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Alternative Careers for Lawyers: How to Take the Leap

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Lawyers are a dime a dozen nowadays. With so many jobs available out there, it can almost be a challenge to find a career that will fulfill you and your ambitions. However, in case you’re a lawyer in a legal field other than the one you ended up in, you may need to take a look at the world of alternative careers. While you may not necessarily need a law degree for these jobs, it’s always good to have some knowledge of the legal field so you can start your career on the right foot.

If you’re a lawyer, you’ve probably heard the expression “one lawyer to another”—and wondered if there really is such a thing. After all, lawyers have their own language, and training in law and in the courtroom is a very particular skill. But the truth is, there are multiple paths to take, and you can become a lawyer without getting a law degree or going to law school. In fact, there are many lawyers who never went to law school!

A large percentage of attorneys have never considered a career outside of the legal field. Even if they have considered it, they may be deterred by the long hours, irregular pay, and other career conundrums that are inherent in the law. There’s a new career option for many attorneys: alternative careers. Alternative careers include careers in higher education, government service, and corporate law. Alternative careers can make a great first step for law students. With the help of a mentor, law students have the opportunity to explore a variety of careers that are often in high demand. Alternative careers for lawyers can often be more lucrative than a legal career, and many of them are only limited by geographic location.

I believed I was going on a one-year sabbatical to travel around the globe when I left my work as a corporate lawyer in 2008. I never intended my blog, which I began to keep my family and friends informed about my whereabouts, to grow into a larger project and, ultimately, a new profession. I also never saw myself compiling a ‘law after law’ case study series to assist individuals in finding other professions to law.

The series was dubbed Thrillable Hours, a pun on billable hours, which I thought was amusing (and non-lawyers found baffling). I asked each former attorney the same five questions to see how they viewed the world now. The discussion also included tips for those looking to quit the legal profession. What should they do first? What’s the best way to deal with such a shift? These interviews, which may be found at the bottom of the page, have proven to be a valuable source of information for both attorneys and students.

As Legal Nomads increased in popularity, I got an increasing number of letters from attorneys and law students who were unsure what choices were available to them given their backgrounds. Some were unhappy, some were bored, and yet others were just inquisitive. Fellow attorneys wanted to imitate or develop from my jump into a much less structured profession, so I created this resource website to assist them search for new occupations or rethink their education in unconventional ways.

Even when we understood what we were getting ourselves into, “BigLaw” can be a tough atmosphere. “Any sort of distinction between work and personal life has been obliterated,” according to a Business Insider story about the sector published on April 12, 2022, which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 era’s employment boom. According to the BI article,

“It isn’t the lengthy hours that are the most difficult aspect of this work. The unpredictability of the long hours is to blame. What seemed to be a free weekend or evening may suddenly become an all-nighter. You go into quarantine for two weeks so you can visit your parents, and no matter how much warning you provide or how well you prepare, the reality of what you’re getting paid for are that it may blow up at any time.”

That uncertainty existed before to the pandemic, but the present environment has simply contributed to the expectation of availability at all times. As a result, it’s no surprise that I’ve gotten much more letters about quitting the law in the past year than I have in the previous several years.

This website should hopefully offer some direction, comfort, and assistance. If you have any queries that the contact form does not address, please do not hesitate to contact us.

THE LAST UPDATE WAS ON JULY 11, 2022.

What to Do After Law School If You Don’t Want to Be a Lawyer Anymore

But, although case studies are useful, most of us require something more constructive, thus the series wasn’t enough for my resources. Personally, before quitting my work as a lawyer, I concentrated on checklists and preparation – things that made me feel more secure in my choice to leave the legal profession.

Reading books and articles by lawyers-turned-whatevers served as preparation, but it was more essential to concentrate on knowing what my anxieties were and how to confront them without allowing them to dominate me.

When confronted with anxiety and considering a job change, ask yourself these five questions.

These are not only a wonderful place to start when making a job change, but they also assist in laying out some of the limits and implications of that decision.

The most crucial question is: what is your worst-case scenario?

When non-lawyers write to me about job transition and anxiety, I often return to this set of risk assessment questions. Once you’ve mastered worst-case scenarios, your worries will occupy a smaller portion of your heart and mind. This entails asking yourself the following questions:

  • What about changing professions worries you the most?
  • What do you stand to benefit the most from this change? This may be based on personality, lifestyle, or other factors.
  • What is the worst-case scenario for your life or mental condition if things go wrong?
  • And (this is critical!) what abilities do you have to prevent the worst-case scenario from occurring?

Despite my path from BigLaw, I am not of the “find your passion and leap” school of thinking. While it may seem like I just jumped into the unknown and shouted fuck it to the guy, the truth is that I saved enough for a sabbatical because I enjoy traveling. During that journey, this website grew in popularity, I received freelance writing opportunities, and a new professional path started to emerge. I performed some risk assessment beforehand, similar to what I’m recommending here, and it gave me the mental space and flexibility to make ‘next step’ choices based on calm analysis rather than unprepared fear.

Rainsford Stauffer talks on the urge to discover one’s purpose in an April 2022 article titled Dream Jobs Are a Myth, and More Wisdom From ‘An Ordinary Age.’ The article is in Teen Vogue, so it’s aimed at a younger readership, but one line in particular caught my eye:

[I]t seems backward to identify ourselves by what we do these days, as if job titles are status symbols and ideal occupations aren’t fraught with their own set of problems: What if everyone else already knows what their ideal career, calling, and purpose are, but you don’t? What if you can’t find work in your area of choice, or if you obtain your ideal job and discover it’s not what you want? When these ideas are reinforced in young people, it seems that more realistic expectations about what work is and how it feels are being undermined. Perhaps if we weren’t so fixated on defining ourselves by our ideal professions, we’d be free to rethink our meaning, purpose, and what important to us in other areas of our life.

Finding employment as a digital nomad or remote worker has become increasingly possible as technology has advanced and as more and more business goes online. Is there any guilt in putting your talents to work in a non-dream profession if it enables you to live the life you want? No, I don’t believe so. The harsh hours and punishing schedule of BigLaw are one of the reasons why private law firms remain a tough framework to alter your life in the manner you desire. However, in 2022, there will be plenty of opportunities for innovative legal work, as well as non-legal employment, that isn’t a “complete dream” in terms of day-to-day operations but does provide some financial security and a more flexible schedule.

In his article The Passion Trap, Cal Newport nicely explains the dilemma of “dream occupations.” Cal Newport’s essay is also available in video format for those who like it:

 

2. In what areas can you improve your expertise? What are you hoping to improve your skills in?

Determine what you would be willing to spend more time learning how to do better. This is an excellent “brain dump” exercise for determining which abilities have grown stale as you consider deepening them.

I did for work what most people do for holiday as a travel writer. This changed my perspective on travel, but improving my writing, editing, photography, and public speaking abilities did not diminish my enjoyment of travel. It meant I had to rethink how I unwinded, but travel remained a pleasurable experience for me.

Is the thing you like doing something you’d want to improve at enough to turn it into a career? Or are there talents you already have that you can hone, expand, and get more qualified in so that you may transition from law to something else? I could have been a freelance writer, fiction or nonfiction, if I had chosen to concentrate only on writing and forego the travel. But the idea of becoming a better writer didn’t appeal to me; in the end, I chose the field where working on my abilities ad nauseam didn’t make me, well, sick.

Another method to tackle this issue is to do a comprehensive “life audit,” in which you discuss your values and objectives and how they fit with both your ambitions and the timetable by which you want to achieve them. The life audit method allows you to dream “mondo beyondo” dreams (all of the things you may not have written down before), then reorganizes them with your values and life goals so that patterns emerge.

Getting all of these ideas “out” and on paper (or post-it notes, as the method below recommends) has proven to be very beneficial. As I thought through my own path, it also allowed me to be more imaginative (skydiving instructor? really?) and separate from the expectations of others.

What exactly is a life audit? Ximena Vengoechea, the author, explains it as follows:

An exercise in self-reflection that helps you clear the cobwebs of noisy, external goals and current distractions, and revisit or uncover the real themes & core values that drive & inspire you. Also known as: spring-cleaning for the soul.

Here, Ximena lays out step-by-step directions for doing a life audit, which will require at least 100 post-it notes, a few hours of your time, and a commitment to your creativity.

Alternative-Careers-for-Lawyers-How-to-Take-the-LeapA graphic from Ximena’s Life Audit process showing current time spent vs. desired time for a particular area of life.

3. At what degree of expertise do you need to be valued enough to have negotiating power? 

Determine how excellent you’d have to become in order to use that ability to create the life you desire. (For me, this meant working for myself, not having to travel to an office, and eating as much street food as I wanted.) Mark Cohen interviewed a 1L in an article on legal practice in 2019, who said, “I see law as a talent.” I want to combine my legal knowledge with my interests in business, technology, and politics. “Law is not about practice for me.” What other talents can you put to use?

4. Who can assist you in expanding those skill sets and accumulating additional leverage? 

Access to professionals and their expertise has never been simpler in today’s digital environment. With whom can you collaborate to improve your abilities? Who can give you a glimpse into their own journey to help you better understand your own? Approaching individuals in a calm manner – rather than saying, “Here are some times for a call,” say, “I’d appreciate it if you could spend a few minutes of your time helping me understand your trajectory” – can go a long way toward addressing your queries.

5. How can you gracefully ‘fall back’ on your worst-case scenario?

Even if I never worked as an associate again, my worst case of working in law was still better than many others. Consider what will happen if your job change does not pan out. Is the ‘worst case’ scenario something you can’t see yourself doing at all? If that’s the case, you’ll need to reframe things and come up with a better, more acceptable way to go back to some kind of stability before you go. It goes a long way toward instilling confidence in you before you make the decision to quit the legal profession.

The Paint Drop Method: A Method for Determining What to Do After Law School

In April of this year, my buddy Taylor Pearson published a blog article on how individuals may find out what they want to accomplish with their life. Even if you went through the steps to become a lawyer, you’ve arrived to this website because you’re looking for something else. He recommends that you constantly asking yourself key questions like “what do you do well?” and “what do you find interesting?” and look for a Venn diagram overlap between the two, as well as the crucial issue of “what would others pay for?”

To accomplish so, he concentrates mainly on competence, since in today’s world, it is your unique expertise that will set you apart. It’s much more essential to combine a rare talent with a creative application than it is to merely fit into an established mold.

This is what I called the “sweet spot” between your desires, talents, and the problems that need to be addressed.

Taylor says:

What is important now is creating a distinctive, rare skill set that is in great demand, rather than learning how to be regular or common. By enabling you to scale virtually any minor passion or interest, the internet has greatly expanded the potential universe of professions. The internet’s basic feature is that it links every person on the globe to every other human.

To attempt the Paint Drop Method for yourself, read the rest of his article.

1626655732_671_Alternative-Careers-for-Lawyers-How-to-Take-the-LeapTaylor Pearson’s Paint Drop Method is a part of it.

Books and Articles to Help You Make a Career Change

Leaving Law Behind is a free online course.

My Thrillable Hours series was created to encourage attorneys who were feeling stuck by their career choices to find the bravery to broaden their horizons. It was designed to assist with fear, job transitions, and life beyond law. I also intended to create a complete course to assist attorneys in taking the jump, but I never got around to it. Readers were requesting that I construct one, but my health kept getting in the way.

Casey and Adam have created such a course, and I’m collaborating with them to address the issue that those readers are experiencing. If you’re interested in changing careers, their “Leave Law Behind” course will guide you through the process. It will also assist you with leaving the law in a variety of ways, including working through any stumbling blocks like as limiting beliefs or self-sabotage. The course also helps students prepare for interviews and résumés, as well as interact with other job changers — all to help attorneys figure out which alternative career path is right for them.

Basically, if I am unable to assist you, I believe Adam and Casey at Leave Law Behind will.

Alternative Careers for Lawyers: Books

  • Liz Brown’s Life After Law: Finding Work You Love With Your J.D. (2013). Summary of the book: “The book” offers precise, practical, and honest guidance on alternative legal professions. Unlike other career guides, Life After Law teaches attorneys how to reinterpret their legal experience to their advantage, regardless of how long they have been in or out of practice, in order to find employment they really enjoy.”
  • The Unhappy Lawyer: A Roadmap to Finding Meaningful Work Outside of the Law, by Monica Parker (2008). Book Summary: “The Unhappy Lawyer will help you uncover exciting alternative careers with a unique step-by-step program that will make you feel like you have your very own career coach. With chapters containing real letters from lawyers who are desperate to leave the practice of law, tales from lawyers who have shut the door on their legal careers, and powerful exercises.”
  • Adele Barlow’s Leaving Law: How Others Did It and How You Can Too (2015. It’s worth noting that I worked with Adele at Escape the City). “This is the ideal companion for attorneys who wish to leave their profession but are wary of career counselors,” says the author. It’s based on years of experience with hundreds of perplexed attorneys at Escape the City, a community of driven corporate professionals looking for a fresh start.”
  • The National Association of Law Placement’s Official Guide to Legal Specialties (Career Guides) (2008). Summary of the Book: “An inside look at what it’s like to practice law in 30 key areas, including appellate practice, entertainment, immigration, international, tax, and telecommunications,” according to the book. This book provides you with the perspectives and skills of top practitioners—the problems they face on a daily basis, the people and customers they deal with, what they like about their jobs, and what courses or work experience you’ll need to follow in their footsteps.”
  • Jasper Kim’s 24 Hours with 24 Lawyers: Profiles of Traditional and Non-Traditional Careers (2011). “This book offers you an exclusive “all-access pass” into the personal and professional lives of twenty-four law school graduates in real time. Each of these working individuals gives you a “profile” of a typical twenty-four-hour day in their conventional and non-traditional jobs.”
  • What color is your parachutist’s parachutist’s parachutist’s parachut Richard N. Bolles’ A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers (2017) Updated recently; Because this is the world’s most popular job-search book, it is included in this section rather than above.
  • A Practical Guide to Authentic Professional Satisfaction for the Creative Lawyer Michael F. Melcher’s paperback (2007). “Beginning with self-examination, readers will be able to evaluate their own beliefs and then develop their own personal fulfillment plan,” according to the book’s summary. With this essential book, you can create a step-by-step strategy for your life and work that will bring you back on track with your own definition of happiness.”
  • Larry Richard’s latest book, “What Can You Do With a Law Degree?” (2012). This book is priced more than other textbooks. “This book includes career activities, practical job-finding methods, and a compendium of 800+ ways to utilize your legal degree within, outside, and around the law,” according to the book’s summary.
  • Amy Impellizzeri’s book Lawyer, Interrupted: Successfully Transitioning from the Practice of Law–and Back Again (2015). “This book addresses both the practical and ethical issues for attorneys taking a break in service for a range of (voluntary and involuntary) reasons, including brief leaves of absence, family obligations, career changes, disciplinary actions, and retirement,” according to Amazon.
  • I decided to include Brian Cuban’s The Addicted Lawyer because of the high prevalence of addiction and despair in the legal profession (see Vice Mag’s anonymous article here).

Books on Changing Careers and Developing Creativity

  • The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield. I’ve found creativity and fear are two sides of a very similar, shiny coin. This book helps you get more comfortable with that gnawing fear of impending change, because (as Pressfield argues) that fear is actually a very good sign — it tells us what comes next. The more scared we are of what we are excited about work-wise, the more we need to give it a shot. Instead of being held back by that deep, powerful resistance, Pressfield tells us to face it head on.
  • Gary Keller and Jay Papasan’s book The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. I’m adding this one because attorneys have a natural, taught inclination to concentrate on the big picture issues or roadblocks – after all, that’s what we’re paid to do. However, at times of transition, you must reframe with a tighter focus in order to avoid drowning in worry. The idea is simple: in a world filled with a bewildering array of choices and diversions, those who can concentrate will attain unprecedented significance and depth.
  • Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’ book Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. The book’s concept is simple: when we get stuck in situations that seem intractable, we must redefine our connection with them and start again. The book equips you with the skills you need to do so, as well as strategies for creating a life that is both satisfying and meaningful, regardless of our diverse origins. While one’s own attitude is most important, I found the book helpful in giving practical methods to reconsider major issues such as “what is the life I want to live?”
  • Sara Bliss’ book Take the Leap: Change Your Career, Change Your Life. Case studies of individuals who have changed careers in unusual ways and transformed their lives as a result. The interviews are fascinating, and the advice from entrepreneurs, authors, artists, sportsmen, and more is inspirational. They aren’t all attorneys – there is one lawyer who moved from billable hours to surf teaching – but the knowledge from entrepreneurs, writers, artists, athletes, and more is inspiring.
  • Jenny Blake’s Pivot: The Only Move You Can Make Next. As the title suggests, this book is all about pivoting, a startup phrase that may also refer to altering our life. Blake, a public speaker and career counselor, combines her tips for taking modest steps in new directions while also changing objectives and professions. It’s both practical and fascinating.
  • Emilie Wapnick’s book How to Be Everything. I was informed that having a diverse range of hobbies, projects, and interests “makes you an all-around gymnast — not a gold medal winner.” The limited experience hypothesis, according to Wapnick, who studied law at McGill University, is obsolete. Instead, she encourages individuals who have a variety of creative interests (what she refers to as “multipotentialites”) to use their diversity and enthusiasm as a strength. The book shows you how to create a life you enjoy, not because you ‘follow your passion,’ but because you discover who you really are, allowing you to find significance in any job you perform.
  • Design the Life You Love: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Meaningful Future, by Ayse Birsel, has a touch of spirituality woven throughout. It’s an interactive diary, therefore it may not be suitable for everyone of my readers! However, if doodling and listicles help you think more clearly, this may be a wonderful place to start when it comes to making the changes you want to make.
  • Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear is a must-read. Some may argue that this book belongs somewhere else, but I think that entrepreneurs and changemakers need to be creative, and this book speaks directly to creative endeavors in a linear society.
  • Linchpin, by Seth Godin, is about making oneself essential in the creation of new companies and products, and Purple Cow, by Seth Godin, is about changing your company to make it exceptional. “Your art is what you do when no one can tell you precisely how to do it,” says Linchpin. Taking personal responsibility, challenging the current quo, and influencing others is your art.”

Please check here for additional books and information on entrepreneurship and location independent employment.

Fear and Resilience-Related Blog Posts

(For those who aren’t looking for a shift right now, Associate Mind has a lengthy list of online resources for new attorneys, including books, essays, and more, as well as Hastings College of Law’s magazine New Models of Legal Practice.)

Articles and Resources to Help You Find an Alternative Law Job

There are a few more websites on the internet that offer information for attorneys looking to change careers:

Former Lawyers’ Case Studies

I found reading case studies and information from previous attorneys very useful before quitting my work as a lawyer. This not only boosted my confidence, but it also showed me how many others had taken the risk and succeeded. It’s a scary idea in a field where you’re told that flat wages and billing units are the norm. When you’re tired and everyone else is focused on the prize they want: collaboration, it’s a lot tougher to conceive of anything new. Making a relationship, however, is not for everyone. It wasn’t for me, and it certainly wasn’t for those below. Hopefully, these former attorneys provide you with additional inspiration and ways to think about your life and what it might contain in a new light. 

Alternative-Careers-for-Lawyers-How-to-Take-the-LeapCheck out the case studies below!

I hope you’ve found this series useful. I’m sure I’ve learned a lot from the interviews, and I’m excited to keep interviewing and highlighting these intelligent and fascinating individuals.

Lawyers are a very powerful group—every day they are able to make decisions that can affect the lives of other people, and the livelihoods of their firms, for decades to come. But, once they’ve made their career choice, there’s no telling where that path may take them.. Read more about alternative careers for law graduates and let us know what you think.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What else can I do as a lawyer?

There are many careers that a lawyer can pursue. Some of them include being an attorney, judge, or law professor.

What can a lawyer do besides practice law?

A lawyer can help you with many different things, including but not limited to: -Drafting contracts -Advising on your rights and obligations in a contract -Helping you with legal matters

How do I transition out of being a lawyer?

It is difficult to say what you will do after leaving the profession. You may be able to find a job in another field, or you may want to try something new.

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This article broadly covered the following related topics:

  • alternative careers for lawyers
  • second careers for lawyers
  • alternative careers for lawyers australia
  • jobs for lawyers who don’t want to be lawyers
  • alternative careers for lawyers uk
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