By Ana Levin • December 03, 2014•Careers, Other Career Issues, Features, Guest Bloggers and Profiles of Women in the Law, Myths & Truths
As the legal field adjusts to changes in technology and in the market, the traditional legal career path is also adjusting. Formerly, you might have joined a firm out of law school and put in your time to climb the ranks to partner. However, this path has become increasingly less certain, and for some lawyers, less desirable. Data shows that:
- 81% of entry-level associates leave their law firm within 5 years. In other words, most lawyers are not building a career at one firm, as they might have done in years past.1
- 57% of lawyers leave law firms altogether before their 5th year of practice. So, more than half of junior attorneys are not even building a career at multiple firms.2
- 31% of female associates leave law practice altogether after leaving their law firm.2
These statistics have faces too. For example, there is Julia Walsh's story of realizing that, "It wasn't that [being a lawyer] was a bad job, it just wasn't the right fit for me." Nicole Chiu-Wang had a similar feeling: "I don't want to be a traditional attorney or have a traditional legal job." So what do you do if you're a junior attorney who feels like the law firm life isn't right for you?
If you already have a non-legal passion — like Julia's love of fitness, or Nicole's fashion tech interest — that's a great place to start. However, if you don't feel that call and don't know where to go from here, you may want to consider a career in legal technology, often simply called “legal tech.”
What is legal tech?
Legal tech is the part of the legal field focused on using technology to improve the practice of law and the lives of legal professionals. That can be anything from the way that transactions are conducted to the way that documents are searched in discovery to applications that haven't even been developed yet. It is a rapidly-expanding market, with a lot of opportunity to improve the status quo - and your career path.
Yet many attorneys are hesitant to make the switch. Don’t let misinformation stop you. Here are 3 common myths about legal tech that you shouldn't let keep you from exploring the field:
Myth: You're not tech-savvy enough. The goal of much of legal technology is to make it as easy-to-use and useful as Google or Microsoft Word. That means that the field needs people who understand the legal workflow and challenges firsthand, to ensure the software solves pertinent problems effectively. Not everyone in legal tech is an engineer (I say from experience), nor should they be. Your skill set is very relevant here.
Myth: You'll have to start over at the bottom again. You don't need ten years of big law experience or a big book of business to be effective at a legal tech company. The clock doesn't reset if you leave private practice, and you should negotiate to be compensated accordingly. Some legal technology vendors are startups, which could mean some compensation is in the form of vesting options - but it could also mean more say in the future of the product and of your own work.
Myth: You won't be making a difference. You may be thinking that legal technology prioritizes computer programs over people. However, the reality is that improving the tools lawyers use to do their jobs makes a difference on a grand scale. Each time that software speeds up filing or finding a document, it makes legal services accessible to more people. And, as a bonus, it makes the lives of your colleagues that much better.
So, if you find yourself identifying with the above statistics and seeking a better fit, consider the legal technology field. It can be a great career path for junior attorneys looking to significantly impact a burgeoning field. Not only can you help the legal industry achieve more, but you can also improve your own growth potential and day-to-day experience.
1 2007 NALP Update on Associate Attribution.
2 2007 NALP report/MIT study, from Sweeney, Marlisse Silver. "The Female Lawyer Exodus," The Daily Beast, July 31, 2013.