Pro bono (volunteer legal) work offers you a chance to explore a new area without making any drastic decisions. For example, if you feel that moving into a different practice area could make you happier, pro bono work is a good way to try it out before committing. Also, it is an opportunity to get experience in another field and thus more ammunition for your resume.
Even though you are doing the work for nonprofit organizations, it does not mean that you cannot use it to gain experience in a practice area, such as matrimonial law or real estate, which is practiced in the private sector. If, for example, you have an interest in moving from commercial litigation to family law, there are many opportunities to become trained in and execute no-contest divorces for people who cannot afford a lawyer. Now, you have some experience in divorce law on your resume plus you have met people in the field of family law to network with. (Not to mention the good deed you have done).
If instead you want to try a career move from the private to the public sector, you should know that public sector lawyers report among the greatest levels of satisfaction within the practice of law. You may find that you are much happier in the nonprofit end of law where you: (1) can help "real live" people, instead of corporations; (2) have a high level of responsibility and client interaction; and (3) work in an environment that may be less stuffy than a law firm.
You may also discover that getting involved in pro bono work while remaining a full-time, practicing lawyer may make you feel much better about your life right away. Then, as you gain more pro bono experience, you can decide if you want to move into it as a full-time venture. If you are one of those people who went to law school to "do good," and feel that the practice of law has left you feeling empty inside, you may be very happy in the nonprofit world.
Performing pro bono work on a part-time, volunteer basis, in order to get into the field full-time, is a very effective method of demonstrating a commitment to the field and making contacts in that field. The single most often cited factor for nonprofit employers in making hiring decisions is "a demonstrated commitment" to nonprofit work. The field also operates primarily on contacts, not public advertisements for positions.
You can sign up for pro bono work through the American Bar Association (ABA), or your state or local bar association program.
You should also know about the National Lawyers Guild if you are considering a move to the public sector. It is the nation's largest and oldest public-interest law organization, with chapters all over the country. The organization is involved in promoting social change through legal forums, publications, and committee work. It is also an excellent way to meet people and to network.
State and local bar associations also have extensive pro bono directories, containing information about opportunities offered through their own organization and opportunities offered through area organizations, such as the Public Defender.
Furthering Your Education: Switching Gears
Like pro bono work, enhancing your academic credentials is a good way to experiment with another field and to build your resume. More schoolwork? After all of those years of law school, plus the bar exam? No, there is no need for you go to medical school or obtain a Ph.D. There are some short, easy ways to credential yourself in another field.
For example, many attorneys want to transition out of law into business. As a substitute for business experience, they take some courses and add them to their resume. Many MBAs offer certificate programs, where you can take fewer courses and qualify for a certificate in one, specific area of business. Continuing Education courses offered through major universities also have certificate programs.
One litigation attorney took a real estate management course from NYU. He liked it, got to know his professor, and later became a real estate attorney. Another lawyer working for the federal government took a magazine editorial course and shortly thereafter started working at a magazine, through meeting a guest speaker at the course. She is now a magazine editor.
So, not only do you get some course credits, but you get to meet professors and classmates, who are already in the field in which you are interested. Now you have networking opportunities in addition to knowledge. You might find out about associations you can join or newsletters in that field that contain job listings. You also have demonstrated a serious interest in the new field to future employers. You have indicated your commitment and your willingness to learn, and you are more likely to get an interview and get hired.
You can use this method either to switch gears within the law (litigator to real estate attorney), or to leave law entirely (real estate attorney to commercial real estate broker). It's a good first step out of whatever field/specialty you are stuck in right now. CLE (continuing legal education) courses offered by bar associations nationwide are obviously a good route to go as well if your first goal is to switch specialty areas within the practice of law.
Other Degrees Lawyers Have Sought
Sometimes people do have the desire to get a full degree. Larry Richard, profiled in this book, now has a Ph.D. in psychology. Another lawyer recently obtained a master's in social work to help her in her new career in public policy. Often, if it is a full degree, people enroll in a master's program, which usually takes two years full-time, three to five years part-time.
Below are a few suggestions for some master's programs that you may not have considered yet:
Temping As a Lawyer
- Masters in Psychology
- Masters in Education
- Masters in Journalism/Communications
- Masters in Business Administration
- Masters in Social Work
- Masters In Public Policy
- Degree programs designed for mid-career changers (i.e., Harvard's JFK School of Government mid-career program in public policy, and Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School).
In the 1990s, the formerly stuffy, conservative practice of law became revolutionized. Temporary, or "Temp" lawyers are not only accepted as a viable alternative to associates, but they are very much in demand. Lesley Friedman (profiled in this book), who started one of the first temp agencies for lawyers, saw her business mushroom in the nine years that she owned it, which spanned the mid-80s to the mid 90s. Now, temporary agencies for lawyers are popping up all over the country. Cost has been a major factor in these development-law firms, who have found it very cost effective to hire temps to handle overflow work, allowing firms to conservatively monitor permanent hiring.
What does this mean for you? Well, it can open up your options. If you have the credentials temp agencies for lawyers are looking for-good academic standing in law school, large law-firm experience, and experience in a "hot" practice area, such as patent law-you will be in demand for temp work. So, if you want to have more time and flexibility, temping may be for you. It's a great way to see if you really want to pursue another line of work, and the money is often quite good.
Even though your hours during temporary projects may be long, you can space out your assignments over the year. You will also be relieved of the pressure of rainmaking or struggling to stay on partnership track. This will give you some space to explore, and perhaps start a new career, while still being able to pay your bills. Or, you might find that the lifestyle of "permanently" temping really suits you. See the classified ads under "Attorney" or "Law" for names of temporary agencies for attorneys in your area.
Other Alternative Work Arrangements
Telecommuting is a way for an attorney to work from home and fax or modem work to the office. Telecommuting may not cut down on the number of billable hours, but it can provide other benefits for lawyers. Increased flexibility and greater access to family members, for instance. Reduced stress, no commute, and a relaxed wardrobe are other benefits. And, like in the sabbatical section above, believe it or not, it has been done by lawyers!
Moonlighting: Dual-Career Lawyers
Some lawyers decide to permanently mix the practice of law with a long-term hobby or interest. They have decided not to leave the practice of law, whether for financial reasons or because they like practicing. So they practice law by day, and are writers, dancers, musicians, and actors by night. Some, like Debevoise & Plimpton's Louis Begely, a well-known writer, end up working a twenty-hour day. Others find less time-consuming day jobs. A clinical professor at a New-York-area law school, for example, teaches by day, and has another career as an actor in television, commercials, and off-Broadway. These lawyers have reconciled law practice and their creative interests by managing to do both.
Many law firms have formal part-time work policies, but in actuality, few of their attorneys have utilized them. In the world of law firms, part-time work can mean a forty- to fifty-hour work week. However, as alternative work arrangements have become a part of the workforce, law firms have adapted to some extent. Part-timers have adapted as well. "The key is to have some flexibility," said one. "You have to be able to take calls from the client on your day off or stay late for a court arraignment," she said.
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