Alternative Careers

3 Big Concerns in Hiring JDs for Nontraditional Roles

By: Anusia Gillespie

Hiring managers (“HMs”) are often at loss as to how to treat JDs seeking employment in a non-traditional capacity. There may be no blueprint or set of rules because the interviewing attorney is transitioning out of her standard, tried and true, expected career path. The lack of precedent and clarity causes risk-induced discomfort for the HM and stirs a number of concerns.

3 Big Concerns in Hiring JDs for Nontraditional Roles:

  • Are you going to up and leave? HMs want a real and believable story connected to the open position. They want a candidate who won the regional science fair in 6th grade, was in the science club through college, majored in chemistry, began their career at Pfizer and is now seeking a lab position at the HM’s company. It reduces risk. So, when an HM sees that you majored in sociology, worked for a year in marketing, went to law school, and now review contracts for a living – red flags fly up. Why did you go to law school? How do you know for sure that this new role is what you want to do now? How does this new position align with your skills and interests and tie back to prior life and work experience? Responding with anything less than a professional answer leads to the HM questioning your decision-making and commitment. There is no coming back from that.
  • What do I pay you? Huge sticking point. Law firms consider loan debt in setting associate compensation. Associates get very high base salaries and lower bonuses, relative to business professionals, because their monthly loan payments are factored into the equation. This creates a hassle for business HMs. Maybe the HM is able to match your total compensation but needs to do so by offering a much lower base salary and higher bonus potential. The HM may assume this is unacceptable for someone accustomed to the comfort of a high base salary. Furthermore, and more importantly, HMs may not be able to match your total compensation, leaving them without a benchmark. Do they offer you the same compensation as similarly situated employees who are not lawyers? Or, do they show you that they value your legal training by offering compensation over the standard package? If so, they have to put an exact monetary figure on how much they value your legal degree. And, they need to get it approved. It gets tricky.
  • Will you perceive this job as “lesser than”? Big Law is perceived as sexy. Working as an attorney comes with a certain amount of respect from those outside of law. So, if a candidate is leaving a shiny firm for a nontraditional legal role or is leaving the law altogether, the HM needs to know that the candidate will perceive the new role as taking a step forward. HMs do not want an employee who is going to think the position is less than another opportunity. You’ll have to do some soul-searching to identify your honest values and priorities to address this concern. What are your motivators? Positioning, financial gain, variety, autonomy, lifestyle, team environment, intellectual challenge, security, prestige, influence, altruism, managing others, recognition? If you are in Big Law and prestige is your top motivator, a transition to an early-stage startup is probably not the right fit.

HMs may not address these concerns directly, so if you are interviewing make sure to answer them in other responses and through your resume. Show commitment. Don’t shy away from a compensation conversation. Be honest in identifying your top motivators. And, as always, highlight specific skills and sell your value.