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The Road Less Traveled: Alternative Careers for Lawyers

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Due to high tuition and a lack of jobs, law school enrollment continues to decline. While the overall job market in America has improved, employment for lawyers is still low, due in part to an increasing demand for low-cost legal services juxtaposed against an overabundant supply of highly educated, costly lawyers.

The job market for new lawyers remains extremely competitive, and many qualified job seekers cannot find full-time legal positions. An article recently discussed the New York City Bar Association exploring alternatives for young lawyers struggling to find jobs after graduation, including apprenticeships. It suggested setting up a law firm at which young lawyers could gain experience by helping those who cannot afford market-rate legal fees.

In a similar innovative effort, Cisco Systems plans to team up with the University of Colorado Law School on a program in which students will be paid to work full time in the company’s legal department while taking extra classes to make up for missed coursework. Participants in the program will receive independent-study credit for the program. Cisco will donate the lost fall semester tuition to the law school.

Small law firms can only employ so many lawyers 

Among 2012 law graduates in private practice, 43% ended up at firms with two to 10 lawyers, according to the National Association for Law Placement. But, how many small firms in each city in the country are open to expansion? A small to medium-sized law firm will generally only add a lawyer if they lose one, or if the incoming lawyer brings in their own book of business. 

It is not just newbie lawyers who struggle with finding jobs. Big law firms are merging and downsizing, and lateral transitioning is not as lucrative or viable as it once was. So what’s a smart, savvy Juris Doctor to do?

Six Alternative Careers for Lawyers 

  1. Legal Project Manager: There is no question that Legal Project Management (LPM) is necessary, and the process gets a lot of attention from potential clients. According to a recent survey by Altman Weil, “more efficient project management” is now one of the top demands of in-house chief legal officers. Another survey by Acritas of over 800 general counsel at large companies reported that 60% of clients said that high quality project management is “essential” when they select law firms. A project manager accomplishes a project’s objectives by owning and being accountable for the project at hand, from beginning to end, including staffing, timeline, budget, and delivery. This person manages the relationship between the law firm’s team members and those that have hired them. This is a great role for natural leaders.
  2. Law Firm Administrator or Chief Operating Officer: If running a business is really your passion, or if you have a background as a bookkeeper or CPA, apply your law school knowledge to the business side of running a law firm. Effective Administrators and COO’s can earn six figures, and if they maintain an active law license, they can even pitch in on casework as needed. The COO makes sure a business has proper procedures and systems in place to ensure financial strength and operating efficiency. This role is ideal for an experienced attorney who has counseled his law firm partners in the past.
  3. Ethics Counsel: Did you master the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility? Do you have a passion for legal ethics and thinking through the ramifications of the day-to-day decisions most lawyers have to make? Many law firms do not maintain full time in house legal ethics counsel. Starting your own ethics practice would allow you to advise other lawyers and law firms on an hourly basis or project-by-project basis to fill this void.
  4. Legal Sales: The legal industry is replete with companies brokering outsourced support services, including litigation funding, lawsuit loans, medical records, structured settlement brokers, and the list goes on and on. If you are social, well-connected, work well remotely or on the road, and seek flexibility, legal sales may be a great fit for you.
  5. Law Firm Recruiter: Like many others transitioning into a different career path, networking is crucial. Lawyers make good legal recruiters because they know insiders in a variety of law firms. They can utilize their connections to gain law firm clients for their recruiting firms, and to more accurately place candidates due to an increased understanding of law firm culture. To check out job listings for careers in legal recruiting:
  6. Chief Marketing Officer, Vice President of Business Development, or Marketing Director: As previously discussed on our blog, marketing has become less optional and pretty much mandatory for law firm survival. As such, a growing number of law firms are choosing to bring at least a portion of their marketing efforts in-house. If you have a background in public relations, information technology, or marketing, keep those skills current, as they may wind up making you more employable in conjunction with your law degree. Bringing in new business keeps a business viable – law firm marketing is a dedicated effort to drive that metric up through a variety of channels.

Young lawyers remain unemployed in excess numbers relative to available associate attorney positions. In today’s legal job market, survival of the fittest dictates that candidates must use whatever complementary skills they have to get their J.D. feet in a law firm’s door, make themselves invaluable, and then, hopefully, develop a thriving career.

What other alternative careers have proven successful for those with law degrees?

Sidebar stacey e burke About Stacey Burke

Stacey E. Burke is both an experienced trial lawyer and law firm business consultant. She works with lawyers and law firms around the world to improve their business development, marketing, and infrastructures.

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