Non-Attorney Legal Careers: The Crossroads of Changing Jobs

There are a myriad of reasons why attorneys seek career changes, but one of the leading reasons cited by attorneys is that practicing law is not what they expected it to be. Despite the glamorous portrayals of lawyers in various films and television shows, relatively few attorneys will ever stand in front of a jury, and fewer still will try cases of national importance. Long hours, extensive research and writing, and the constant need to bill hours are much more the norm for the average attorney.

Most graduating law students join private law firms, despite the high number of students who cite public service as a strong interest. A report published by the American Bar Association (ABA) revealed that "law school debt prevented 66 percent of student respondents from considering a public interest or government job." The report notes that between 1992 and 2002, the cost of living rose 28 percent, while the cost of law school tuition in the same time period rose 134 percent.

At the same time that tuition and cost of living have risen, salaries for public service positions have not. A 2002 study by the National Association of Legal Career Professionals (NALP) shows that a majority of public interest and state government attorneys have a starting salary of less than $34,000 a year. The median salary for first-year associates at private firms is $100,000. Only a quarter of law school graduates enter the public sector every year.

With career hopping becoming the rule rather than the exception in the last 20 years, an entire industry revolving around career changes has sprung up. Consultants, books, tapes, websites, seminars, and even college classes are available to help erstwhile job seekers in finding the perfect jobs—or at least the perfect jobs for the time being.

Most career experts urge people to first ask themselves why they want a different career and what kind of new career they would like. Some of the more common questions attorneys are encouraged to ask are:

* What don't I like about my current career?
* What benefits do I most want to receive from my work?
* What kinds of settings do I work in most comfortably?
* What kinds of people do I work with best?
* What personal values need to be expressed in my work?
* What are my realistic immediate and long-term compensation needs and wants?
* What value can I bring to a potential employer?
* Do I feel pressured to switch to a certain kind of career?
* What effect will my choices have on others—spouse, family, children, and friends?

People who feel that they need help finding new positions outside of the law will discover numerous other former attorneys who have made careers out of consulting other unhappy lawyers. A query on any Internet search engine will produce a list of hundreds of firms aimed at helping legal professionals find new careers.

It is common for lawyers to choose careers that go far a field from the law, and many find that their experience practicing law has provided them with a number of marketable abilities. The strong writing skills necessary for attorneys serve them well in a variety of areas, such as journalism, publishing, and research. The persuasiveness at the foundation of building a case lends itself well to sales, self-help, entrepreneurship, and consulting. Because communication is a key part of attorney-client relationships, management, counseling, and teaching are also frequent choices for former attorneys.

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