Dear Mike

By Mike McBride


Dear Mike,
I currently work in house for a corporation, and I hate what I do. I find that I spend more time doing legal management rather than practicing law. I have been trying to go back to working in a law firm to get better legal experience. However, most attorneys tell me that my experience is junior to what they are looking for because as they put it, in-house experience is not as extensive and all encompassing as law firm experience. Thus, I feel that my career is at a dead end, and I am not interested in going to work for another corporation doing the same type of stuff. I feel that my only alternative is to hang out my own shingle. Yet, I am married with a home, school debt, car payments, etc., and no money in my bank account. Any ideas as to making my next move?
—Making the Next Move

Dear Making the Next Move:
First, identify your current goals and determine whether they are your goals or someone else’s. With your family and financial commitments, whatever option you choose, you should first focus on taking care of your family. Next, assess your skills and strengths that you have developed through your in-house corporate experience as well as those skills that you gained from previously working at a law firm. Make a list of significant responsibilities, including the management of others, significant transactions, litigation, and so forth that you have conducted. Do research about the type of legal career that would make you happy and that you are interested in. Now after that, refocus your efforts to live your dream. If you choose to pursue law firm experience, emphasize your strengths and experiences.

Your career is not at a dead end. It’s at a new beginning. If you choose to go the solo route, be prepared to weather some lean times and plan to live on some savings for a while until you can get established. I recommend J. Foonberg’s HOW TO START AND BUILD A LAW PRACTICE, now in its fourth edition, published by the American Bar Association, Section of Law Practice Management. I also recommend FLYING SOLO (3rd Ed.) by Jeffery A. Simmons—both good resources in planning a solo practice.

Whichever direction you choose, cultivate your existing contacts for both business and job leads. If you choose to go to a firm, your existing contacts may know of openings. Additionally, gracefully exit your existing corporation. Perhaps you could gain spin-off work from your company. A lateral-hire lawyer with a book of business is much more valuable than one without. Your own book of business makes you more attractive and enables you to command a higher salary and other negotiated benefits and status.

Dear Mike,
I am a middle-aged man looking at switching careers from operations management/human resources to law. I did my time in law school at night. Despite having a J.D., no one (employers) wants to talk to me. Is there an unwritten code against hiring old guys like me in this profession? You would think work ethic, wisdom, experience and talent would mean something! Thanks,
—Disenchanted with a J.D.

Dear Disenchanted with a J.D.:
With gray hair comes wisdom, and experience is invaluable. But can you make money for someone else? I recommend emphasizing your operations/human resources experience to a legal career related to employment law and human resource issues. Cataloging your demonstrated experience together with a newly minted J.D. should make you a very valuable lawyer to a corporation or to a law firm. Emphasize your marketable skills. You have learned life’s lessons that younger associates have not yet. Revel in your age and wisdom!

Got a question for Mike?
E-mail D. Michael McBride III at
D. Michael McBride III is a Council member of the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division. He also Chairs the Outreach Committee. McBride practices federal Indian law and litigation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he is a Director and Shareholder of Sneed Lang, P.C. He also serves the Kaw Nation as an Associate Justice of their Supreme Court.
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