- About to graduate from college and contemplating going to law school, but holding off on signing up for the LSAT because you don’t want to be another lawyer subject to a 9 to 11 (yes 11 not 5), career in a stuffy law firm?
- A 1L who has often times daydreamed about the possibility of raking in a six-figure salary at a law firm but you remain drawn to pursuing your lifelong goal of advocating for the indigent or even representing your country in a government career?
- A 2L, 3L or recent graduate who was certain about your decision to work in a law firm but after experiencing a summer or maybe even several months working in this context you’ve come to realize that this isn’t what you expected and need a way out?
If you responded yes to any of the above questions, then you my friend are interested in an alternative career path as a lawyer. Just so you know, despite everything we’ve seen on TV and despite the wealth of information that may have already been thrown at you regarding OCI for big law firm careers, there are other career possibilities out there! Being a lawyer doesn’t always require you to work in a structured environment, wear a tailored suit and bill your time spent reading an email or taking a coffee break.
If you want to be a lawyer but you have no interest in working in a traditional firm setting, then keep reading. This is the beginning of a series in which we will uncover how you can pursue a career in a non-traditional law firm setting, as a public interest, government or in-house attorney. I will be covering things that you can do now as a law student, a post-graduate or even before beginning law school to prepare you to enter this career field. I will also be providing in-depth details about how to transition into these alternative fields and what to expect once you get there. So buckle up and let’s get started on this journey!
What Can You Do Now?
If you’re considering a legal career outside of a law firm setting, you need to brace yourself, because this is not a quest for the faint of heart. Seeking an alternative career will require a lot of work on your end because this is not the traditional path that most students take and as a result (from my experience), a wealth of information about these careers isn’t usually readily available and thrust upon the student body like law firm jobs. Therefore, students interested in these careers usually have to put most of the work in to get access to their dream job.
Here are a few things you can do now to take yourself a step closer to one of these positions:
If you have no idea which alternative career you’d like to pursue or even if you already have your dream job in mind, it’s important that you research every single thing you possibly can about this position before getting started. Research all the different types of alternative positions available and create a short list with the positions you’re most interested. Look into the requirements for these positions. Is it one that may require prior volunteer experience as many public interest jobs do or is it one that may require you to build on your networking contacts in order to gain access? No matter what career you choose, make a determination from early on so that you can have an advantage when it’s time to apply.
2. Tell Your Career Advisor
If you’re considering an alternative career, it’s very important that you tell your career advisor ASAP! As I mentioned earlier, your career office may not volunteer as much information to you about these positions, but they do have the information available. So take advantage of this resource! Let your advisor know the type of alternative career you’re interested in so that they can keep you in mind if any of these positions fall on their radar and so that they can guide you along on your journey.
3. Get Experience
Although grades are very important for an alternative career, unlike traditional law firm positions, this isn’t the primary factor that employers consider when hiring for these jobs. Employers in these fields also heavily consider the type of experience you have. For example, a few of my friends who have landed District Attorney positions have cited that they would not have acquired their job without first gaining internship experience. So get out there! Volunteer or try to get an internship or even an externship working in your alternative career field of choice. Be sure to consult your career advisor as you seek out these positions.
I know you’re probably tired of hearing about the wonders of networking, but considering the competitive nature of many of these alternative positions, this may indeed be your only way to gain access to your dream job. For example, if you’re interested in an in- house counsel career, networking should probably be your primary job search tool. In-house employers don’t usually seek out first-year attorneys to fill vacancies. However, beginning your legal career as an in-house attorney is not unheard of, it just means that you may have to start making contacts in these positions as early as possible to give yourself an edge. So get on it! Start making those contacts.
Another important consideration to make is funding. If you’re leaning towards a public interest career, there’s a high likelihood that a summer internship in one of these positions will not include a salary. But please don’t let that dissuade you! There are many fellowships and grants available for law students specifically working in public interest during the summer. However, the burden is on you to seek out these funding opportunities and apply on time. Additionally, if you’re leaning towards a legal career in government, there’s also a possibility that your first-year position may not include a salary. However, there are also fellowships and stipends available for recent graduates working in these positions. So get with your career advisor so that you can find the best funding options for your situation.
No matter where you are in your legal journey, get started early in applying the above tips if you’re interested in an alternative career. Also, stay tuned throughout this series to get additional insight into alternative legal jobs.
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