I don't have to do this for a living, you know.
March 17, 2006 3:26 PM   Subscribe

Should I look for work as an attorney?

I graduated law school several years ago, but my finances, my academic performance, and my social life had been shot by a serious health problem. After graduation I found a random (non-lawyer) office job, and 4 or 5 years after I graduated went back and took the bar just to see what would happen. I passed, but stayed at the same company in the same job and kept the rest quiet. The license is still current and my CLE is up-to-date.

The company has been headed in a direction that I find disturbing. Should I be considering looking for a job in the law, or should I forget that? How would I go about it, having no writing sample more under 8 years old and no contacts? Added complication: the health problem is a chronic one, although not visible. It has never really interfered with my work in my current job, and I generally work more quickly and more effiiciently than my co-workers (no, really) but my energy level is always pretty low and working much more than 40 hours/week would be a problem.
posted by dilettante to Work & Money (9 answers total)
you might want to consider taking a job with your state government. My sister, for example, is a claims referee for the Employment Security Commission in NC. The job requires that she be an attorney, but is not a high-pressure, long hours kind of job.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 3:40 PM on March 17, 2006

You could also think about looking into contract work. It would mostly be due dilligence or doc review sort of work. I don't know if you would be able to control your hours and keep them below 40/wk with any degree of certitude, but you could look for short-term jobs, then take time off between jobs to travel or relax, if that sort of lifestyle would suit you. I have a friend who graduted from a top law school but quickly grew sick of the pressure and now 3does contract work and takes lots of vacations.
posted by Falconetti at 4:02 PM on March 17, 2006

You could set up your own law firm. My best friend has been a state certified lawyer for 18 months but couldn't find a job as an attorney so he set up his own practice. He joined a lawyer referral service and that's actually yielded a good percentage of his clients (the rest have been friends and family but he just got his first word of mouth client.)

Right now, he earns his bread and butter doing temp work, but hopefully in a few months he'll have enough clients that he'll derive a liveable income (if an extremely modest one) from that.

Good luck!
posted by luneray at 4:29 PM on March 17, 2006

Sure, why not?

You're looking for an entry level legal job, and the vintage of your law degree shouldn't matter if you've set your sights modestly enough. You'd probably want to have a good story about why you didn't initially practice, and it shouldn't be that you were too sick and unmotivated...

While 40-hour-a-week law jobs aren't plentiful, they are still there to be found. Many -- but not all, and probably not even most -- government jobs fit that description.

Government law jobs are pretty hard to get, though -- most marginally-credentialed lawyers can't get them. Something to think about is to sit a civil service exam to get a non-legal job in an agency that has lots of lawyers, and then make a lateral move after you get to know the legal staff.

In the private sector, legal temping isn't likely to fit your criteria -- it's pretty stressful and often involves 60+ hour weeks when you get assignments. A better strategy there might be to look for a paralegal job with a small law firm. Paralegals work a regular 40 in most cases, even at small firms, and most small firms would love to have a paralegal who could sign pleadings and make appearances when necessary, as long as you're clear that you'll be content for a reasonable period of time with the status and pay of a paralegal.
posted by MattD at 4:54 PM on March 17, 2006

First, congratulations on passing the bar. That's truly excellent. I'm a third year law student myself, and plan on taking the bar in July.

But as far as your tentative job search goes, I think you should go ahead and do it, if practicing law is something you really think you want to do. Although your health condition complicates things to an extent, I don't think you should allow it to be the determining factor in your decision. As I've been looking for work, I've learned so far is that not all attorney jobs are 90-hour-a-week, work-you-to-death affairs. Many jobs have reasonable work schedules and allow you to keep more of a balance in your life. Also, if an employer determines that they want you as a part of their firm, they will figure out a way of managing any special accomodations your health condition might require. So really, at the end of the day it is about finding a place that is a right fit for you as an individual rather than determining whether you are personally up to some preconceived notion of what's required of a practicing attorney.

As far as where to start looking for work, it might be helpful for you to seek out some firms in your area that is doing work you find interesting. If you don't have any firms in mind, then you can do something as simple as a google search for law firms in your area that practice in your area of interest. You should also keep an eye on your local newspaper for any interesting legal stories that develop in your area. Note the firm involved and check out their website. (In my case, I found a couple firms in my area from briefs filed in the state Supreme Court.) You can drop those firms an email or give them a call and see if it would be possible to set up an informational meeting. If you let them know that you're licensed to practice law in your state and that you're interested in the work they do, then you stand a fair chance of at least talking to somone on the phone, or at least getting an email. It's just important that you remain diligent in your search. My general experience has been that practicing attorneys are open and talkative people, and they are happy to engage anyone in a discussion about what they do. And if you can make an impression on them in return, that will definitely help you.

I probably don't need to mention it, but you should probably figure out how you're going to tell your story to whomever you talk to, interview with, etc. If you're comfortable with talking about your health condition, then obviously it's no problem. But if you're trepidatious about what you want other people to know, then you should figure out ahead of time what information you want to disclose and what you would rather keep to yourself.

But what you've done so far is really a great accomplishment. No matter what you decide, you should be proud of what you've done so far.
posted by ipsedixit at 5:10 PM on March 17, 2006

Just consider why it is you want to work as an attorney. If you really want to do what attorneys do, then yeah, go for it.

But I wouldn't advise working as an attorney unless that's really the type of work you want to do.

And congrats on passing the bar.
posted by JekPorkins at 6:49 PM on March 17, 2006

Have you thought about looking for non-profit work? It pays less but the hours are generally flexible and reasonable.
posted by fshgrl at 7:52 PM on March 17, 2006

Response by poster: fshgrl - that was actually the kind of work I thought I would prefer (particularly in the areas of immigration or disability), but there aren't openings very often around here.
posted by dilettante at 8:10 PM on March 17, 2006

I'm a little late to the party here - hope you're still checking back in.

You could consider contacting your local bar association - perhaps get involved in the sections that you are interested in. You'll make contacts, it might eventually lead to an offer.

If you're considering taking an attorney job just because you can - don't. If you find a firm or agency that you love, then by all means go for it - but just jumping into practicing law doesn't sound like the best idea.
posted by KAS at 11:41 AM on March 20, 2006

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