximize every opportunity that
comes his or her way.
also includes another element—the thank-you note. In these days
of electronic communication, where information is available at the snap
of a finger, never underestimate the effect of a simple, hand written
thank-you note. When was the last time you received a hand written note
of thanks? Thank-you notes are acts of gratitude and kindness and every
meeting, every informational interview, every phone interview, should
be followed up with a thank-you note. A prospective employer may not
remember what an attorney said in his or her thank-you note, but chances
are the employer will remember whether or not a note was sent.
than likely, a lawyer has considered changing careers for months, or
even years, before taking the actual plunge. As a result, once the decision
is made to move forward, there exists a tendency to expect miracles
to happen overnight, and that ‘‘perfect job’’
to drop down from out of the sky. Additionally, conditioned by their
professional experience to generate results, lawyers often become frustrated
when results are not immediately realized during a non-traditional legal
or non-legal job search.
jobs rarely fall into a person’s lap—instead, an effective
job search takes time, patience, perseverance, and planning. Logically
planning the job search strategy using the steps outlined above will assist
the lawyer in reaching his or her career goals in the most efficient time