At a crossroads of many roads
September 1, 2012 5:40 AM   Subscribe

Career change into law - tips? Or alternatively, suggestions for another career path.

I'm 24. I graduated with a B.Sc in the hard sciences, and have always assumed I'd go on to do research in said science, get a PhD and maybe a Nobel. (Ha.) I did four stints of research, co-authored a paper and wrote 20-page reports, and firmly decided that I will never touch scientific research again. I got an entry-level gig in said science for 1.5 years, and came to the decision that I won't do that science anymore. I'm glad I did it, and the quantitative/research/analytical/logical skills it taught me were invaluable, but it's no longer what I want to do. I quit my job 6 months ago (toxic management + health issues forced my leave without a new job lined up); started seriously job hunting about 3.5 months ago after recovery.

I thought about paralegalism (I'm in Canada, and law isn't quite as saturated as it is in the States, I think). It seems like it'd play well to my strengths of logic, writing and research and etc (and informational interviews haven't told me anything to dissuade me). I wanted to work as an office clerk (or something entry-level) in a law firm before I go to school (required for paralegals in my area). However, despite having a strong cover letter and resume and solid references, I've only gotten two interviews (one started disengaged; wasn't my fault. The other I'm still waiting on the response from - but a month after the interview, I'm not hopeful), one suddenly cancelled interview (position filled), and all quietness from all the legal placement agencies, my network, and all Craigslist apps. I've never so much as taken a single law course, hence wanting to get some experience before I go for schooling, but it seems like it's a high bar to cross. Maybe I won't even like law, I don't know, but I have no data to confirm or deny that.

Are there other things I can do to improve marketability? Also, what are some other options for a career change? A friend of mine referred me to her company (a leadership consulting firm) for an admin assistant position; HR loved my application, and we're interviewing next week, although I am worried maybe that niche is a little too feelings and sales and fluffy for my tastes. I don't like crunching numbers, but I do appreciate precision and logic and things like that. (Also, they want someone for 2-3 years, and ditching too early may reflect badly on my friend and me.)

Also, should I continue my narrow focus onto law firms, or branch out into any other interesting-sounding things? (I don't know what law will be like, after all.) If anything interesting-sounding offers me a position, should I take it, or hold my hope out for law?

My finances are okay between savings and parental support, although I do worry about the increasing gap on my resume. I am sporadically volunteering for the local blood bank, and my Toastmasters group. I have not found any law-related volunteering activities. Due to old injuries, I cannot do the more common stopgap jobs (retail, foods, etc.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you thought about an Ombudsman scheme? These are quasi-judicial dispute-resolution schemes where individuals can bring their disputes against a wide range of organisations. There are a number of Ombudsman services in Canada - some governmental and some in the private sector, and, if they follow the usual model, they take people in at a junior level to train up to deal with straightforward cases, and with more experience there's career progression to higher levels.

The work is legal-ish, but with an element of common sense and human interest too.
posted by essexjan at 5:56 AM on September 1, 2012

Also, should I continue my narrow focus onto law firms, or branch out into any other interesting-sounding things? (I don't know what law will be like, after all.) If anything interesting-sounding offers me a position, should I take it, or hold my hope out for law?

Always leave your options open. You're 24; you need cash and resume padding and the opportunity to try new things and meet people who can offer you interesting future work.

You don't need to be a one-track worker yet and won't need to be for a while (if ever, given the state and likely future state of the economy and job market).
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:14 AM on September 1, 2012

I don't know whether the situation for patent examiners in Canada is any different/better than for regular law (maybe you need to get the same qualifications and the job situation is no better?), but if you were in Europe it would certainly be worth considering, given your science background.
posted by caek at 6:51 AM on September 1, 2012

If you get a job offer that sounds interesting, take it and see how it goes. As you know, you have no data to confirm you would enjoy practicing law.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:08 AM on September 1, 2012

Have you considered expert witnessing as an independent consultant in your hard science field? I used to work in a law firm where one of the lawyers was a degreed engineer (environmental) and one of his primary income sources was working as an expert witness in flood control cases. You might do some informational interviews about whether that would work in your field.

Otherwise, nthing J. Wilson about taking a job and finding out whether you like the field. I always thought I might go to law school until four years as a paralegal in a three-partner law office cured me of that fantasy.
posted by immlass at 7:24 AM on September 1, 2012

Your science background might also put you in good stead for intellectual property law, though most of the IP lawyers I've known have higher degrees in the sciences or engineering.

Working in a firm or three as support staff is a nice idea (I did it) because it's going to give you a better idea of the kind of work being done than you would get from, say, first year law (which might be utterly enticing and lead you to finish the degree and not find out you don't like practice until articles). A legal temp agency can be good for this in that you'll have an in with various offices instead of being stuck with one (this can also lead to placement for something a little more stable, though there are usually contractual restrictions on this). This can also be very useful, if you decide law, in providing an early lesson in how to find the kind of office that you'd enjoy working in (size, temperament, type of work).

On paralegal work: my sister was a paralegal for many years and dropped down a level to legal secretary as the responsibilities were far more in line with income (which did drop but only slightly). Just a single data point though I have heard the same from others. Not a consideration if you're thinking paralegal as a stepping stone (in which case the more like a lawyer's work the better) but know that paralegals have specific training which you lack at this point. I flat-out refused to teach a paralegal course, having been through law school, because they are not the same thing (and paying students deserve quality education).

As for volunteer work, I found some in the probations world (adult or youth), which particularly suited me due to my psych undergrad, but it's also a feather in your cap for law -- if you want to do criminal.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:49 AM on September 1, 2012

Also, yes, saturated, even if not as much as the States. Find out if you love it and do it only if you do.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:51 AM on September 1, 2012

I don't know anything specific to Canada -- but how about looking for a job with a court? Or a government law office? Here in the states the courts have a lot of non-lawyer jobs. It's a great place to get insight into the legal world.
posted by pril at 7:55 AM on September 1, 2012

Court (registry) and government (the various ministries of the AG, and the federal DOJ) are a bit harder to get than the average support staff gig -- they're worthwhile but are a very different culture from firms (which is fine; just be aware that there's another side of practice if the culture of one turns you off). A provincial ministry of the AG was the best office I worked in prior to practice -- though again, it was a legal temp agency that placed me there (which I then wrangled into a longer position).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:18 AM on September 1, 2012

I wonder if you could look for work through a temp agency - this will get you in the door in terms of giving you office experience, which could be why you are not getting many bites at the moment. Once you have a few months of office-type experience then you might start looking more appropriate for a job in a law office.
posted by lulu68 at 8:31 AM on September 1, 2012

I don't really have any suggestions to improve your marketability for legal administrative jobs, but I agree with the above suggestion to expand your search to the courts and government legal offices, if you haven't already. As pril mentioned, courts have several types of non-lawyer jobs, including court clerks, judicial support officers, filing clerks, and other administrative-type roles. Unfortunately, as you know, the job market is pretty crappy right now and I can imagine it will be very difficult for someone without any or much experience to get a foot in the door. I like lulu68's suggestion of applying for office work through a temp agency to get some experience, if you can.

As for volunteering opportunities, when I was in law school, I volunteered with a couple of places - one was an environmental law group and one was a centre that provided legal assistance to mental health consumers. I have no idea what sort of organisations exist in your area, but places like the ones at which I worked are always looking for volunteers, especially for administrative and research roles (although the latter typically go to law students). You may need to do a bit of Googling and then contact organisations directly to ask whether they have any volunteering opportunities.

As for whether you'll like law, I also have an undergraduate degree in science, and I really enjoy being a lawyer. Then again, I work for a government agency with an interesting portfolio and I rarely work longer than a 7.5 hour day (and anything over that, I get flexi time).
posted by Defying Gravity at 8:43 AM on September 1, 2012

Two of the hard sciences, biology and chemistry, would be significant assets to doing work in the environmental field. Law firms present one possible path. Engineering firms present another. (One mammoth firm seems to be intent on taking over all others.) A third would be governmental work - see what Environment Canada needs.

If your field was physics, then the options are narrower.
posted by yclipse at 8:44 AM on September 1, 2012

Note that in some areas regular temp agencies won't touch law offices which is why I keep specifying legal temp agencies. If there's a specialty agency in your area, it may be the only one that will place you in law offices.

Feds are in round one of potentially three years of cuts with hiring freezes currently on in some areas (including Justice), unfortunately. Still some short-term hires but much harder to get in if not from an established stream (eg: co-op).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:08 AM on September 1, 2012

A friend of mine referred me to her company (a leadership consulting firm) for an admin assistant position; HR loved my application, and we're interviewing next week, although I am worried maybe that niche is a little too feelings and sales and fluffy for my tastes.

As an admin assistant, you will not be in charge of any Feelings. Admin assistant work is more or less the same (with small variations--are you binding tender packages or leadership manuals? does it matter?) no matter where you are. Doing this kind of work over the last 4-5 years, I have found that what really affects how good an admin job will be for you is personal fit with others in the office. Pay attention to that in your upcoming interview!

Also, seconding temp agencies. They are a great way to get hired, or to get general experience that will get you interviewed.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:36 AM on September 1, 2012

I would think your skill set might also be suited to government-based policy analysis, particularly in extracting meaningful information from large data sets.
posted by Sonny Jim at 12:36 PM on September 1, 2012

Memail me which city you're in. I have leads in a couple.
posted by Pomo at 7:39 PM on September 4, 2012

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