August 19, 2020 Articles

Five Alternative Legal Careers Beyond Courtrooms and Conventional Clients

Law students may want to consider a career as a government attorney, law teacher, legal consultant, human resources professional, or in-house counsel.

By Rachel Scarafia

Weighing the options of your first career move out of law school can be daunting. Many people go to law school with the goal of graduating and jumping headfirst into law firm life. But the traditional law firm path is not for everyone. Indeed, many lawyers eventually leave law firms to pursue “nontraditional” career paths that do not require the ball and chain of the billable hour. These alternative careers still require lawyering, the use of the invaluable skill set gained during law school, and, often, a juris doctorate. A 2017 study found that about one out of every five students pursues an alternative career path after law school, so if you are considering this route, you are not alone.

If you are wondering what type of career path is the right choice for you, consider reading Cheryl Rich Heisler’s recent ABA article, “Are you asking the right career question?” (Before the Bar Blog, Sept./Oct. 2019). Her article suggests that lawyers should first look inward to ask themselves what they want to do next in their career, rather than asking what other kind of career is possible with a law degree. And if you know that law firm life is not for you, consider these alternative career options and how the Judicial Intern Opportunity Program (JIOP) can affect your “nontraditional” career path.

1. Government Attorney

The federal government hires attorneys across multiple agencies and branches of the military. This includes civilian attorneys who are not necessarily applying for a Judge Advocate General position. Rather than working in private practice, lawyers have the option of working in civil service, using their unique skill set to help federal agencies draft and negotiate contracts, provide legal advice, or draft future regulations. These types of positions can be found at www.usajobs.gov. State and local governments regularly staff attorneys as well.

I recently corresponded with JIOP alumnus Josephine Bahn, who is employed as a consumer enforcement attorney at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The FDIC is an independent agency created by Congress to maintain stability and public confidence in the nation’s financial system. When discussing her career path, Josephine noted that she enjoys her government job because she gets to help people by making the banking system safer and more accessible for everyday Americans. JIOP helped prepare Josephine for this role by teaching her to strategize and prioritize tasks in a manner to better handle work flow. Josephine’s advice for law students and JIOP program participants: Explore all your options to see what fits best.

2. Teaching/Academia

Many law schools offer opportunities for practitioners and aspiring professors to transition into legal academia. Typically, these fellowships require published scholarship and possibly some teaching experience under your belt. Law schools also offer clinical teaching positions for lawyers who have a bit more experience. The best resource for more information on becoming a law teacher is the Association of American Law Schools at www.aals.org. But keep in mind, teaching at a law school is not your only option. Many universities and local colleges offer programs in criminal justice, business management, and political science, all of which may require courses in legal topics. Explore the “careers” section on your local university’s or college’s website to get an idea of what teaching positions are available.

3. Consulting

Whether you are starting your own business or working for someone else, the consulting industry can be lucrative. A consultant is usually hired to supplement a law firm or an in-house legal department on a short-term basis for a specific project. A legal consulting firm can advise companies’ legal departments regarding complex business contracts, regulatory compliance, or employment matters, among other things. Law firms also work with consulting firms to help prepare exhibits for trial, conduct mock trials, and conduct polls. Consulting jobs typically offer a more flexible schedule with the potential for a wide variety of projects.

I recently corresponded with JIOP alumnus Seth Nwosu, who started his own corporation, SUN INC., to provide self-represented persons and entities with legal services. Seth is a non-attorney paralegal who has clerked for two judges and has experience in both civil and criminal matters. Seth’s self-employment allows him to provide legal research and legal writing services to clients throughout the U.S. and internationally. His JIOP experience allowed him to gain the vantage point of a judge’s perspective and learn the differences between effective and ineffective pleadings, which he can now use in his role as a consultant. Seth’s advice for law students and JIOP participants considering a consulting career: Dig deep, strategize, and find your niche within the legal industry.

4. Human Resources

Human resources professionals are required to understand and interpret laws concerning employer and employee rights, and for that reason, a lawyer may be the perfect fit for this role. If you are considering this route, it will be important to highlight on your résumé any employment law or labor law classes you’ve taken. And if you have any relevant experience through JIOP, make sure you include that as well. For example, I was fortunate enough to observe a two-day trial focusing on the Fair Labor Standards Act during my time as a judicial intern. Certainly, a potential employer would be interested to know that I’ve observed these types of claims litigated in trial. You also want to make sure you’re familiar with law most relevant to employers, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Equal Pay Act.

5. In-House Counsel

Many lawyers working in law firms strive to eventually make the career switch to working as in-house counsel. These roles often offer better work-life balance, more flexible vacation and sick time, and the ability to focus on just one client, working together through matters from start to finish. Although many in-house positions require years of experience in a particularized field, there are multiple companies currently searching to fill the job of assistant general counsel with someone who has under five years of experience. After a diligent search on LinkedIn or any other job search engine, you may find the perfect opportunity to go directly in house.

A Few More Words of Advice

If you’re still stuck or want more information about alternative legal careers, check out the Beyond Billables podcast on iTunes to hear stories from lawyers who have made big career changes. And don’t forget that your law degree is versatile. Think outside the box and you may end up finding your true passion in the legal industry.

Rachel Scarafia is an associate with Kean Miller, LLP, in New Orleans, Louisiana, office. She attended Loyola University New Orleans College of Law and currently serves with both the Women’s Energy Network South Louisiana and the Institute for Energy Law Diversity Committee. Rachel was a 2014 JIOP alum with The Hon. Renee Harris Tolliver in Dallas.
 


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