One of the inescapable facts of any career decision is that it will have both its pros and its cons. Since your needs, interests and abilities will not be a duplication of those of another person, it is vitally important that you give careful consideration to all the factors that might bear upon the success of your final decision.
There are four positive factors which you will certainly want to consider.
First, you may already find the business environment interesting and challenging. Already this may be the single biggest plus in your decision on a non-legal business management career.
Second, the sheer number of possibilities open to you, plus the evidence that these numbers can be expected to increase in the future suggest there is considerable opportunity here. As you have undoubtedly noted, companies of all sizes and all types of activities share certain common operational functions in which legally trained persons can be an asset. By considering all corporations as potential employers, rather than just those with legal departments, you automatically increase your opportunities ten-fold.
Third, you will find the skills that you acquire in non-legal positions can be far more easily transferred to new geographic areas than is possible for practicing lawyers for whom bar admission requirements provide an inhibiting factor to easy relocation.
If you wish to confine your job search now to a specific geographic area, obviously the increase in the total number of possibilities works to your advantage. As you look to the future, however, geographic flexibility may be important to meet your personal plans and needs.
The fourth possible plus is even more difficult to assess simply because it involves looking into the future and deciding on your needs and desires and then balancing them against possible future developments within the legal profession.
At the very outset comes the decision as to whether you wish to be admitted to the bar. In most non-legal positions, as you have undoubtedly noted, such admission is not essential to the full utilization of skills you have already acquired from law school training. On the other hand, admission might be important for future promotion because of additional functions you might perform. Quite obviously, there is no pat answer to this question, nor is there likely to be one in the foreseeable future.
The answer to this admission question will not only lie within the business community itself and your hoped-for development within that community, but it may be affected as well by future developments within the legal profession. Already there is experimentation with the certification of specialists and re-certification based upon experience and the completion of continuing legal education courses to qualify for practice. How might these impact on your business management career if you are not involved in the actual practice of law? Indeed, the day may come when your initial admission to the bar does not automatically confer the title "lawyer" for all time to come.
These concerns also bring us to the single and most important negative concern that must be considered - that it will be virtually impossible after a few years to second guess your decision on a business management career as opposed to a legal career. The reason is essentially an economic one.
To see why this is so, consider a hypothetical situation. You enter the traffic department of a corporation in a management trainee position. At the same time another graduate of your class enters the legal department of the same company. You will be provided highly specialized training in traffic department procedures, problems and policies. As your experience grows you will receive greater responsibilities and you will probably be using your legal training to enhance your job performance. As your effectiveness increases with knowledge and experience, you will be receiving merit increases of salary.
At the same time your contemporary in the legal department will also be receiving specialized training in lawyer practice skills. Again, the company will expect that as his or her knowledge and experience increase, advances in income will result. At the end of five years each of you will essentially be specialists, you in the traffic area and your fellow graduate in the legal practice area. Both of you are performing much needed services for the organization.
At that point suppose the two of you were to exchange positions. You would be the neophyte lawyer and your fellow student the novice traffic specialist. It simply would not make economic sense for the company to continue to pay either of you at the higher salary level you had achieved when the skills acquired in the previous position could not be fully utilized in the new one. From your point of view the question would simply be, "Can I afford to start over again at a beginner's salary?"
All this is not to say that lawyers in non-legal positions never move into the legal practice area, only that it is extremely difficult to do so and, thus, seldom occurs.
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Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
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