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Journalist ponders life outside this sinking industry
April 12, 2010 11:07 PM   Subscribe

I want to be a corporate litigator. Or a government economist. Or a geophysicist. Or corporate finance guru. Or something. Please held this 32-year-old journalist explore possible second career options.

It's time for a change. I want to find a new career -- and not as a copywriter or pr flack, which would be fairly easy.

In a perfect world, I'd like to make at least $40k, adjusted up to account for new student loans I may need to take on. And in a really, really perfect world, I'd like to stay in Portland, Ore.

Here's what I like about my job:
* I'm constantly learning new things.
* I get to do a lot of research, number crunching and database querying, and to analyse and draw conclusions, and then to share what I've learned.
* I'm not tied to my desk all day. (Just most of the day.)
* I'm don't directly facilitate consumerism. (I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career.)
* I have a fair amount of autonomy in how I work.
* It's competitive.

The jobs I find myself daydreaming about seem to all share these traits. They're also held by people I've gotten to know and appreciate through my current job. But these jobs all seem to have pretty major drawbacks, too.

Corporate litigators work 80 hours a week, and competition for these positions is fierce. Geophysicists need PhDs, and I was an English major - I'd have eight-plus years of training to even get started. The folks with the best corporate finance jobs either spent a decade of ladder-climbing drudgery, or took on six-figure debt at top-ranked MBA programs. Economist gigs seem to have fewer drawbacks, though I'd at least need to get an MA/MS, and there aren't a ton of openings, from what I can tell.

How can I stop equivocating and actually start pursuing some new path? And what career options might I be overlooking? Please advise.
posted by croutonsupafreak to Work & Money (30 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
And by "held" I mean "help," of course.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:08 PM on April 12, 2010


I'll help with process of elimination.

Corporate litigator: NO. Unless you feel like sinking a couple hundred thousand dollars into an education for a job that you might never get. The legal market sucks now, and even in its heyday corporate litigators were famously overstressed and unhappy, and are both tied to their desks quite often and lack autonomy, at least for the first few years.
posted by sallybrown at 11:32 PM on April 12, 2010


I know you've said you don't want to sell anything, but let me suggest the world of video game PR. It is actually extremely rewarding and at least you're selling something fun.
posted by TimeDoctor at 11:51 PM on April 12, 2010


I really, really, really don't want to sell something. And I really, really, really, really don't want to do PR.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:19 AM on April 13, 2010


Do you care about politics? Run for public office, or work for someone who is. That'll satisfy all of your criteria except for the money,
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:31 AM on April 13, 2010


Thinktank / R&D Consulting Firm. There are some consulting companies that do R&D for hire (usually for Fortune 500 or Government). Your background would be perfect for an analyst / researcher at a company like this.

A big part of this kind of work is coming up with scenarios and stories for customers, backed by real-world information.

You could also write screenplays.
posted by zippy at 1:18 AM on April 13, 2010


Grantwriting.
posted by drlith at 4:07 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll help you stop equivocating: go buy an LSAT prep book and take a practice exam. If you get a perfect score, then you know what you need to do next. If you get a 140, you can go ahead and cross anything law related off your list and focus on your other potential pursuits instead.
posted by saladin at 4:12 AM on April 13, 2010


Can you tell us the things you don't like about your current job? It might help with the suggestions...

(as an aside, I found this an amusing question because I had three friends quit their careers -- two lawyers and one engineer -- in order to become journalists).
posted by modernnomad at 4:15 AM on April 13, 2010


I'm don't directly facilitate consumerism.

I don't know what it is that you think either corporate finance gurus or corporate litigators do, but they are absolutely integral to "facilitat[ing] consumerism."

I don't mean to be harsh here, but perhaps I am being so, anyway: if you don't know what some of these jobs are, and it doesn't seem like you do, why would you think that you'd want to do them? You seem to have an idealized conception of what some of these jobs are. That's not a way to go about exploring a career change.
posted by dfriedman at 5:34 AM on April 13, 2010


What about private investigation? Not cheating spouse PI work, but working with attorneys preparing for complex litigation. There is a West Coast tradition of the so-called "intellectual" PI - that might be a fit for you. I might suggest the book Gumshoe, by Tink Thompson; it's an entertaining overview of the profession.
posted by hazleweather at 5:56 AM on April 13, 2010


I'll help you stop equivocating: go buy an LSAT prep book and take a practice exam. If you get a perfect score, then you know what you need to do next. If you get a 140, you can go ahead and cross anything law related off your list and focus on your other potential pursuits instead.

This is absolutely incorrect. How in the name of God is doing well on the LSAT going to predict how much she enjoys or doesn't enjoy or would be good at being a corporate litigator, let alone, say, something in legislative policy analysis or any of the 10,001 law-related fields?

I have an ex-journalist friend who is now a corporate defense litigator. His characteristics are that he has a monster work ethic (and eats 80 hour work-weeks at his desk for lunch), is insanely competitive (see monster work ethic), is willing to deal incredible amounts of boring stuff and stuff nobody wants to do and shit and more shit in order to get into the thick of the action (see monster work ethic, which is by the way, despite having a wife and a newborn baby), and an enjoyment of all the consumerist trappings that his insane work schedule brings. Also, for better or worse, he is also! very! certain! about everything he does, says, or wants to say or do.
posted by joyceanmachine at 5:58 AM on April 13, 2010


dfriedman - You have a good point. I should clarify that I am not against capitalism or working in a capitalist organization. I don't want to be the one who is buying, selling or processing products.

I DO know what corporate litigators do. I've spend hours talking to a half dozen of them about their jobs. Everything about the job seems awesome ... except the hours.

Likewise, I've spent a fair amount of time talking with CFOs. Those conversations have generally been about corporate finance, not about the daily life of a CFO. I enjoy talking about corporate finance.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:55 AM on April 13, 2010


Journalists tend to do well in law school. I don't know if that translates into professional success but I don't see why not.
posted by caddis at 6:58 AM on April 13, 2010


go buy an LSAT prep book and take a practice exam. If you get a perfect score, then you know what you need to do next.

No, getting a 180 on the LSAT is not sufficient reason to go to law school.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:03 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nor is failing to get a 180 on your first practice exam (!) a good reason to doubt your ability to get into a good law school or do well in law school.

LSAT success is necessary but not sufficient for law school success. If you have multiple feasible options and only one of them involves going to law school, your presumption should be against going to law school, and that's a decision you should make without thinking much about the LSAT. If you do decide to go to law school, then you can deal with the LSAT hurdle (among many other difficult hurdles you'll be placing in your way for years to come if you go to law school).
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:08 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Audit/risk analyst at a Big 4 firm. It is all those things: data crunching, analysis, learning new things (different assignments in different industries), and not always at a desk (you have to go to the client site). Competitive of course. Pay 70+ to start. Autonomy will come as you progress.

Got a M. Accy Sc. and all my classmates are in it.
posted by chinabound at 7:42 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


View the corporate litigator path as being a very, very big long shot with big pitfalls along the way (e.g. a house's-worth of debt).
posted by craven_morhead at 8:11 AM on April 13, 2010


Audit/risk analyst at a Big 4 firm. It is all those things: data crunching, analysis, learning new things (different assignments in different industries), and not always at a desk (you have to go to the client site). Competitive of course. Pay 70+ to start. Autonomy will come as you progress.

Chinabound, please do correct me if I'm wrong, but I understand the Big 4 really like hiring younger looking people. Additionally, from a college friend's experience, for about six months after getting her Master's in Professional Accounting, she claimed to like her job with a Big Four firm, and then mysteriously quit before the year was out for a new job (still as an accountant) and said she hated it the whole time. This woman had a very good head on her shoulders and was happy with the perks she was getting at the firm. I would have questioned her further on her decision but she seemed really unhappy with her experience and eager to forget about it, so I never pressed. Though my impression was that she was ready to embrace the culture, was excellent at her job, and ready to fall in line. It seemed a lot of people were extremely miserable in that environment.
posted by anniecat at 8:22 AM on April 13, 2010


Yikes, perhaps I didn't make myself clear. My suggestion to take a practice LSAT is to determine, at least VERY ROUGHLY, whether or not you'd even be likely to get in to a good enough school to have a reasonable chance of ultimately ending up doing corporate litigation (either at a big firm or perhaps as in-house counsel) in today's job market. I in no way meant to suggest that, by taking a practice LSAT, you'd suddenly understand whether or not you wanted to practice law as a career.
posted by saladin at 8:30 AM on April 13, 2010


Governement economist/statistician here...my job sounds like all the things you are looking for...minus being in the Portland area. There are TONS of government economist jobs in the DC area. I don't know how you feel about that however. If you are up for moving, there are AWESOME think tanks in the area that also sound like what you are looking for. You don't necessarily need an economics degree to get your foot in the door here. I got my degree in statistics and found my entry level job that way. You can move up very quickly once you are in the government. If you have any questions, please feel free to memail me...just don't want to put all my work info online, haha.
posted by whitetigereyes at 8:57 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


How is your undergraduate GPA? Most of the jobs you listed are going to require a masters or doctorate level degree and, given the current economic environment, that degree should be from a top school. And don't kid yourself about the "ladder-climbing drugery" -- no one becomes a corporate litiagtor, CFO or other corporate finance guru merely by going to school. You are going to have to put in the years and get the experience.

I'm a second career guy myself (nursing => law in my mid-thirties) and it was well worth doing. But do not kid yourself about the time it will take. Your experience will help on the margins, but you will have to get the practical knowlege that comes only from experience in the field.
posted by rtimmel at 8:58 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I DO know what corporate litigators do. I've spend hours talking to a half dozen of them about their jobs. Everything about the job seems awesome ... except the hours.

In-house counsel. You don't have to work for a firm (though you may start there -- in-house counsel jobs are, in my opinion, harder to get than firm gigs). And if you're as competitive as you say, you may actually, sick as this is, enjoy the hours. It's one thing to watch someone else doing it and quite another to do it yourself. Of course, right now, you can decide that you don't want that for yourself, but it can be addictive. Also: any reason why corporate but not the criminal bar? Or Immigration? Interesting stuff. Long-ish hours (as a litigator of any stripe) but not quite the same, and very different environments. You could also be a gov lawyer, as well, though don't expect to pay student loans off in a hurry if you go that route. Dead steady hours, though.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:08 AM on April 13, 2010


Bah. It occurs to me now that in-house counsel may be exactly what you mean (though 80 hours/week in-house?). If that's the case, consider the alternative (a firm). All shapes and sizes. But long hours, yes.

The gov litigators I know tend to be a happy-ish lot. Closer to 60 hours. Tons of time in court (far more than their private law counterparts). Benefits. Though much lower pay for still fairly long hours, so therein lies the tradeoff...
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:04 AM on April 13, 2010


I DO know what corporate litigators do. I've spend hours talking to a half dozen of them about their jobs. Everything about the job seems awesome ... except the hours.

What about document review sounds awesome?
posted by ewiar at 10:55 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Corporate litigators mostly do not do document reviews. Outside counsel does that. In-house counsel manage the litigation, which is still pretty demanding of one's time.
posted by caddis at 11:09 AM on April 13, 2010


We need a definitional call here. Does "corporate litigator" mean in-house counsel that manages litigation or a law firm attorney that litigates corporate cases? If its the former, the use is somewehat confusing as there are very few in-house counsel that only manage litigation. Usually they act as all-around attorneys. And, in any event, ewair's comment, and my question, still hold as in-house counsel typically spend several years as associates in big firms.
posted by rtimmel at 11:44 AM on April 13, 2010


Generally, "corporate litigator" is someone who litigates business disputes for corporations, typically an individual working for a private law firm. I've never heard it used differently. "Corporate litigator" is used to differentiate those folks from people who litigate for insurance companies ("insurance defense attorneys"), etc. In-house counsel typically doesn't litigate disputes, but instead manage outside counsel's litigation.

And everything about the job of "corporate litigator" sounds awesome except the hours? You might want to talk to some more people, to at least round out the wholly positive opinions. My impression is that "corporate litigators" are among the least happy lawyers (with tax lawyers and other transactional folks among the happiest). Maybe try and work for one of your contacts for a few weeks and get a better feel for the day to day.
posted by seventyfour at 12:28 PM on April 13, 2010


There was very little in the way of "document review" for me as a junior on a litigation team at a very large firm. My "business law" colleagues, on the other hand, spent what seemed like half of their time doing due dilligence (they might be termed "corporate counsel" but they were not our litigators). Time for juniors on my team was split, I estimate: 85% research, writing memos and the occasional factum; 5% discovery; 5% client interaction; 5% court. If this is "awesome" (because you like the research and the relative independence and the creativity) then more power to you, but if you're looking for a lot of court time, you may be disappointed until you get some years in. (I am reading in to "not tied to my desk all day".)

Not sure about general levels of happiness. Anecdotally, my happiest colleagues seem to be tax lawyers, but I think it's an individual disposition thing.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:45 PM on April 13, 2010


Thanks all for these suggestions, especially whitetigereyes. Though I don't want to leave Portland, my family is all in the DC area, so that's a good alternative.

To the question about undergraduate GPA: Mine was crappy, though I've gotten straight As in more recent economics and computer programming classes. But I do recognize that this means I probably will need to take a bit longer to make any transition, taking more classes to improve the average before I apply for grad school.

When I say "corporate litigator," I mean, "Person involved in suing or defending on behalf of a business." On my good weeks right now, I get to spend several hours a week looking through legal documents and court filings and I enjoy it. I suppose the corporate litigators who get interviewed by journalists are more likely to love their jobs, because they're more likely to be at the top of their fields and to be successful at what they do. Nonetheless, reading legal documents, building an argument, constructing and writing it well, negotiating behind the scenes and then -- occasionally -- going to court all sound like fun to me.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 5:59 PM on April 13, 2010


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