How do I switch legal fields?
October 17, 2006 12:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm a lawyer who's practiced for five years; how do I start over in a brand new field of law? Corollary: I have no law firm experience - my legal experience is all with state government. Is it possible to start over as a first-year associate with a law firm? How?

Further explanation: I lost my position as a state government attorney in a mass layoff five months ago. I worked there for five years. Since then I've been looking for a job, but no bites yet. My field was totally uninteresting to me, and yet I don't seem qualified for jobs as a practicing lawyer outside my field. Ads for such jobs always require experience in a particular field that I don't have.

How can I start over as, say, a tax lawyer, or a mergers & acquisitions lawyer, or whatever?
posted by Tin Man to Work & Money (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have no idea . . . but, why not call up a firm that practices the law you are interested in and tell them your situation. Get some ideas from them on how to proceed.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:41 PM on October 17, 2006

Sometimes people get an LLM in the new area of law.
posted by exogenous at 12:58 PM on October 17, 2006

Perhaps you could find an attorney you respect in the field you're hoping to get into and ask him if you could treat him to lunch at Chez Expensif to get his advice as to what to do in order to successfully transition into Field X?
posted by WCityMike at 1:15 PM on October 17, 2006

Perhaps you could find an attorney you respect in the field you're hoping to get into and ask him if you could treat him to lunch at Chez Expensif to get his advice as to what to do in order to successfully transition into Field X?

WCityMike's advice is right on the money. Saw this on preview, and stopped typing my response. This is ALWAYS a good idea, and not just for attorneys. I'm in I.T., and I've had more requests like this than I can remember. Usually, it's someone looking to start an I.T. career, but I've had more than one lunch with people already in I.T. looking to change to a different specialty (say, from development to systems administration, for example). I'd imagine that it would work just as well in the legal field.

Call someone you know, and ask to pick his/her brain over lunch or drinks. You'll likely get some good advice, but you might even get some leads on job opportunities.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:21 PM on October 17, 2006

What field did you practice in? What fields are you now interested in? Where do you practice: big city, small city, rural, etc.?
posted by Falconetti at 1:31 PM on October 17, 2006

Well, you certainly aren't going to be working in tax law without an LLM and/or some experience in that field. You may or may not have known this, but the fact that you threw it out there as a realistic possibility with a "or whatever" at the end of the list highlights what may be one of your problems: you don't generally find a new job in "whatever" area of law, you cultivate knowledge of an area of law and then try to get into it. If you have no focus, I can see why you're not an especially appealing candidate.

Do what WCityMike recommended, if you can; perhaps hit up your alumni organization for some leads. Then, call a legal recruiter -- Vault has a list of the ones in NYC metro. In the end, you may need to take a position doing something like what you were doing before, because that's the way in which you're most valuable to the target firm. If you do this for a small division within a GP firm, however, instead of a boutique firm oriented towards that practice, you may be able to diversify into a different practice area at the firm after a while.
posted by rkent at 1:34 PM on October 17, 2006

Did you have a mentor at your government job? If so ask him or her whether he or she has any friends at firms who might be interested in talking to you. I'm a partner at a small litigation boutique and we hired an associate this way some years ago. We knew (from her mentor) that she was smart, driven and experienced in the her area of practice, even though she had no civil litigation experience. She came on as an associate at a salary similar to what we would pay a first or second year, but she came with many years of experience and we didn't have to pay a headhunter. She quickly picked up the ins and outs of commercial civil litigation (much faster than a first year would have) and has been a huge asset to us ever since. All you have to do is get in the door -- look for a smaller firm where you can make a personal connection and start afresh.

Best of luck and feel free to write (bellman -at- if you need more advice.
posted by The Bellman at 3:11 PM on October 17, 2006

Have you thought about going into consulting? You would be able to enter in as either an "Advanced Degree Holder" or "Experienced Professional" (or whatever terms the firm uses). You'd likely be able to use your legal experience and law school training without doing lawyerly things.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:56 PM on October 17, 2006

Response by poster: Interesting ideas. Thanks, everyone.
posted by Tin Man at 8:18 AM on October 18, 2006

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