Law school told us over and over again that we can do “so many things” with a law degree.
On the first day of orientation, I remember the Dean of my law school repeating that our options were “limitless” once we graduated from law school.
But throughout my entire law school career, I never once heard about other careers we could pursue and was never encouraged to aim for “alternative legal careers” (I didn’t even know what that term meant when I graduated.) Our law school professors and career counselors made it very clear that we only had two things to do: 1) Pass the Bar and 2) Get a job at a law firm (or government or public interest org; so long as we were practicing law)
I was always curious about all these “things” I could do with a $150,000 degree. So when I was offered a marketing role in legal services just 3 months after passing the Bar (and was still recovering from a 15-pound weight gain, loss of hair, and kidney stone scare caused by my 3 years of law school hell and Bar prep stress) I JUMPED at the opportunity.
The pay it offered was great. I would be traveling to the hottest cities (Miami, Los Angeles, etc.), wining and dining lawyers at Michelin-star restaurants, and hosting clients in box seats at NBA games. Oh, and did I mention it was a career in legal services? A perfect, alternative career for me that would allow me a work/life balance, and which was still relevant to my education.
But when I told lawyers of my decision to try this new “thing,” I was practically laughed out of the legal profession:
“You’ve barely even PRACTICED law!”
“You’re going to regret that decision.”
“Three years of higher education and the Bar? What a waste.”
I was shocked at the reactions of my then boss, peers, and random lawyers I knew. I looked at the opportunity for what it was: a BETTER one than what I currently had, making $15/hour as a law school graduate.
I loved that one year I spent wining and dining lawyers all over the United States. I met some amazing people (and ate like a queen), but I continued to run into condescending lawyers and back-handed compliments like:
“Oh, you’re a “vendor” now?”
At CLE courses (participation of which was 100% sponsored by my employer), whenever I would tell lawyers about my career change, I would hear condescending replies like, “That’s funny.”
You can imagine the look on their faces when, a year later, I told them I was pivoting into yet ANOTHER career: tech recruiting in the San Francisco Bay Area.
To date, I have pivoted into a total of 6 careers, including starting my own business and coaching lawyers into healthier, more fulfilling careers. In addition, I have effectively monetized my passions and created multiple income streams, including a travel blog that lets me travel anywhere and everywhere in my reclaimed motherland of Taiwan.
During the entire nine years, I had to ignore the haters. I had to just listen to my heart and remind myself that: “None of these people have ever walked my path. None of these lawyers have ever tried anything else themselves.”
And yes, I still get people who judge me for pursuing such a “prestigious” and “expensive” education, only to “throw it all away.” But I also get people paying me to teach them what I learned along the journey. And those people refer me to their friends after my advice helps them transition into their dream jobs or lifestyles.
But I can’t help wondering: Would there even be a need for what I do if lawyers were really granted the permission to do “so many things with their law degree” in the first place? Or if law schools actually taught lawyers about the other options they had after law school? Because to date, I seem to be the exception, not the norm.
So, for all of you outliers who dare to explore the potential of your legal education (and choose to ignore the snickering in the background) here are some tips for transitioning into new industries or roles:
Network. Network. Network. I found my first alternative legal job at a party. There was only one non-lawyer in the room, and of course, I was drawn to talk to her. She ended up being the Director of Business Development at her organization, and she offered me an interview simply because she liked my people skills and attitude toward sales.
Edit your resume so that a non-lawyer can see your potential. Generalize legal jargon when you show your achievements. Also, adopt the language from the field or role you are applying to.For example, change “Served as National Counsel for asbestos litigation” to “Served as Project Manager for nationwide, high profile case.”
Take some courses or volunteer to learn more about the skills you may be missing for your next career move. Even if you haven’t completed the course at the time of your application, note that it is in progress on your resume. It will signal that you are proactive, trainable, and may even have enough exposure for what HR is looking for.
Your options are truly limitless. And it’s your life. So be bold, trust your heart, and get ready for a journey to explore “all the things.”