The 12 Top Non-Legal Careers for Lawyers Who Do Not Want to Be Lawyers
by David Dorion
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Summary: Some lawyers don’t like practicing law. For them, here are 12 alternative careers to practicing in the legal arena.
For some lawyers, the practice of law simply isn’t to their liking.
These lawyers may feel there are more beneficial routes they can take with their law degree other than practicing law.
Moreover, they are correct: there are many non-legal avenues an attorney can take that can lead to as great if not greater success than law practice.
This article explains why so many non-legal businesses find attorneys as attractive additions to their high-level workforces.
Top 12 Non-Legal Careers for Lawyers
Chief Operating Officer (COO)
Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
Vice President of Business Development
Lawyers as Enigmas
If you were to go to online and look up the definition of “lawyer,” you will more than likely get the patent description of someone who practices law. Case in point, this definition from the American Bar Association: A lawyer (also called an attorney, counsel, or counselor) is a licensed professional who advises and represents others in legal matters.
A spine-tingling endorsement for the legal profession, is this not? It is the sort of explanation that’ll make anyone take out a second on his or her home, or blow apart their 401(k) and spend it on a law degree, correct?
If a person truly wants to know what the definition of a lawyer is, they should look up the meaning of the word “enigma.” Case in point: Enigma – a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.
Now that is an intriguing, nearly foreboding definition that perfectly fits a lawyer, simply because lawyers are enigmas. There truly is nothing else in the world like a lawyer. They deduct and analyze much differently than the usual Joe on the street. They are, for the most part, highly intelligent beings who have been trained from a very early age to think on a level many others in society simply can’t approach.
Lawyers, for better or worse are:
Thick-skinned (at least the lawyers who endure their profession and firm are “thick-skinned”)
Often mad (as in angry)
Mad when they are not mad (as in insane)
Are these qualities good for the profession of law? You bet they are. That is because these qualities make up successful law cases. A lawyer simply can’t be called a good lawyer without a quill’s fill of the above attributes.
The above attributes also make a lawyer quite difficult to pin down or pigeonhole. Many professional destinations can come out of these listed attributes.
Artist (of many genres)
In a sense, yes, there is a profession called “lawyer,” and sure, they write briefs, study cases, litigate and at days end, turn in their billing. However, the fact is those who do this, and only this might be doing them a personal disservice. They may believe that as lawyers, the only open door is the door to a law firm or courtroom. They have never considered non-legal jobs for lawyers.
In short, a good number of lawyers might truly be short-changing their abilities by thinking their law degree entitles them to only being lawyers and nothing else, nothing more – which ironically can be a true waste of a law degree.
While one usually hears of law school as a sour sort of torture akin to military training, the true beauty of law school is that it trains a person to think differently. Law school instructs us that there must be logic, or, if something is illogical, there has to be a logical reason as to why it is illogical.
In other words, lawyers take innovative pathways to a conclusion that many industries outside of law find extremely attractive. Lawyers, in a sense, are purposefully built to think out of the box, which is a huge advantage of your usual ho-hum business or communications school graduate whose career is guided by rails figuratively similar to what guides freight and passenger trains.
Conversely, the lawyer is a race car driver. He or she has to be creative to arrive at the checkered flag and the big prize at the race’s conclusion. As opposed to just being “on track,” lawyers go a step further; they figuratively understand corners, apexes, left-foot braking, rev matching and a whole host of other techniques to come to a successful drive’s end to their business ventures.
Race car driver/non-practicing associate + innovative thinking + road course = Higher level of success, CEO, CFO, CIO potential, high wealth potential depending on the industry.
While many think of law as a winner-take-all occupation, which it indeed is, it is also a winner considers all profession, in which all options are on the table, including the option to not practice law at all.
Simply put, some lawyers are better served by not practicing law at all. Their intelligence, analytical aptitude and ability to communicate are characteristics that go far beyond the courtroom.
Given that, similar formulas can apply to legal associates, particularly those who stay in law:
Race car driver/non-practicing associate + road course = Higher level of success, greater job satisfaction, CEO, CFO, CIO potential, high wealth potential depending on the industry.
While subjective, these formulas suggest that associate attorneys who stay within the practice of law may have reasonably successful futures. However, the non-practicing lawyer who is asked to utilize his or her skills in a non-legal environment has the potential to be extremely successful contingent on what the business is these attorneys are in and whether or not it is accepted by the public. This is the reason for what has been an uptick in alternative legal jobs for lawyers.
We now know most attorneys have abilities and characteristics that can be utilized far beyond law firms and courtrooms. In that same vein, there are many non-legal businesses and professions which require someone with a strong legal mind. The following lists what those jobs are and why they would be a good fit for attorneys.
HR Director/Manager: Human resources managers (HR) maintain a company’s workforce. They are the lead point in hiring and assimilating new employees into a business entity, regularly updating employment rules and regulations for company-wide compliance, evaluating employee relations, and upholding the company’s resources, policies, programs, and practices. The position involves assessing new hires and employees and being able to read people. A successful human resources manager has strong organizational skills, is equipped to meet deadlines, and pays close attention to detail. The advantage a company has by having an HR manager with a legal background is they understand legal compliance, communicate well, and may be able to offer advice and tactics if the company faces legal action by an ex or current employee. Such a person can even represent the company at hearings. Other law-related facets that can come in handy for a human resource manager with a legal background are good people skills and a strong level of empathy.
Chief Operating Officer (COO): The chief operating officer, for all intents and purposes, runs the company. They know every aspect of what the company does, as well as understand the company’s role in an industry and its internal culture. The COO influences a company’s aspects such as sales, human resources and issues of finance and law. The COO also ensures that a business has the proper operational controls, administrative and reporting procedures.
Lawyers, by nature, are entrepreneurial and innovative, which can help grow the organization as well as strengthen the company toward financial efficiency.
Beyond being entrepreneurial and innovative, leadership skills are often something an attorney already has, which in the case of a COO is instrumental throughout a company’s departments.
Internal Recruiter: Attorneys can recognize a company’s culture in a very short amount of time, which makes them a good fit as a business’ recruiter. Recruiters, like HR managers, recruit and evaluate job candidates and advise hiring managers on courses of actions to take. Recruiters make certain a company’s recruiting process, and requirements are up to date logistically and legally.
Lawyers with a history putting together deals, negotiations and an overall understanding of people and employment law can be beneficial.
Chief Financial Officer (CFO): The CFO’s main mandate is to develop and maintain the financial well-being of the company. The CFO’s team provides financial projections and accounting services to enable the company to make informed and strategic decisions. In smaller companies, the CFO oversees many administrative functions, like Legal, HR, and Administration.
Attorneys who understand estate and financial law can make use of this position in that their background enables them to preserve a business’s current state, while also forecasting its future financial state through the attorney’s broad view. Being skeptical – another law-related trait in attorneys – can protect a company from radical (and risky) financial endeavors.
Vice President of Business Development: A company has to develop and redevelop itself. Doing this helps a company build up its market position by identifying, developing, defining, negotiating, and closing business deals, relationships, partnerships and other opportunities.
Proactive and innovative attorneys can be a very good fit for high-level business development positions. An attorney’s imagination, particularly when it comes to business development, will boost opportunities and help ensure long-term objectives. This job also requires management of complex contract negotiations and working with the company’s legal counsel.
This position can also be an opportunity for an attorney who has corporate, M&A or licensing experience, and who also likes to arrange deals, interact and grow relationships with people. It is also a leadership role which melds well with attorneys who have natural leadership abilities.
Project Management: Project managers are instrumental in many types of businesses. They hold the hands of projects whose complexity need continual attention and in some cases, adjustments. The project manager accomplishes a project’s objectives by planning, evaluating and shepherding the project’s activities in which he or she is held accountable. Project managers assist with staffing and keep track of timelines, budgets, and delivery. Project managers also maintain relationships between team members and the project’s stakeholders. Many enterprises find themselves in need of accomplished project managers, including tech, consumer goods, research, engineering, and professional services as well as industries that deal in large, complex ventures.
By nature alone, attorneys are good project managers, especially once an attorney graduates law school and a law practice. In fact, law cases can take on a project-like theme in which the case needs continual attention. Project management is a great career for a well-organized attorney who enjoys monitoring his or her staff, while also pushing through a project.
More Jobs to Consider for Non-Practicing Attorneys
Just in the same way attorneys are adaptable to tasks in business environments that have very little to do with their legal training, attorneys are currently finding that their legal experience can carry them far beyond the business world as well. Check out some of these non-attorney jobs for attorneys, which have nothing to do with the practice of law, though they nonetheless have everything to do with a person being a lawyer.
Teacher/Professor/Philosopher: Another natural ability of an attorney is to teach. Attorneys are gifted orators as well as instructors who explain complex issues point by point. They know how to adjust their language to the audience they hold, whether that audience is made up of school children or college-level adults.
Writer: Law school students, as well as lawyers, can be found reading, writing or arguing. In fact, writing is such a large portion of a law career, it is no wonder that lawyers branch off into non-legal artistic writing such as fiction or poetry. Though it is not common, well-known fiction writers can make substantially more money from publishing their books, being awarded film rights and being paid residuals on the ancillary product. All one needs to consider is John Grisham and his successes.
Lawyers also make for good speech writers, in which there also can be quite a bit of monetary success. Do not forget content writing for websites. It can pay nearly as well as top-level bestselling fiction or speech writing, and can keep a person afloat, lawyers notwithstanding.
Politician: The art of communication is as embedded inside a lawyer as the color of their eyes. Communication is a huge part of a lawyer’s makeup because, after all, their job is to communicate. Communication, of course, is part and parcel of being a politician. Understanding law and making contact with people – both of which are legal traits, translate well into politics. It is no wonder that most of the people who make up Capitol Hill were at one time practicing lawyers.
Literary/Sports/Talent Agent: It is surprising at first how many attorneys have gone to the creative and entertainment sides of our society. Literary, sports or talent advocacy has become a very natural setting for attorneys. Attorneys are, of course, excellent dealmakers as well as expert negotiators, so it makes sense that nonpracticing lawyers would be heavily involved in this profession.
News Anchor/Reporter: So much of today’s informative media depends on deductive news breakdowns and analysis from various angles. Whether the issue is internationally related, domestic or in one’s or neighborhood, the ability for attorneys to explain one or multiple news events and reduce and angle them down to motive and reason brings an unparalleled presentation of the informative media, be it on television, the radio or the internet.
POTUS: Being well-spoken, attractive, but even more alluring, intellectual, thought-provoking, analytical and in the very end, empathetic and hopeful is the stuff no one wants to grant to an attorney. However, that is okay. Who needs the credit for those traits when those traits were on display for eight years by our last great president, a Harvard Law School grad and constitutional professor, named Barack Obama? Yes, it is true; attorneys can also become presidents of the U.S.
Let’s be clear here: Most lawyers go to law school for the sole purpose of practicing law. At the same time, there are some lawyers for whom the practice of law is not to their taste. The reasons for this are:
Inability to pass the bar.
A dislike of the practice of law.
A dislike of law firm culture.
A lack of interest in the practice of law.
Ability to execute their law degree more interestingly.
Another caveat can involve finances – literally – as at least half of these jobs fail to pay as well as what associates or partners make. Sure, a lawyer/writer can make as much as John Grisham, but realistically that can take years, if not decades.
If you are a young lawyer or even a veteran lawyer who might want to utilize your degree in a non-legal position, carefully consider what that position is. Ask yourself how you can be an influencer in that position and the ramifications that you may experience from going a different route with your degree other than practicing law.
Law and the practice of law can apply not just to a wide range of professions. Law and the practice of law covers a wide range of our society. At times it seems as if law and its knowledge influence nearly everything we do. To be honest, this makes sense because we are a country of laws. In another way, the huge swath of professions that law can apply itself to demonstrates the enormous influence law has over nearly every aspect of our daily lives.
This shows the power of law, as well as the amazing adaptability of lawyers themselves.
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