What can I do with my professional life?
October 3, 2011 7:02 AM   Subscribe

CareerSwitchFilter: I'm a miserable lawyer, with a bunch of hobbies and skills, but no other kind of professional experience. What career(s)/job(s) should I consider switching to?

Where I am now
I'm a late thirties lawyer working for myself, doing mostly litigation and some transactional work. I do work for others lawyers from time to time, too. I enjoyed law school, but hate practicing law. I desperately want to transfer to a different career path, and not be a lawyer anymore.

My background
- Before putting out my shingle, I clerked for a judge. Before that, I worked for a few small law firms during law school. I don’t have any professional background outside of the law.
- I have a number of creative hobbies, I tend to get pretty deeply involved in them, and I’ve even made some money and gotten some press with a few of my bigger projects.
- I have no technical or programming skills. I can figure out CSS on the fly just enough to modify wordpress themes a tad as needed, and that’s about it.

My personality
- I consistently test as an ENTP. I’m a pretty borderline E, but a consistent one.
- I would be thrilled to never wear a suit jacket again.
- I’m very casual and direct in my speech, in a middle-class-background sort of way.
- I’m extremely liberal, and am opposed to working for the government.

What I’m good at
- People consistently comment on my ability to get people excited about and interested in the things that I find exciting, and how quickly and easily they find themselves feeling comfortable opening up to me.
- Making things happen, and getting things done. I tend to be very good at breaking down tasks and organizing projects. I have several examples from my hobby projects on my resume, in addition to the lawyer examples. My natural impatience is mostly an asset here.
- My skills as a lawyer also break down into: research, writing, public speaking, negotiation, communication, collaboration, leading, listening and making people feel truly heard, being aware of collateral consequences of decisions, explaining complex things in simple language to people of varied backgrounds and education levels, negotiation, learning whole new areas and resolving novel problems on a regular basis, being persuasive and charismatic, connecting well with other people, knowing and speaking to my audience, and framing issues, among other things.
- I am a talented amateur with several kinds of art.

What I'm bad at
- Sitting in front of a computer endlessly.
- Routine paperwork.
- Working for myself / freelancing. I hate spending my time hustling, and want a job with a salary and benefits that lets me focus on work I can do well instead.
- Talking on the phone with other people in the room listening in.
- Tolerating being yelled at for things that aren't my fault. (This comes up a lot, as a lawyer.)

Going forward
- I am extremely reluctant to go back into school and rack up even more student loan debt, unless it’s a program with a high probability of leading to an actual job at the end of it that I would actually enjoy.
- I am willing to invest time and effort and loss of income towards a career switch, but only if it’s a very strong, solid investment, if that makes any sense.
- I’d vastly prefer to think of kinds of jobs I could apply for immediately with my current credentials and experience.

The Question(s)

1) What different career(s) should I look into switching to? What would I have to do to get there from here?

2) What kinds of jobs could I apply for immediately with my background and skills, other than being a lawyer?

3) Have you ever had a good experience with a career counselor you can recommend? If so, who?

Throw-away email address: lostmefi@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (23 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I have a childhood friend who has never actually used her law degree to practice law. Instead she ended up taking an entry level position on Capitol Hill (this was in her mid to late 20's, and she had no family to support, mortgage to pay off, etc.). In the long term she ended up going into the foreign service, where she is very happy.

It's my understanding that lots of attorneys don't practice law. Maybe you could talk to a career counselor from your law school?
posted by Sara C. at 7:05 AM on October 3, 2011

I'm pretty much in the same position (see my question from last week). I know you said you don't want to work for the government, but you sound like you would be a great mobilizer for a campaign. I had a friend who quit his law firm job to work for Obama in 2007 and loved it. Because of the connections he made, he ended up with a fantastic job in local government as a kind of public advocate, an ombudsman for people who had been taken advantage of.

Where are you located? Feel free to MeMail me with anything you want to add (or if you just want to gripe with another creative type stuck in the law labyrinth).
posted by 5845(f)(1)(D) at 7:10 AM on October 3, 2011

I know you say you want out of the law, but it sounds to me like a public defense or similar job might suit you. If you're in/near a major city, you may be able to find work as court-appointed counsel for, e.g., family court cases, which would be relatively informal and involve lots of stand-up court time. You might be surprised how passionate you could get about some of your clients' cases, and you wouldn't be hustling for work or spending as much time in front of a computer. Downsides: can't throw out the suit, will certainly still get yelled at for things that aren't your fault, is still a law job.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:22 AM on October 3, 2011

Me too. Loved law school. Hated law practice.

With a big firm, they want your whole life. You must bill 2700 hours per year, and much more to make partner.

With a small firm, made up of people who were at the bottom of your law school class, it's get through a 3-foot-high stack of paper every day, and relate to adversaries with intimidation and lies.

After a few years of this, I started working for big firms as a legal secretary. The work is easy, the hours are good, the pay is good, and you're working for really smart people.
posted by KRS at 7:33 AM on October 3, 2011

Is there some kind of a non-profit offering legal aid you could join? Some other kind of non-profit addressing a cause you care about that may need a lawyer, even just now and then? Your pay may take a dive, but at least it'd be a good stepping stone towards something you may be more passionate about.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:42 AM on October 3, 2011

Two sort-or-lawyerly things come to mind that you could lateral into:

Patent Agent
posted by drwelby at 8:16 AM on October 3, 2011

Is an in-house counsel at a corporation, or analyzing coverage for an insurance company out of the question? The stress is much lower, 9-5 schedule.
posted by blargerz at 8:24 AM on October 3, 2011

You sound a lot like a lawyer friend of mine. They became a legal recruiter for a recruitment firm, and loved it.
posted by maxg94 at 8:45 AM on October 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

[This is a followup from the asker.]
I really am sure that I do not want to practice law anymore. Not for a firm, not for a non-profit, not for myself, not as court-appointed counsel, not as in-house counsel. I beg you, please stick only to non-lawyer suggestions (or career coach referrals), which is what I asked for in the first place!

Everyone I speak to immediately asks, "Well, have you considered some other kind of lawyering?" I'm sick of it. I promise, I have. It's not for me. I need something different.

Thank you!
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:45 AM on October 3, 2011

Maybe some sort of coaching or training type job? Large companies often have in-house training, and there are lots of independent companies that offer training to businesses. There are also executive education programs at some universities. Since you are good at public speaking and relating to people, you might enjoy this type of job.
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:06 AM on October 3, 2011

Telling us what your hobbies are might help get more specific answers as well.
posted by Vaike at 9:06 AM on October 3, 2011

Jury consultant
Expert witness coach
Private/special investigator
Management consultant
posted by blargerz at 9:10 AM on October 3, 2011

University staffer!
How it matches up: your higher education would be valued, your skillset matches up well to several varieties of student/faculty administration, you have a good chance of not having to wear suits (or at least, not everyday), the employment is pretty stable, liberal politics would probably not be terribly out of place. Your paperwork-volume may vary.

How to get there:
It's the usual Networking advice - connect with someone in the target department and/or HR. Like everyone else, university HR departments get an absurd volume of online applications and are thus happy to ignore great resumes, especially if you're doing something a little creative like industry-shifting. Your JD and law practice will trip an "overqualified" flag, so be prepared to sell your ability and enthusiasm for (new gig).
posted by Signed Sealed Delivered at 9:41 AM on October 3, 2011

In good news, many lawyers don't practice law. A JD is a marker that you are smart and capable, and many business careers will view a JD almost interchangeably with an MBA (check out what degrees top level execs at fortune 500 companies have - JDs are pretty common).

Sadly, most of the things you don't like doing (except freelancing) will come up in most careers. Every job, even the most glamorous, has aspects that are boring, routine or tedious. Therefore, choose a career that has 10-20% things that you utterly think are totally awesome and amazing - it will get you through the paperwork and annoying people. What do you absolutely love doing? For me it's either creating something or closing a deal (completion is very important to me and I like to rack up accomplishments). Your thing is going to be different.

Your skills are INCREDIBLY transferable - you'd be a great corporate executive I think. In order to keep your seniority I would look at Business Affairs roles (you need a JD generally) that are heavy on business development and gain more business oriented skills that way.

I don't entirely get which of the skills you love to use though. Think about whether it's more research or negotiation and choose the path appropriately. I'd choose an industry you're really interested in because you'll like your co-workers more and find something that you really get excited about at the company. Once you are in a large corporation it should be possible to move around to different areas.
posted by rainydayfilms at 9:50 AM on October 3, 2011

Corporate training (or corporate trainer training)
Non-political campaigns (for the envrionment, raising money for cancer, whatevs)
Project management
posted by whatzit at 9:52 AM on October 3, 2011

I immediately thought consultant as well. Have you thought about that track at all? Maybe do an informational interview with McKinsey?
posted by prefpara at 9:52 AM on October 3, 2011

I too enjoyed law school but made for a pretty miserable lawyer. I'm currently an academic law librarian. I teach law students (both in my own for-credit classes and in more informal tutorial sessions), support the faculty with their research and teaching needs, provide reference services to all manner of people who wander into the library, and work on multiple projects related to the library and its resources.

The pros from your perspective, I think, would be having a job that would draw on a lot of your listed talents (particularly enthusiasm, project organization, explaining concepts coherently, research, and practice experience), working set hours and then getting to go home (I don't check my work email outside of work hours, which after my brief biglaw career is ridiculously important to me), working for an institution with set benefits, no hustling, no suit-wearing, and I suppose if you don't want to work for the government there are private law schools.

The big con, of course, is that academic positions usually require an MLIS to go along with the JD, which is something I know you're looking to avoid. The only good news I can offer on that front is that it can be possible to get the degree out of the way pretty painlessly (I did mine in a year, with an assistantship that came with a tuition waiver and a stipend - the possibilities here will vary widely depending on where you live and where you'll willing to move) and once you're done the market for law librarians is currently slightly better than the market for regular librarians or lawyers.

Anyway, it's an option you might want to look into. I'm glad I made the jump.
posted by colbeagle at 11:06 AM on October 3, 2011

This timely Above the Law http://abovethelaw.com/2011/10/career-alternatives-for-attorneys-being-anything-other-than-a-lawyer/links to a couple of articles (US News, ABA Journal), with non-lawyer career paths for JDs, including dog walker.
posted by 5845(f)(1)(D) at 11:32 AM on October 3, 2011

Here's the link; don't know what happened there.
posted by 5845(f)(1)(D) at 11:33 AM on October 3, 2011

The problem is that to get a job with benefits in a totally different field, you need two things (one or the other): hustle or a degree. I actually recommend a degree (being purely practical is probably partly what got you into this situation, being a Boring Lawyer). Failing that...

Relevant skills: Writing, research and motivational abilities.

Possible careers: Advertising, copy-writing, motivational speaking, political/law editorializing (this would be fun! but hard to crack), blogging (definitely start here anyway).

The most exciting of these potential careers is probably getting a job writing about law and/or society for an established journal, online or off. Lots of people parlay lots of different careers (like, being a doctor, even) into writing, but it's not exactly a sure thing. Of course, pursuing a 'sure thing' (I think) goes partly against your nature (as an ENTP) and may be problematic in itself. If your alternative strategy is to play to your strengths, consider taking the bigger risk and really pursuing your energy forward/upward.

"Apply for immediately" is dicey. I'd say apply for anything that sounds interesting and just get a broad experience base. Spin. Like, I mean, use cover-letter spin to make your lawyering seem like an awesome and broad experience base-- I think it could be done, especially if you go at it from a Socratic/communication/rhetoric angle, as communication skills (especially with difficult people) are always in demand. You could also blog, as I said. Develop a portfolio of writing/commentary to build from.

In many ways I think you're shooting unreasonably high, wanting a career switch to be guaranteed and being so risk-averse. I mean, caution is good, but there's no way to entirely avoid serious risk with a risky venture such as switching careers. Going to school is one obvious way to 'guarantee' something, but the types of jobs that are usually 'guaranteed' by school (such as CS or engineering) aren't generally a lot more creative than what you're doing right now. So, y'know, think about the trade-offs involved. Being impatient is understandable for an ENTP, but wanting to skip steps is only a good strategy sometimes, and impractical other times. Think about the possibility of hard times ahead with potential for pay-off afterwards. Nothing really rewarding is going to allow you to avoid hardship and uncertainty while you set it up. After a career as a Boring Lawyer, perhaps it is a good thing to let go of a direct trajectory and take a variety of jobs for a year, say, and then reassess. Well, good luck.
posted by reenka at 12:48 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

In many ways I think you're shooting unreasonably high, wanting a career switch to be guaranteed and being so risk-averse. I mean, caution is good, but there's no way to entirely avoid serious risk with a risky venture such as switching careers.

Agreed; this may be why so many people suggested other lawyering things upfront, because it sounded like you wanted to start doing something different tomorrow. And, making a jump from law into, say, cheesemaking is a huge jump. I think people were suggesting law-related things because that is something you could start doing tomorrow, as a stepping-stone to something else.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:21 PM on October 3, 2011

With your skills and abilities do you think you'd be better at labor work?

Downsides, you may have to wear a suit (more than likely), and work some off hours, but otherwise it doesn't seem that bad. You could use your skills to get things done (negotiations), and connect with tons of different people.
posted by handbanana at 3:26 PM on October 3, 2011

Legal recruiting would make nice use of your enthusiasm and ability to relate to others. Downside is that you need to either work for yourself or work at an agency where there will be plenty of other people listening to you work the phone.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:19 PM on October 3, 2011

« Older From the Annals of International Pizza and...   |   What should I expect from mold remediation? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.