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Ask a Recruiter

Since we have former recruiters on the ex judicata staff, we are starting to get very specific questions from attorneys who feel they are at a career crossroads. They all revolve around whether to or how to transition out of the practice of law into a business role.  Here are two recent examples.  We have paraphrased here and there for clarity.

I’m a lawyer who has been doing document review for the past 5 years.  I don’t have any legal experience. I am looking now for a nonlegal job in business but worry that I don’t have what employers are looking for because I never practiced. What are my chances?

S.L.

Los Angeles, CA

I might suggest pulling up a few of the exj interviews, what comes through loud and clear is the value of the JD skill set. One’s actual experience practicing law is usually irrelevant unless it is a so-called ‘law adjacent’ job like compliance or employee benefits. This wheel illustrates the JD skill set.

jd skillset

So, when you are out interviewing you are going to lean heavily on how well-prepared you are for the business world based on your law school training. 

Also, If you haven’t already done so, viewing our webcast “If I leave law, what am I best suited for?” could also be very valuable.  It’s just an hour and moves fast.

Ed.

I’m a first-year litigation associate in the Chicago office of an Am Law 200 law firm.  I spent my second-year summer with them as well.   My time was split between litigation and tax.  I liked the tax lawyers and I believe they liked me.  But I really feel I want out.  The litigation partner who I work with most often can be abusive, the seniors are not much better.  And the more I think about it the idea of continuous confrontation, which appears to be the life of a litigation attorney, is not for me anyway.  By way of background, I went to a good law school, not a Top Ten law school.  I was in the top 25% of my class.  I graduated law school really thinking I wanted to be a lawyer.  I’ve only been at the firm for 4 months.  What’s my next step?

R.J.

Chicago, Illinois

This is obviously an important question and hopefully our answer can help you, and other attorneys who may be struggling with the same general problem.

First off, do not do anything rash.  It’s obvious there is emotion involved here and we want to make our decision(s) outside of that narrow spotlight.  Let’s first remove both the internal and external sources of confrontation.  That is, let us get away from the abusive partner and others in the litigation practice.  Then, let’s remove ‘litigation’ as a career choice.

If you spent the summer divided between tax and litigation and hadn’t fully formed an opinion on tax your next move is clear.  You should speak to the tax partner with whom you worked most during the summer.  Explain your situation.

If the tax partner has clout (a bigger biller than the partners you work with in litigation) there is the possibility that you could move to the tax practice.  You haven’t been in litigation that long.

So, first let’s try to transfer into the tax group.  If you can, give it some more months to determine if the personalities in the tax group are enough to overcome the litigation personalities.  And talk with fellow associates in other practices to get their take on the partnership on the whole.  If you are comfortable with the tax work and the people, you are in good shape.

If you are unable to move to the tax group, you are going to want to look for a new law firm.  Shoot for one where there is an opening in tax.  If not, then consider other practices.  Again, you haven’t been out of law school too long for that to count against you.

This next point is critical.  No matter how bad you found the personalities or your law firm in general do not bad mouth the firm in any interviews. Even, if an interviewer appears to give you an opening such as “I hear things are pretty bad at XYZ law …”  Don’t react.   “XYZ just wasn’t a fit for me…”  That is your story Again experience at least one other practice and law firm before you decide to leave the practice altogether. 

I’ve been a lawyer for 4 years.  First as an associate at an AmLaw 100 law firm for 2 years, and then in the law department of a major packaged goods company for 2 years.  I’ve done well at both jobs.  But it’s the result of my normal dedication to task completion.  I don’t enjoy what I do.  My friends and family are tired of my complaining.  I think I am much more cut out for a business job.  Especially, because in my current position I interact with so many business units.  I’d like to move to a position as a brand manager for one of our household name products.  I’ve studied the role and know that I’d work even harder than I normally have (and I’ve worked very hard) because this is a job I would actually enjoy.  How do I broach the subject with my company?


MK

New York, New York

Assuming you are sure about brand management the first thing to do is to find out everything you can about the department.  The bosses, the people on the level you’d be entering.  Find out who the ultimate decision maker is for hires on the level you’d be entering. 

Next, if you work for someone you can confide in do so.  Get their thoughts on what it means to leave, what they think the best way to proceed would be and if they have heard of it ever happening.  At the same time see if you can find out if there are any JDs out there who have achieved success as brand managers.  This, by sifting through trade publications and directories and talking with your law school placement office and the alumni affairs office.

Be sure you know exactly what the comp is and have budgeted for what will most likely be a pay cut.  If you can make the economics work, your boss is behind you, and he or she has a relationship with the leader of the group you’d be moving to and/or the HR department let them make the overture for you.

You have to do so with eyes open.  Once you’ve raised your hand that you want out of the law, if your company can’t accommodate you, you will probably have to find another job.  For this reason, while preparing a pitch to your current employer you’ll want to at the same time have been doing research into similar companies and learning about their brand management set up. 

And, same as above, looking at trade publications, directories and talking with your law school’s placement office and alumni affairs office to see about JDs in brand management roles and, in addition, looking for connections to these other companies.  Not just in brand management but alumnus who may work in other areas within these additional companies on your list.  They’ll be people you can reach out to.

Right now we are sifting through a good amount of questions and we’ll be featuring the ones we think have the most universal interest .  As we staff up at ex judicata, we will welcome your submissions.  Thank you for understanding.

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