As many of you may know by now, Leave Law Behind was featured in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal online (WSJ subscribers can read it here, or scroll down below for the full article).
It was very exciting and gratifying to be interviewed. It also was very validating and comforting to know that a major news outlet tried to shed some light on one of the greatest challenges we lawyers looking to leave the law face: How best to turn our “legal skills” into more transferable and expansive “attractive professional skills”.
In addition to finding ways to re-position our resume, we also face the challenge of convincing others in our lives that we are unhappy with our job and life as a lawyer, and that we need a change. Many people we surround ourselves with (family, friends, work colleagues) think we have it all and admire our status as an attorney and think we’re crazy (and possibly entitled and spoiled) to even want more in life. Sometimes they get mean when we aspire for more. Other times they imply we have wasted time in law school and in practice. And some times they just don’t help out at all.
As they say, the truth at first is ridiculed, then it’s violently opposed and finally it’s accepted as being self-evident (see Copernicus). For us modern star-gazers-but-unhappy-lawyers, it is tough for many around us to accept the truth that we are unhappy with our life as an attorney and we need to change in order to be happy even though that means we will be going against the grain of all we have previously been taught to believe. But a movement is happening, a movement that you are a part of, a movement that Dennis Nishi of the Wall Street Journal has the foresight to write about. Hopefully articles like the below in the Journal will be one small step that contributes to making leaving the law no more crazy then … entering it.
How to Change Careers if You’re a Lawyer
The Skills Associated With Being a Lawyer Are Very Marketable
By DENNIS NISHI
For more than five years, Casey Berman wondered if he had chosen the right career.
After earning a law degree from the University of California Hastings College of the Law, he worked as an in-house counsel at several software firms in San Francisco, negotiating licensing deals. While Mr. Berman enjoyed the work, he was envious of his colleagues in business development who worked with clients and developed company strategy. So he decided to quit his job—and the legal profession.
Mr. Berman laid the groundwork for his career change by trimming his spending and tapping his professional network for job leads. When he resigned from his job, he negotiated a nine-month arrangement with his boss to do licensing work as a contractor. That bought him enough time to find something that he really wanted to do.
“I went to work with my dad, who was an investment banker, and started my own clothing company. I tried a lot of things to find what I was good at and what I wasn’t,” says the 39-year-old Mr. Berman, who now works happily as chief strategy officer at FileRight, a San Francisco provider of self-help immigration software. He also writes the “Leave Law Behind” blog that helps lawyers transition to new careers.
Mr. Berman tells readers of his blog that even though he no longer works as a lawyer, he still uses his law degree in other ways. “You have to get past the idea that your law degree is going to waste if you don’t practice law,” says Mr. Berman.
Despite rising job dissatisfaction among overworked lawyers who are being pushed to do more as their law firms retrench, many find it hard to leave the profession. Lawyers are trained to be risk averse, says Mr. Berman. Not only do they worry about the financial impact of leaving a career in which they’ve invested a lot of time and money, they worry about how quitting will look to family and friends. “These are all valid reasons since any career change will take time, patience and a lot of legwork,” he says. But “lawyers have to get over the idea that they are too niche and stuck in a groove.”
For lawyers considering a career switch, here are some tips:
Review your financial situation and start planning as early as possible. Consider doing consulting work on the side to get by during the transition. Most law firms have a regular need for document reviewers, for example, and pay attorneys to screen paperwork and other communication that’s relevant to working cases. Or, like Mr. Berman, you could negotiate a deal with your former employer to perform some of your old duties under contract.
Figure out what motivates you. What are you good at and how and where can you best apply those skills in rewarding ways? De-legalize your résumé by reframing your skills and experience to fit the kind of job that you want.
Lawyers have many skills that are transferable, such as being analytical, persuasive and able to manage complex projects, says Liz Brown, a former intellectual-property lawyer and author of the forthcoming book “Life After Law: Finding Work You Love With the JD That You Have.” “I know a woman who works at Dana-Farber [Cancer Institute in Boston] and analyzes research-study data,” Ms. Brown says. “She’s great at her new job because of analytical skills she developed as a litigator.”
Consider pursuing non-law jobs that are related to your legal specialty. That’s what Susannah Baruch did after graduating with a law degree from the University of Chicago. Ms. Baruch’s specialty was public-policy law. She ended up working in jobs that led to her role as policy director at several nonprofits, where she became a specialist in reproductive-health issues and genetic policy.
Get certified, trained or seek professional development that will make you more competitive for jobs in your new field. Industry mentors can offer insight into job specifics and the workplace cultures of different companies. Tap your professional and personal network for introductions. A career coach can help you form a plan of action, says Ms. Brown.
Don’t overlook volunteer opportunities that can provide invaluable international experience and job leads. Public-service organizations such as the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps allow student-loan repayment to either be postponed or partially forgiven. AmeriCorps members can also receive additional educational reimbursement.