Try It Before You Buy It: Four Ways to “Try Out” a New Career

Lawyers are notoriously risk averse. This generalization makes them good at what they do.

It also makes them bad at getting out. 

When I speak to transitioning lawyers, I hear some of the same fears echoed back time and time again. 

How can I leave without knowing for sure?

What if I leave and I'm still unhappy?

What else could I possibly do?

I always start these conversations as I will here: with four ways to "try it before you buy it." 

1) Join a Board. 

Local non-profits, civic foundations, and even schools are often looking for new Board members. It's my experience that lawyers are in high demand for these Board openings, which provide insight not only into the operations of the underlying organization, but also provide networking opportunities with professionals in a variety of different fields - including outside the law.

2) Volunteer.

Useful volunteerism is one of the best ways to dip your toe in the waters outside the legal field. Very few organizations will turn down free work from a lawyer. In return for a donation of your time and possibly your talents, you will receive a chance to learn more about an organization/industry/entrepreneur opportunity without the risk of jumping ship on your legal career just yet. My friend, Carol Cohen, at iRelaunch calls it "strategic volunteerism;" I call it "good advice."

3) Teach

Ever think about moving into academia full or part-time? Interested in teaching law or some other subject? Try out an adjunct position at the local college. If that's too big a commitment, pitch a seminar on estate planning at the local retirement community, or prepare a tax seminar for your accountant's email list. Try out a new use for your old skills - one that just might be a natural step forward in your career.

4) Take a Sabbatical  

While not an option for everyone, a one year (or even a 6 month) sabbatical can be the perfect opportunity to explore new career paths with low risk. When I took my sabbatical in 2009/2010, I worked pro bono for a fledgling advocacy group and a new start-up company. I lobbied for new legislation, wrote for business journals, and started my first novel. I used the year to aggressively pursue different opportunities and by the time the year was over, I knew just what I wanted to do:

Leave the law. 

For more tips about leaving the law, check out my book, Lawyer Interrupted (ABA Publishing 2005).


Write a comment

Please login to comment

Remember Me

Become a Member

FREE online community for women in the legal profession.



Subscribe to receive regular updates, news, and events from Ms. JD.

Connect with us

Follow or subscribe