How do I get back into the law? Yes. Really.
February 15, 2012 7:12 AM   Subscribe

How do I get back into the law? Yes. Really.

Please share with me everything from your most mundane to your craziest ideas for how I can become a lawyer again.

It turns out I miss the clarity and covering of all the bases that are the raison-d'etre for many legal jobs. I want to interpret documents, draft arguments and connect with clients. I'm open to starting over as much as I am harnessing my mostly nonprofit experience into something more engaging. At my current non-legal job with a nonprofit's CEO, I'm completely under-utilized -- my intellectual capacity and skill set for clear and thoughtful writing, research and problem solving are much broader than what's needed or available there. My favorite parts of the job are the ones that have a legal aspect to them, but these are few and far between. I'd like to use my terrific people skills more meaningfully, too.

There are several different directions I thought of exploring and would like your input:

1) joining a small practice as a junior person? Under what circumstances do small practices take on new people? Where do I look to find out what's available? How do I learn about a new practice area I'm interested in - CLE classes?

2) government agencies - where do I begin looking?

3) find a nonprofit where I can work with an experienced lawyer as part of my job? Does anyone need this?

4) something else entirely, especially given the crappy economy?

Me: a JD (and really good grades) from a top law school, admitted to the NY Bar 7 years ago, in NYC but could move.
posted by Hellebore to Law & Government (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Did you have a job at a firm, prior to your current job?
posted by The Bellman at 7:21 AM on February 15, 2012

Your top law school should have a listing of job openings, for one, which might include all of the above. Mine does.

usajobs will have postings for government agencies. you might also consider clerkships. Also the usual suspects online -;; monster; careerbuilder; lawcrossing; laterallink.

It's unclear to me whether you actually practiced law in the past. Did you? In what area?

Would you consider going to a large firm as a junior associate to learn a new area? My former very large firm would consider the right kind of person in that position. My current smaller firm also hires people with past experience like yours, but typically wants some legal experience somewhere in the career. Current firm works heavily with a specific recruiter- so you might look online for some legal recruiters in your area and try that. If you find a good one, they should be willing to meet with you to discuss options even if they don't have current openings, and they might be able to help you better understand the options.

As for learning about a new area, do you have any connections in the legal community - are you a member of the local bar association? If you aren't, you should join up and talk to people in the areas you think you might be interested in.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:25 AM on February 15, 2012

Some suggestions:
1. Start networking. Go to bar functions, trial lawyer functions, women's bar association functions whatever you can find.

2. Look at the jobs advertised at the career center of your law school. Your law school's not in your area? See if it has reciprocity with one that is.

3. Check craigslist (small firms advertise there. Mine does.) and be willing to take contract work

4. See if there's a pro Bono program where you can get experience. Make sure if you do this there's a mentor or adequate training.

5. Reach out to alumni from your school

6. Get this book.
posted by bananafish at 7:33 AM on February 15, 2012

Find a local legal aid; go to their next volunteer training; accept cases. Off the top if my head I can name local legal aid agencies that train attorneys for expulsion hearings, simple divorces, tenant disputes, foreclosure cases, criminal records expungement, first defense (interrogations, arrests, arraignments, bail hearings), wills, domestic violence TROs, consumer debt issues and public benefits. Generally, the agencies provide malpractice insurance, sample draft documents, supervision, and clients. You also build relationships in the legal community which lead to jobs.

As a person seven years out of law school without recent experience as a practising attorney, you're not going to be more attractive to firms than a new attorney. Being connected in the nonprofit community could be an asset, but in my experience, firms will look at you as a lateral hire, not a new graduate, which means you won't be attractive without solid legal experience and a network that can translate into a book of business. The book of business easiest for you to develop is the NPO book, either with good PR pro bono projects, or providing legal services to the NPOs. Work your current network to see where the NPOs need attorneys--either to work for the community they serve or to work for the NPO itself. Develop contacts in the legal community that can serve those NPO needs and demonstrate to those legal contacts that you'd be useful and competent as an attorney in their firm in meeting the NPO needs.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:39 AM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Want a crazy idea? You can hang up a shingle. Lots of people, rich and poor, need legal assistance for things. And, there are plusses to being your own boss.
posted by Citrus at 7:59 AM on February 15, 2012

Former divorce lawyer here. I would suggest you first think about what you didn't like about the law before you left. Then find a legal position that minimizes those aspects.
posted by webhund at 8:01 AM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I want to interpret documents, draft arguments and connect with clients.

In my experience meeting people at trade organizations here in the DC area there's certainly room for lawyers. However the sorts of things they apply their legal chops to don't seem to mesh well with those things you describe. They might weigh in on legislation but few are drafting any.

You might have more luck looking into more of the journalism sort of angle. Do you have an interest in the sort of work someplace like SCOTUSBlog does? I hesitate to tell anyone they should pursue work in anything near to journalism but in my not so humble opinion the reporting world does a shit job covering & explaining the law. If you've spent time interacting with "real" people you might consider leveraging that aspect to increase your contact with legal analysis.
posted by phearlez at 8:54 AM on February 15, 2012

I was just going to say what webhund said: What didn't you like about it in the first place?

I used to teach music pretty hardcore and I got out of it. Every now and then I get a music gig and think "man, I really want to teach hardcore again!" Then once I start putting things together, I realize in a hurry why I hated it so much and why I am actually happier when I get to do those things "few and far between."

I wish I could articulate myself better because even though my experience is with music, I can 100% directly relate to what you are saying. So take what I said and extrapolate what you can from it.
posted by TinWhistle at 8:57 AM on February 15, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone so far. To clarify - I have about 3-4 years total of legal work writ broadly under my belt in human rights with an international organization, in an NPO's legal office, at Legal Aid and as a researcher on law-related issues. As for what I like/don't like - maybe the best way to sum it up is that I'd like more of a balance time-wise between reasearch/drafting and colleague/client interaction. Researching huge reports on my own is intellectually rigorous but stressful like academic work - you can't really leave it behind at the office. Legal Aid presented so few intellectual challenges. NPO law jobs are a rarity even in a good economy. Overall I'd prefer more concrete and complex problem solving than, say, making policy recommendations. With my good people skills I've thought of looking into family law, for instance...
posted by Hellebore at 11:23 AM on February 15, 2012

Perhaps arbitration or mediation, maybe in an area involving complex, technical issues? That would use your analytical skills to learn the relevant law and facts, and your persuasive and people skills to transform a conflict into an agreement.

Or, find a place where you'd just love to live, and look for a job with a small or medium size firm. Once you get outside of NYC, your credentials will look extraordinary, not average, and some doors will open. The level of intellectual stimulation would be less consistent, but the variety can be fun.
posted by Corvid at 11:54 AM on February 15, 2012

Hmmm... sounds like you might be best positioned to work in-house for a nonprofit in a more legal/operations capacity than a substantive capacity. So you'd be dealing with concrete issues related to runing the nonprofit (eg, employment, leases, intellectual property, defamation, tax status, privacy/compliance). There's a pretty broad range of organizations you could target that might have some good meaty issues to work on -- universities, hospitals, big foundations.

You may also be able to make a transition to litigation if you really work your connections. You don't have any litigation experience, but if you have the background and skills you describe, you'd probably do a good job at it. I think volunteering at legal aid would be a good start. You could also possibly get hired as a junior associate at a smaller firm.
posted by yarly at 12:26 PM on February 15, 2012

Keep your job until you either build a base clientele or find a full time paid lawyer position. In the meantime, pro bono (there's always a need for divorce lawyers!) and for fun check out the AVVO website. Answer some people's legal questions. It is a lot of fun.
posted by steinwald at 5:44 PM on February 15, 2012

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