By Diana LaMorie • December 05, 2018•Writers in Residence, Careers, Other Career Issues, Law School, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job
I've been extolling the virtues of alternative legal careers for the past 10 months, so it's about time I introduce a contrarian element. My goal with the 'JD Preferred' theme of this blog is not to gloss over the hardships for folks who are facing six-figure debts and limited job prospects. What I am advocating, in all cases, is a deliberate approach. So whether I am reaching you in anticipation of enrolling in law school or in the throes of a post-JD career transition, allow me to share some thoughts on when touting your JD will not get you what you want in your career.
When What You Want Doesn't Require a JD
This piece of advice applies to Ms. JD's pre-law readers. Do not go to law school unless you can't imagine yourself doing anything other than practicing law. If the thing you want to do doesn't require a JD, try doing that thing first! One exception to this advice: if you have identified a JD Preferred path that you are fully committed to pursuing post-law school, strongly believe you will have a higher chance of securing such a position after obtaining a JD, and have a bona fide career plan written out, then I wouldn't discourage you (see picture at sidebar; image found here).
When You Don't Know What You Want
For both pre-law readers and law school graduates, invest all of your emotional energy into figuring out what you want to do with your professional life. When I say that you need a deliberate approach to your career, your resume should showcase that you have paved the way for the job you are pursuing now, even if it reverses course from the traditional path of legal practice. If you look wishy washy and can't tell a coherent story for why you chose the jobs you held before and why you are choosing to pursue a new type of role next, you will not come off as a desirable candidate to hiring managers.
If you are not clear on what you want or are unsure as to how to transition to your career, invest the time and money by hiring a career coach, seeking mentorship, and canvassing every alumni database and LinkedIn contact you can find in an effort to speak to actual practitioners of jobs you think you'd like to pursue. If there is a skills or experience gap standing between your prior roles and what you want to do in the future, fill that gap with external training courses, volunteering for professional organizations, or part-time and freelance work until there's a bridge formed between your professional past and future to help you frame your transition story.
When It Looks Like You Couldn't Hack It
Many people successfully transition from law practice to JD Preferred career paths. The key to successful transitions, however, involves selling your transferable skills from one position to the next. It doesn't happen when it looks like you can't stay employed in the law, were laid off, fired, burnt out, or just looking to coast in a less demanding profession. There are no easy jobs these days, only content workers who find fulfillment in their roles because they are doing work that is aligned with their interests and talents. Make sure that you can clearly demonstrate that you'll be one of them.
When You Look Desperate
I graduated during The Great Recession when the legal job market contracted and law graduates were left out in the cold. I saw a lot of people shut out of opportunities that seemed like a sure bet when they applied to law school three years earlier. Regardless of whether their expectations were realistic, I was honestly surprised at how many of my classmates were political science, philosophy or other liberal arts majors with minimal internship or office work experience pre-law (sorry but 'teenage jobs' like lifeguarding and waitressing don't count in this context). I had thought it was an overhyped cliche, but they were ubiquitous. Naturally, with nothing to distinguish themselves from thousands of other JD job seekers flooding the market and with a shrinking legal job market post-2008, they became desperate. Many had to leave law practice before they even started. Some people removed the JD off their resume because employers knew the sorry state of entry-level JD graduates at the time. Luckily, almost 10 years out, I am happy to report that the people I knew who held steadfast to their desired career paths and took some risks because they knew what they wanted regardless of the current economic climate at the time have persevered (whether it was starting a solo practice, working in a JD Preferred path that closely resembles the practice area they thought they wanted to follow, etc.).
The bottom line is: If you know what you want and stick to it, chances are that someone will take a chance on hiring you! And it can only go uphill from there.
In writing about these unfortunate situations, I am not trying to lambaste hard working folks who are at a crossroads. Rather, I am candidly sharing some likely skepticism you will face when trying to secure a job that doesn't seem to match up with your existing career path. Even if you might fall under one of the above scenarios, use it as an opportunity to deliberate and get clear on what you want. Then write out a plan incorporating some of the action items I outlined above until you flip the narrative from that of an aimless lawyer to a marketable professional who knows what they want and has the skills to succeed in a new venture. Now is the best time to take charge of your career. Feel free to message me if you feel I can provide you with some advice on your situation. Best of luck!