No matter what stage you’re at in your career, switching to a new career as a lawyer is scary.
Maybe you’re a lawyer at a traditional legal practice who’s been toying with the idea of switching to a second career for a while, or perhaps an economic downturn is pushing you to consider an alternative career path. Nevertheless, the fear of the uncertainty ahead can be overwhelming.
Whether you’re an experienced attorney or you’re fresh out of law school, your law degree is and will always be valuable. The skills and knowledge you’ve developed from law school are applicable in many different industries and careers.
In this post, we’ll guide you through the questions and what to consider before changing careers, and alternative careers you can pursue with a law degree.
How to find an alternative career as a lawyer
If you’re thinking about leaving your career and are grappling with what lies ahead, you are not alone. As this article from The Atlantic puts it, “Law-firm associate consistently ranks at the top of unhappy-professions lists and despite starting salaries of $160,000, law firms experience significant yearly associate attrition.” But before leaving your current role, there are some critical steps to take and questions to ask yourself.
1. Consider why you want to leave your career
Before you make a firm decision to switch, you’ll need some direction about where you’re headed. Some important questions to ask yourself to guide your journey to a new legal career:
- What do you enjoy about your current legal career?
- Is there anything you dislike?
- What are your career goals?
- do you have motivations for looking for an alternative career for lawyers?
- If applicable, what’s making you unhappy in your day-to-day? What would you change if you could?
Perhaps you want more control over your time and would enjoy having more flexibility and creativity in your work. Or perhaps you’re simply looking for new challenges. We recommend recording the answers to these questions in a document so you can easily reference them later.
If you don’t have the answers to these questions, don’t worry. The most important part is thinking about these questions critically and honestly.
An important note: Be open to the possibility that you may not have to change careers. You may be able to find what you’re looking for by making some changes within your current legal career. This might be a less challenging and disruptive route to getting the career satisfaction and work-life-balance you seek. We recommend reading Designing Your Work Life by designers Bill Burnett and Dave Evans if you think this might be your situation.
2. Accept that your journey may not be straightforward
If you’ve always worked at a traditional law firm, quitting may be tough. Likely, there was little talk of alternative careers for lawyers in law school, or your current professional circles. This can make it difficult to know what to expect.
However, if it’s what you truly want, making the switch and finding a fulfilling career can be incredibly rewarding and worthwhile. But you may not get it right the first time, and even if you do, you’re likely to hit a few bumps in the road along the way.
Since lawyers tend to be perfectionists, this may not be easy to swallow. But it’s important to have a realistic view of how your search for a second career is going to unfold. This gives you the freedom to explore different options, so you can create change in your life and find more fulfilling work.
3. Look at second careers for lawyers within the legal industry
As an attorney, a career change could simply look like a different role within legal. This might be an attractive option where you could continue to leverage your skills and experience, while still staying in the same industry.
There are many related professions in the legal industry—even outside of core legal roles like lawyers, paralegals, and legal secretaries. This includes client service managers, legal recruiters, and e-discovery professionals. The world of legal technology also opens up a wide range of potential career options, which we’ll explore further below. You may also want to consider practicing law part-time as you explore a second career, until you’re ready to leave your current role.
4. Reach out to your network
Since up to 80% of jobs get filled through networking, we recommend thinking about the people within your professional and social networks.
Reach out to your network of legal and non-legal professionals when thinking about what roles to transition to. Chances are, you probably know someone in your immediate or extended network who is working in a field of work you’re interested in. You can ask them if they would be willing to introduce you to someone they know at your dream company to help you get an “in.”
5. Get professional support
We also recommend connecting with a career coach for some professional guidance on changing careers. Corporate trainer Colleen Clarke recommends that the “best way to find a professional career coach is through referral.” Look into your professional and personal networks, or join group coaching. Be sure to do your research before settling on a career coach—although they may not need to have experience in your industry, it’s important to feel comfortable and confident with your chosen coach.
Examples of alternative careers that lawyers can step into
If you’ve decided you don’t want to work at a traditional law firm anymore, here’s a list of alternative careers for lawyers.
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Entrepreneur or business owner
As an entrepreneur in the legal industry, your deep understanding of problems in the market is your advantage. If you’re a lawyer who’s constantly thinking there’s a better way to deliver legal services and provide a better client experience, starting your own business will allow you to create better solutions to meet customer needs.
Put those interview, research, and writing skills to good use—by telling great stories as a legal content marketing writer. With your understanding of the law and the pain points of lawyers, you can write quality legal content.
Some content writers choose to freelance, which is essentially owning your own business. Others work as an in-house marketing team, or at an advertising agency. Legal technology companies, law firms, and other legal-adjacent organizations may be looking for marketers with “attorney” in their work history. So don’t be shy about sharing your experience when exploring this option.
A popular alternative career for lawyers, compliance officers typically work in-house and help a company ensure it is complying with local, federal, and international regulations. Compliance Officers may also be the company’s general counsel and there are opportunities in a variety of different industries.
It’s no secret that many political leaders went to law school—in fact, 40% of the current Congress went to law school. A fundamental understanding of government and the law is essential to a career as a politician. Your in-depth analytical and problem-solving skills will be essential for a life in politics.
Of course, transitioning to a life in politics is easier said than done. One way to connect with your local political party of choice is to work on a campaign for a leading politician.
Professor or Teacher
The world of academia may be quite hierarchical. But, if you enjoy teaching, you can help shape the next generation of lawyers and law professionals. With your law degree and understanding of the legal industry, you’re in a great position to contribute to the much-needed restructuring of law schools. This article from the University of Michigan Law School outlines the steps to take to successfully join the world of legal academia.
Working with elected officials, chief executives, and senior offices, policy advisors play an important role in any organization. The role of a policy advisor is great for those with an interest in developing policies and regulations. Some duties include analyzing information to develop policies and providing recommendations.
Legal Sales Representative or Account Manager
If you’re a social person who is great at creating, maintaining, and growing relationships with others, this client-facing role would be great for you. With your legal training and experience, you’ll understand the problems of legal practitioners best. And, you will be well-equipped to help solve those problems. You might try reaching out to companies who provide services to law firms and lawyers. Then, connect with someone in their sales department to learn more about their role and responsibilities.
Not all authors write fiction novels. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to help law students succeed or impart your wisdom as an experienced lawyer to young attorneys. If you love to write, but don’t want to be a marketer, consider writing a book.
There are multiple ways to become an author—self-publishing is becoming increasingly attainable. You could also consider contacting a publisher to sell your book. Regardless of how you choose to publish, be prepared to put some work into marketing and selling your manuscript. This is key to land a publishing contract and sell your book.
Staff at a legal technology company
By joining the legal technology industry, you can help transform a world that’s filled with many opportunities identified by Clio’s 2019 Legal Trends Report—like the paradox between the demand for legal services, and the roadblocks law firms face when finding business. The exciting world of legal technology may be a great idea for you if you’ve always been interested in what the changing world of technology means for the law and how it’s practiced—and you’d like to be a part of it.
Embarking on an alternative career doesn’t have to be scary
A career change is always hard and the ability to take a financial step back varies from person to person. That’s why it’s essential to set some personal and professional goals at the beginning of your search. As you think it through, don’t rule out potential careers before doing some research into them. Not all careers require formal training. Sometimes, the best training often happens on the job.
At the same time, be open to the idea that what you seek may lie in front of you. Your legal career may still work for you, with a few changes to make for a more satisfying work life.
Remember to be kind to yourself. You may not always have the right answers. But, with determination, you’ll be able to find a career that works for you. For a boost of inspiration, read these stories about lawyers who’ve transitioned successfully to second careers and built successful second careers.
We published this blog post in May 2020. Last updated: .
Categorized in: Business