Leaving the Law and Maintaining a Standard of Living

Looking to leave the law and need tips on what to consider? Read on to learn more about getting out of practicing law, working part-time while you do, and how to figure out the right path for you.

Gold Star Candidate Wants Out

Q: I am an attorney 3 years out of an Ivy law school who recently left a position as an associate at a large NYC corporate law firm to seek an alternative career path and better lifestyle. What tips do you have for a lawyer making this leap? What do you think about working part-time as a contract attorney while I figure out what the right path is?

A: Congratulations to you on your adventurous and innovative decision to seek an alternative career path to law firm practice. You will find that many (including myself) have also taken this path. I can also understand your decision to continue part-time practice while you identify what your new path will be. See Deborah Arron's book on contract lawyering.

To locate such a position, I would recommend bypassing all temp agencies and headhunters; they will absorb a significant portion of the fees paid for your services, and -- as you have already discovered -- they will not have useful contacts for part-time work. Instead, I would recommend the more labor-intensive but ultimately more promising approach of contacting law firms directly. I would begin with the law firm where you used to work, and then proceed to every law firm where you have friends or other contacts. How about contacting law firm associates or partners who are graduates or your Ivy law school? Find them listed in Martindale Hubbell. They will be more likely than anyone else to steer you in the right direction. You can also contact lawyers who have listed specialties in areas where you have experience.

I believe strongly in using voicemail rather than E-Mail for this networking search; voicemail is a warmer medium, and it might actually lead to a brief conversation with a person. Your resume can follow. The voicemail message will give your name, the name of your law school, as well as the name of the law firm where you used to work. The voicemail message will briefly explain that you are calling to inquire whether this lawyer or any other lawyer in the person's firm may be overworked currently and need part-time contract assistance from someone with your background. You may have to make a lot of calls to get this process started, but you can make many calls in a short time, without leaving the comfort of your home. You will need to persevere, but I expect you will succeed. You certainly have a compelling motivation to follow this one through. Good luck. To help you find the "true path" for your alternative, I recommend Deborah Arron's most recent book, "What Can You Do With a Law Degree," 4th edition. I buy this book by the carton from the publisher (Niche Press in Seattle) and make them available to all of my lawyer clients.

How Do I Make a Career Change Yet Maintain My Standard of Living?

Q: At 54, I've had a successful career so far, even considering the fact that I am now out of work. Things look quite bleak on the job market, so perhaps now is the time to re-evaluate life and future career direction. Since where I am now is based on the plan of a 23 year old (me), how do I now best use all my experience, intelligence and talent to create the next 30 years? I am assuming of course, that I will fall into the typical statistical pattern of living to be 85. I am not unhappy. I just see that looking for a job and getting one again, based on my experience appears to be somewhat boring and redundant at this point, not to mention not very fulfilling. I have been at the Sr. VP Level for about 10 years too. I'm not talking about small change.

A: The key words in the information you've provided, for me, are boring, redundant and not very fulfilling related to staying in the same type of work you've been doing. Certainly not unusual for someone your age who's been in a particular career for many years, to feel the need for a change. What may have once fit (assuming that it did) may not fit any longer, for a variety of reasons. These could include shifts in your interests, values (the purpose you'd like your work to serve) and/or skills you'd most like to use.

It might be worthwhile to take the time to do a thorough inventory of your most preferred skills and integrate that information with your strongest interests and values to identify new areas to explore. Three panel members at this site, Deborah Arron, Hindi Greenberg and Hilary Mantis, have written books to help lawyers do exactly that. What Can You Do With a Law Degree? A Lawyers Guide to Career Alternatives Inside, Outside and Around the Law, The Lawyers Career Change Handbook and Alternative Careers for Lawyers, respectively. These may be a good place to start the brainstorming process.

This is not necessarily an easy process and not necessarily easily accomplished on one's own. Seeking the help of a career counselor (check with the National Board of Certified Counselors for a certified career counselor in your area) especially one who specialized in working with lawyers, can be a tremendous asset.

Best of luck in finding a career choice that's a better fit for you.