“The Career Transition Process”

By Celia Paul
From the book Changing Jobs: A Handbook for Lawyers (American Bar Association)

Each year, hundreds of lawyers change their jobs. With the recent downsizing in law firms and reduction in employment opportunities for lawyers, many more attorneys are thinking about non-legal options. Yet determining which non-legal options are appropriate can seem like an overwhelming task. In this article, we will briefly outline a decision making process which can be used and give some suggestions of careers into which attorneys have successfully moved.

Individual professional guidance can also be extremely helpful in developing a career plan. It is available through career counselors and sometimes through the placement office. Counselors who have worked with a number of lawyers will be particularly tuned into your situation and your options. Although no one can provide you with magical solutions, a counselor can guide you through the process and even supplement a career workshop experience.

To focus on which non-legal career might work for you, you first need to examine your own priorities -- what do you want from life? Is it more money, more leisure time, more control, more opportunities to develop mastery in a specialized area? And are you willing to give up other factors to gain these? For example, are you interested in working regular hours even if it means sacrificing a high income? Are you willing to go back to school to master a specific area?

In addition to your values, you need to assess your skills. Since law is basic training in analytical thinking, your skills are broad enough to be applied to many different fields. Negotiating, persuading, thinking on your feet, writing clearly and concisely -- these all can be utilized in careers as diverse as advertising and investment banking. As with your values, the question becomes one of focusing on your own desires; that is, what skills do you now possess that you enjoy using most? By evaluating your strengths carefully, you will be able to build on your past success to create a new foundation. Let us look now at some of the areas that might interest you. The actual choices are unlimited because of your broad background, but this information can stimulate your thinking about options.

Becoming An Entrepreneur

Lawyers have many of the necessary skills to become successful entrepreneurs. They know how to organize their time and determine priorities; they learn new skills quickly, think independently, and follow through on plans. They also know how to promote -- or even sell -- a product or a service, although their professionalism often prevents them from accepting their selling abilities.

A wide variety of businesses interest attorneys. Sometimes the choice is based on the individual's legal background. However, a business can also be based on a side interest, such as a clothing store or a creative field, such as theater production or art dealership. Restaurant ownership, or inns and nightclubs, are very popular choices for lawyers. Another entrepreneurial field that attracts attorneys is acting as an agent. The responsibilities include representing performers, artists, and sports figures and managing their business affairs.

Non-Profit Administration

If you have strong organizational skills and an interest in socially useful work, becoming a non-profit executive may be an attractive new career. Lawyers are very marketable to non-profits because of the same skills mentioned above. Positions in larger non-profit groups often pay salaries competitive with small businesses, although this is unknown by many lawyers considering this transition.

A Corporate Position

Corporations present many opportunities for lawyers outside of the traditional in-house legal positions. Some of these positions are salaried and some are more entrepreneurial, involving commissions for work successfully transacted, such as investment banking or search work.

Lawyers who move into managerial positions in corporations are often recruited by company executives they impressed through a legal relationship. In smaller companies, these positions can be quasi-legal and require you to function as an attorney, as well as a manager. They can be in one of a variety of different industries, from media to banking.


If you would like to have autonomy, consulting may answer your needs. Management consulting firms often hire attorneys to work on a team with business experts. These teams assist corporations in solving a wide variety of problems: financial, marketing, staffing. Your analytical abilities, combined with expertise in a specific area, such as tax law, enable you to make a contribution in these fields. These firms can be an excellent training ground for learning how to provide consultation services independently, or for creating your own business with a team of diverse colleagues.

A Writing Job

If your self-examination leads you to the conclusion that writing is one of your strongest and most enjoyable skills, then you should consider careers with heavy emphasis on written communication. A growing field is public relations. Your responsibility is to obtain publicity for the client or company you are representing. Another writing career which often interests attorneys is journalism. Your investigative skills, as well as written communication, are utilized extensively here. However, opportunities in journalism are much more limited than opportunities in public relations, especially in big cities.

Whatever you do, think of the process of career change as an exciting opportunity to discover who you are, and fulfill your dreams. Taking a career risk can result in enhanced self-esteem and job satisfaction.

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