Resume Strategies for Alternative Legal Careers and How to Appear for Such Interviews

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The magic of modern technology, combined with some crafty techniques, can enable you to transform your resume into one that can cross legal lines (so to speak). You must first realize that your resume is not a passive list of the jobs you have held- it is a marketing tool.

It should not look like the application you filled out to get admitted to the bar or an employment application. Yes, you do need to be 100 percent honest. And yes, you do need titles, dates, responsibilities, etc. But the rest is up to you. As you will see, how and where you place your experience on a resume, and how you describe it, can have a profound effect on the reader. You have the power to emphasize what you want, phrasing your descriptions in language that will "grab" the interviewer's attention.

Basic Resume Rules
  • Whatever is on the top half of the page will receive more attention
  • Whatever is on the left hand side of the page will usually be read first (the eye naturally reads from left to right) so don't waste your time putting less striking information, like the dates of employment in the left hand margin
  • "Experience" sections can include volunteer experience as well as paid experience
  • Education can go on the top half of the page or the bottom half, depending on what you want to emphasize
  • There are no absolute rules-it's your resume and you have to be happy with it
Quasi-Functional Resumes

A traditional chronological resume lists all of the positions you have held in reverse-chronological order. You probably have one of these on your computer. A functional resume simply groups your experience by skills sets, without giving much employment history information. A quasi-functional resume lists your relevant skills on top, and your employment history at the bottom. This can be an effective resume technique that you can use to present your credentials to an employer in a different industry.

"You have to present yourself in a way that makes sense to a prospective employer," says Linda E. Laufer, New York-based career expert. "The employer needs to think that it makes sense, logically, that you would be applying for this position." That's where a quasi-functional resume comes in. The first thing the employer reads relates to skills or experience that would be very desirable for the job that he or she has open.

So, if you are looking for a job as a legal editor, your first paragraph would be called "Editing" or "Writing" skills, and you would extrapolate everything you have written at various jobs, at schools you have attended, or personal side projects, and group it under that heading.

Or, let's say you are a litigator who wants to become a career counselor at a law school. What skills would the dean be on the lookout for? Well, counseling skills for sure. Marketing and public relations skills, interpersonal and public speaking skills would be important too. Finally, administrative skills are needed. Once you have found out the skills required by doing your research, you would group "Marketing/Public Relations" skills and "Administrative" skills in the top section of your resume, and describe what you have achieved in these areas.

Take out your most recent "legal" resume. To convert it to a "functional" format, fill out the following outline, grouping your skills. Highlight the ones that relate to new fields you are pursuing. Include everything that you have done through work or on a volunteer basis. Do not worry about the chronology. Use bullets and action verbs to make your point.

Interviewing For an Alternative Legal Career: Overcoming Objections

When you interview for a non-legal position, you will not only be responding to the interview questions, you will be actively convincing them that they would benefit from hiring someone with a law degree. While for some positions, i.e., Legal Editing, it may be a required credential, for other positions you will be the first lawyer they have interviewed (and hopefully hired).You will be most likely overcoming their implicit, or explicit objections: Why don't you want to practice? Why would you want this job? How do I know you would be willing to take orders from me? Would you stay, or is this a temporary stop for you?

So, what do you do to allay their fears? You need to: a) Address them-you can bring up their unspoken objections yourself and give them assurances; and b) Always use positive, affirming language when answering their questions.


Interviewer: Why don't you want to practice law?

Interviewee: Wrong Response:
  • Practicing law is not as glamorous as you think it is.
  • The hours are really long!
  • There have been a lot of layoffs recently.
  • It can be boring at times.
Correct Response:
  • I have enjoyed my five years of practice with X, Y, and Z. During my time there, I developed an interest in commercial real estate and have decided to pursue a full-time career as a real estate developer.
But...what skills do you have to offer them?

Okay, so you can handle the initial objections. But what do you have to offer? In any part of the job search, from cover letters to interviews, your credo should be: "Ask not what the employer can do for you, but what you can do for the employer." So as a lawyer what can you bring to the table? Fortunately, lawyers have many skills that can be transferred to another profession. Below is a rundown of skills you probably take for granted, but that are very marketable-and very transferable to careers outside of the law:
  • Problem Solving
  • Research
  • Writing
  • Attention to Detail
  • Drafting
  • Reading the fine print
  • Working hard
  • Negotiation
  • Persuasion
  • Public Speaking
  • Listening/Counseling
  • Interviewing (both prospective clients and associates)
  • Evaluating
  • Managing/Supervising
  • Juggling multiple projects/tasks
  • Logic
  • Working well under deadline pressure
  • Strategic Thinking/Planning
  • Client Development/Rainmaking
Depending on your area of practice, some or all of these will apply to you. It's a good idea to point these skills out to the interviewer, by way of examples from your past work (trial work, discovery, deals, etc.), and then relate them to the position for which you are interviewing.

Using Industry Buzz Words in Interviews

Finally, once you have overcome the interviewer's initial wariness and highlighted your transferable skills, you need to "talk the talk" of the new industry you are in. Not in it yet? Well, act as if you were already in the club, and use the language, or industry "buzz words" that your interviewer recognizes. As legal career expert, Linda E. Laufer says, "You have to get it ("the character, or the new career") in your bones...You have to be able to envision yourself in the position first before others can effectively view you in it."You will have learned industry buzz words from your previous research and networking meetings. You should also refer back to the index cards you completed in Self-Assessment Exercise # 4 from the classified ads for industry terms and phrases.

Example: What if you wanted to become an entertainment industry scriptwriter, like the lawyer who became the head writer for L.A. Law in the 1980s? Well, if you were out on the coast interviewing, you would not want to be talking depositions and briefs. You would want to be talking loglines, treatments, and "high concept."
Once you have mastered basic industry terminology in this, or any other field with confidence, your job interviews will start to flow more naturally. Having convinced the interviewer of your fluency and grasp of the industry, you will make a better candidate for any open position.

See the following articles for more information:

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