shaynamichelle

On Combining the Things You Have to Make Stuff Work: A (non) Legal Skill Set

The other day I was in a job interview (fingers crossed for me!) and as I was explaining why I wanted this not-specifically legal job, I once again had to connect and analogize my legal background to the position’s duties and responsibilities. This hasn’t always been an easy task. I went to law school in Washington, DC, where lawyers are a dime a dozen and there are few questions asked when a law school graduate turns businessperson, policy wonk, chef, teacher, you name it. Naively, I assumed that other communities would be similar and that a JD would thus be an asset no matter where I lived.

While I wasn’t wrong, per se, it certainly wasn’t as easy a jump as I had thought. My time in DC was spent working at non-profits and in government offices on policy—I assumed those experiences, coupled with my endless charm and willingness to do pretty much anything legal (as in not criminal, rather than law-related) which would also pay my rent, would speak for themselves and get me hired. However, those two letters after my name, coupled with an extremely competitive and horrible job market, brought more questions than answers. For a while I even debated leaving my degree off my resume as time and time again I was told that I was overqualified and would be bored by the work. The idea of someone trained in the law not wanting to do legal work was confusing to HR managers, mentors, even to my friends and family, who (naturally!) assumed I’d be using my JD in a more traditional way. In fact to this day (literally, yesterday at coffee with a colleague), I have to re-explain how I prefer policy over litigation, and see myself being involved in the research and grassroots outreach that accompanies groundbreaking social justice case law. I’m sure a lot of you do as well.

So, as I sat there, explaining yet again, how my degree and skill set would be an asset to this organization in this specific position, it somehow started to click a little bit better than it did before. (Or maybe after saying it hundreds of times I’m just starting to believe it myself!) Basically, law school forces every project management skill you’ve ever needed to know down your throat and into your mind. Now, this isn’t to say that you can still do basic math, or that you have any idea at all how to manage up or manage down (more on that in a future post), but, you, having matriculated in or graduated from a law school program, know damn well how to balance competing priorities (i.e., life and work or life and school) and, moreover, can see the general overarching themes (rules) of various problems (issues) that will help you solve problems (Paula Plaintiff’s claims, Defendant Danny’s defenses, and the likely outcomes of each) over and over again, back and forth, upside down and under.

While not always immediately analogous to other careers, I guarantee you that finding these connections will be easier to us because we know that Agency is Contracts is Remedies is Torts is not any sort of sugary dessert. We know how one accident or misstep can change someone’s life and upon hearing the facts are likely already brainstorming which screwdrivers and color of duct tape in our toolbox will best help. Specifically, we can create solutions, drawing from a multifaceted perspective that allows us to connect disciplines, themes, people and projects in a way that looks beyond any one immediate situation.

I’d hire someone who can do that. Wouldn’t you?

1 Comments

claudia.law@gmail.com

I would hire someone with those skill sets! While I am working in a law job now as a bankruptcy attorney, I have thought about whether working in a non-law job, like perhaps as a teacher might not be a better calling for me.  I have always wondered what an interview for a non-law job would be like, and you pretty reaffirmed what I thought- that I would be questioned for not wanting to work in the legal field !
I’m not ready to leave the legal field yet, but I have 2 small kids at home and I would like to at least think that I have other options in life!

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