Real-Life Alternative Careers for Lawyers

Of course, no section on research would be complete days without information on the Internet. Even the most old law firms are developing their own websites and posting lateral job opportunities on the Internet. Legal recruiters, in particular, have also been utilizing the Internet to find candidates. A lot of quasi-legal positions that might interest you are posted online now by legal recruiters, government agencies, corporations, and just about any other employer. Check out some of the following listings for cyber-legal career information.


Once you have completed self-assessment, and you have done your research, you are ready to set up networking meetings. The purpose of networking is to: a) gain advice and information; b) find out how you can better position yourself to get a job; and c) meet more people.

If you are a networking skeptic, you will be surprised how well this actually works. In fact, it is-statistically speaking- the best-known method for obtaining a real job. This is especially true when you are switching fields, since it may be harder to get a foot in the door with your resume alone. Although there are many ways to conduct a networking meeting, the easiest way to approach someone is to write them a short letter (do not enclose your resume) and then follow it up with a phone call. That way, they have some frame of reference for the reason you are calling. People will almost always be responsive as long as you are just asking for information and advice, not a job. Of course, they will remember you if a real job does come along- this happens more frequently than you may think.
  • Alumni directories of your law school and undergraduate school
  • Association lists (see list in this chapter)
  • Newsletters/publications in the field
  • Your friends, friends of friends, relatives, relatives of relatives, doctors, dentists, dry cleaners...ask everyone you know.
Offer to buy them a cup of coffee or lunch (it never hurts to build up goodwill!). What to talk about? Ask them questions about themselves and how they got to where they are now. You'11 be surprised to see your fifteen-minute meeting turn into a half-hour or more. During your appointment you may want to address:
  • Career:
  • their background
  • how their interest developed in this area
  • what they like best/least about the work
  • career steps" (what former jobs they held, what they learned from each, how they progressed from one job to the next); if a former practicing lawyer, how the transition was made
  • Advantages and disadvantages of work
  • this field in different types of organizations (i.e., public sector, private sector, large, small)
  • this field in different parts of the country
  • What the organization is like and how it operates:
  • who they supervise, and report to
  • performance expectations
  • advancement opportunities
  • future growth potential/salary information (be diplomatic-ask for general information)
  • What organizations such as theirs are looking for in an
  • employee.
  • What you could do to make yourself more attractive as a potential employee including:
  • suggestions on upgrading your resume
  • suggestions on interviewing techniques
  • suggestions for additional educational and experiential qualifications you might pursue
  • suggestions on where to go to find more information
  • names of others in the field with whom you could speak
  • Do they know of any specific publications or job newsletters that contain job openings you should consider?

One of the best ways for you to network your way into a field other than law is to become a member of that field's association. This enables you to meet all of the key people in the field in a collegial, non-threatening environment. The following is a list of major associations in fields you may want to enter. It will also give you an idea of how many associations exist for every field.


Whether for two weeks or six months, whether paid or unpaid, you have decided that you need to do this. Hopefully, you have been able to arrange it without alienating your employer and your family. You are nervous but excited. Fortunately, you are not the first person to decide to do this. What follows is a resource list of organizations people have used to get partial funding, and stories of real-life lawyers who have actually taken sabbaticals. Some are still lawyers, and others have left the profession.

Although some of the following organizations were started primarily to help college students find financial aid or nonprofits find funding, they also help individuals and are an often overlooked source of actually providing some income for your time away.

What to Do on Your Sabbatical

Here are some ideas to get you started, based on what other attorneys have done with their time off:
  • Volunteer
  • Travel
  • Write
  • Do an internship
  • Have an outdoors adventure
  • Study a language abroad
  • Work on a political campaign
  • Do community service or pro bono work
  • Do something artistic
  • Pursue whatever you really liked to do before you went to law school

Debevoise, a large, prestigious firm based in New York, is one of the only firms that has a standardized sabbatical policy. It is only available to partners. However, among the partnership, it has been very well utilized since its inception in 1981. Partner sabbaticals often include travel and/or learning a foreign language in the country in which it is spoken. The sabbatical can be taken once during the partner's career, lasts from four to six months, and is paid up to four months. There is no requirement that the sabbatical be used in any particular way; however, there is an application requirement and a committee that oversees the process to insure the sabbaticals are staggered properly.

Presiding Partner Barry Bryan took his to spend time at his home on Fisher's Island. Lawyer/writer/partner Louis Begley, Jr. took his sabbatical to write his award-winning novel, Wartime Lies. Partner Barbara Robinson used her time to become an apprentice in a well-known English garden. Both the partners and the firm's clients have found a way to make the sabbatical policy workable."We are happy with the program," said presiding partner Bryan. "The anticipated disruption gets absorbed quite well, and the clients are very supportive in general." A concerted effort on the part of the firm to do a lot of advance planning is a key to its success.

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