After applying to law school, studying for the LSAT, and working doggedly to earn that JD and pass the bar, the last thing practicing attorneys want to do is transition from legal jobs into another field, right?
Not necessarily. While many lawyers love their jobs and even stay in their first area of specialization, some have successfully transitioned to careers outside of the legal field. Robert Half Legal recently conducted a survey of 200 lawyers at top U.S. firms and corporations to get an idea of what profession they would have pursued had they not opted for legal jobs. Here are some of the findings, along with career advice for associates considering a transition.
The most popular Plan B among those polled was business management or marketing, selected by 20 percent of respondents. The popularity of this option may be due in part to the sample of attorneys; half of those surveyed work at companies with over 1,000 employees, and they likely have been exposed to plenty of professionals in both fields.
Those with a background in intellectual property or corporate law will already have transferable skills if they choose to move into the world of business. Some talents attorneys possess that prepare them for management or marketing include leadership, communication and an outcome-focused mentality. To really make the leap from legal jobs to management roles, pursue a master of business administration (MBA).
By the time lawyers leave law school, they will have at a minimum of seven years of higher education. As such, they are familiar with academic life and could probably see themselves teaching. Of the respondents, 12 percent said if they hadn’t entered legal jobs, they would have gone into education.
Like most tenure-track positions, professorships in academic law are extremely competitive. To join the faculty of a law school, you need to have a strong academic history, practical experience and a solid publication record. If not a law professorship, a JD could also help you become a high-school teacher in government, social studies, political science or economics. Depending on the state and whether you want to teach in a public or private high school, you may have to become licensed.
The skills of an attorney come in handy in teaching roles. The ability to take complex information, break it down and present it as an easy-to-understand argument is at the heart of education at any level.
A similar number of respondents (12 percent) said they would have pursued a career in finance or economics. In finance-related fields, you’ll need strong analytical skills and a sharp attention to detail. Moving into the world of finance would be an easier transition for someone already immersed in the numbers side of corporate law, or a professional who has held legal jobs in areas like tax law, estate planning, and mergers and acquisitions.
Law and medicine have traditionally been the top two most prestigious careers. Perhaps that’s what the 7 percent of respondents had in mind when they opted for this Plan B field. Indeed, there is some overlap between the two fields, especially for attorneys who specialize in biotechnology IP, malpractice, personal injury, health law or medical policy.
Switching from attorney to doctor obviously requires another set of letters after your name. In fact, a number of law schools offer a joint JD-MD degree. But even without an MD, a lawyer could go into medical management, the pharmaceutical industry or other related fields.
The key takeaway is this: Lawyers have a variety of options and valuable skills that are transferable to a number of other industries.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.