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How to get that (non-legal) hiring manager to take us seriously

 February 15, 2015

By  Casey Berman

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One major theme in the feedback from the last post on Leave Law Behind is a sense of loss and confusion of how to even get started in leaving the law.

This is mainly because some  of us have already tried to leave law. And it didn’t go well.

 

Some real life hurdles we face when we try to leave the law

We have sent out resumes to non-legal jobs … we have even scored an interview for some roles … but the hiring manager didn’t like us … or thought we would want too high a salary … or thought we only had legal experience, and not enough business experience … or they didn’t know how to view our skills … or we didn’t really know how to pitch ourselves … or we just lacked confidence throughout it all and it showed …

And we are frustrated. These hiring managers didn’t appreciate how well known our law firm was. They didn’t seem to care how highly ranked our law school was. They didn’t know how hard it was to make law review. They didn’t realize how difficult it is to do patent prosecution or how great of a licensing lawyer we are or how well we can litigate.

In short, they didn’t seem to care. They didn’t seem to like us. All of our credentials and accomplishments and hard work didn’t seem to mean anything to them.

And you know what? That might very well be the case.

 

How to get the outside world to understand the value we lawyers can bring

The outside world may have respect for lawyers, but it’s often done from a distance.

In reality, they don’t understand us. They know what we do but – besides what they see on TV – let’s face it, they don’t really know what we do.

How do we cross this bridge? How do we show “them” (all of those hiring managers and decision makers and bosses in the non legal world) how good we really are?

There are two ways to cross this bridge, to show them clearly the skills we have: first, we must speak in their language, and second, we must show how we can add value.

 

Speaking in their (non-legal) language

When it comes to speaking in their language, we can’t fault a CEO or HR person or hiring manager if they don’t understand the importance of the amicus brief we wrote or how respected our BigLaw firm is or how important that summary judgment was that we won. It’s not the language they speak.

They speak in a certain language of their industry. They speak in Sales or Revenue or Cost per Acquisition or subscribers per month or earned media or Likes or Klout score or customer care call time or refunds saved.

When we apply to a non-legal job, it is incumbent upon us to understand their world. We have to do the hard work to re-tool our resume so our legal work can be positioned for this non-legal job. We have to do the hard work of understanding the requirements of this non-legal job and seeing how our skills align with their needs. We have to do the hard work of showing how we can add value, not based just on our degree, but on our transferrable experience.

We’ve all met deadlines, done presentations, upsold clients, made money, closed deals, put out fires and achieved goals.

As much as we want to tout our degree or our law school pedigree or our stature as a lawyer, we have to realize that leaving the law means abandoning a score card we are familiar with for one we’re not.

In other words: We need to translate ourselves and our skill set into a language the non-legal world can understand and appreciate and hire.

 

Solve a pain. Help. Add value.

Second, we have to show we can add value.

This seems obvious: add value to a person or boss or organization, and be paid for the value we provide.

But too often, we look for jobs because we feel we are entitled to them. Or we hate our current job so much we’ll just go anywhere. Or we want a job that sounds cool or is with a hot company or brings us a certain stature.

What we need to realize is that the main way to make a lot of money in this world and to enjoy our job at the same time is to add value.

Add value.

Many of us are scared stiff that we won’t get a non-legal job. And that paralyzes us.

To overcome this, we need to show that the skills we can bring to a position are so great and unique that the hiring manager may not have foreseen the need for such skills.

Let me say that again, in different words: We need to show the hiring manager that our skill set as a lawyer is so unique, and so valuable, and so needed, that the hiring manager didn’t even know we (or anyone) could bring such value to their organization.

But here’s where we get stuck: We feel our skills are not unique: Most smart people in the (non-legal) business world can read and write and speak and present well, right?

 

We have skills, and combinations of skills, other do not possess

Short answer is no. We short shrift ourselves when we downplay how important our skills are. We are loyal. And we spot issues that others don’t see. And we keep a calm head. And we provide good advice. And we keep things confidential. And we engender respect. And we question.

We come from law firms and other working environments where everyone can do that. We need to realize that outside of the legal environment, not just anyone can or does do this. We need to realize that our skills are in high demand.

But the other thing to realize is the value we can bring with the combination of our skills:

  • You’re good with people AND you can negotiate contracts? Have you thought of Business Development?
  • You write clearly and detailed AND you have a science background? Have you thought of Product Management?
  • You are empathetic AND have a deep background in employment law? Have you thought of a HR Manager role?
  • You are a control freak (with a fairly high level of OCD) AND are kind of a tech and gadget geek on the side? Have you thought of a Business Process Outsourcing role?
  • You can deftly manage a conversation AND make people feel comfortable in your presence? Have you thought of being a Focus Group Moderator?
  • You have a prosecutorial mindset AND you have great attention to detail? Have you thought of a Trust and Safety role?

It’s very easy for us to get down and out when we think of how the non-legal world has no sense of how much we’ve worked and how smart we are. And we’re right, they don’t know what it’s like to be a lawyer.

But that’s not their job to do so. It’s our job to show them the value we can bring in ways they haven’t even thought of yet … in translatable ways they can understand.

Ready to take BACK Control of Your Life?

Are you feeling stuck in your legal career, dreaming of a way out? At Leave Law Behind, we specialize in helping lawyers like you find fulfilling nonlaw careers that reignite your passion and restore balance to your life.
If you've practiced law for seven or more years and are considering a change, we invite you to watch our short welcome video below. Then, schedule a free call with us to see if you're the perfect fit for our transformative coaching program. Your future begins here.

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  1. non-lawyer here. I follow scam blogs because I almost went to ls years ago and find this fascinating. I now am (15 yrs later) an exec at a marketing firm.

    There is a lot of wisdom in this post because it takes an empathetic viewpoint (not “why won’t they hire me”, more “what do they need from me”.) And so I am compelled to write, clumsily on my iPad.

    My advice: completely distance yourself from law. I get resumes from ex-lawyers and cover letters that pay lip service to things like law’s training benefits including critical thinking or clear writing, as though those are either in short supply or typical of the public’s view of lawyers. And it is too easy, as a hiring manager, to view this sort of resume and connect dots–this person doesn’t really want to be here, he wanted to be a lawyer and I’ll be plan b for him and who wants to be somebody’s plan b; this person will accept this job maybe but is months away from outsized salary needs because he has a (not relevant to my company) advanced degree, etc.

    My advice: if you are serous about moving on, move on. Totally. Don’t try to explain to me how you’re actually a *better* fit for this job on account of being a (ex, aspiring, castoff) lawyer. It sounds tinny and detached from reality. Move on and take the rear view mirror off the window if you can’t stop looking at it or pointing out things in it. Just let it die (like my 2 yr stint as a waiter in my 20s that never gets spoken of or shows on a resume) and move on.

  2. @Skibbles — How do you hide a 10+ year legal career?

    For example, if you’ve been practicing law for the past 15 years (plus 3 years law school prior to that), I can’t see how you can “take the rear view mirror off the window” in order to hide an 18 year chunk of your life. Somehow, the legal career will come up.

    Frankly, you MUST bring up your legal background, and put it in context of the job you are applying for.

    Otherwise, your only other options are (1) applying for entry level jobs that kids in their 20s normally take, or (2) go back to school or enter an apprenticeship of some sort.

  3. john
    My note was not meant to be broadly applicable to any lawyer with any amount of experience looking for a career change. I assume that most lawyers who have stuck with it for 10+ years are in it for the long-haul. What I do encounter quite a bit as a hiring manager are people in their mid-late 20s Who graduated law school and either immediately or shortly after practicing a few years decided it was not for them. From a practical skills point of view, they are entry level. I doubt they would agree with my assessment.

    My perspective is specifically geared towards early-stage attorneys who never really got their legal career off the ground. Those are folks who, in my very humble estimation, are doing themselves a disservice trying to imply, sometimes subtly and sometimes not, that a person with a legal background doing this job brings special useful economic perspective. It is a tough argument to make, and vaguely condescending for the recipient of the message. My advice above is to disabuse oneself of that notion quickly. It does not go over as well as you would think.

    To someone with 15 years in the game, well… I have nothing to say. I imagine that is as difficult as a tenured computer programmer trying to break into finance. That is not a challenge unique to the law.

  4. john
    My note was not meant to be broadly applicable to any lawyer with any amount of experience looking for a career change. I assume that most lawyers who have stuck with it for 10+ years are in it for the long-haul. What I do encounter quite a bit as a hiring manager are people in their mid-late 20s Who graduated law school and either immediately or shortly after practicing a few years decided it was not for them. From a practical skills point of view, they are entry level. I doubt they would agree with my assessment.

    My perspective is specifically geared towards early-stage attorneys who never really got their legal career off the ground. Those are folks who, in my very humble estimation, are doing themselves a disservice trying to imply, sometimes subtly and sometimes not, that a person with a legal background doing this job brings special useful economic perspective. It is a tough argument to make, and vaguely condescending for the recipient of the message. My advice above is to disabuse oneself of that notion quickly. It does not go over as well as you would think.

    To someone with 15 years in the game, well… I have nothing to say. I imagine that is as difficult as a tenured computer programmer trying to break into finance. That is not a challenge unique to the law.

  5. Your advice does make sense for young attorneys who weren’t practicing for too long, if at all.

    However, I can assure you that an attorney of 15+ years experience is not necessarily in it for the long haul, and these days it’s becoming more and more common for “senior” attorneys to get out.

    This is especially true for those attorneys who did not make partner, and either (1) do NOT have a portable book of business, or (2) cannot find a job in-house. The market is super-saturated with JDs, and frankly the degree is rather worthless these days.

  6. I think the environment now is different than 15 years ago. Even 5 years ago, everything really changed.

    Nowadays, even experienced candidates in that field frequently apply to and take entry level positions with entry level wages. That’s what happens when everything is so saturated.

    The JD as “overqualified” is a nicer way of employers saying “We just don’t want you” because they’ll take the truly “overqualified” experienced employees for those low level roles happily.

    Most young attorneys, and by young I’d say anyone under 35/less than 10 years experience really, would gladly leave law but it’s easier said than done. The usual point even in good economies was about 5 years. So leaving law is not a new phenomena, it’s just with a bad economy it’s just much harder.

  7. @Skibbles- Do you have any advice for young lawyers looking for entry level positions and how to get a foot in the door with no experience? I am now trying to completely change career paths and have no qualms about leaving my JD education in the dust. However, it’s hard to even get an entry-level position these days. I’m very disheartened with my future.

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