Are you tired, frustrated, and exhausted with the practice of law? Do you find yourself questioning how you ended up in this unhappy place, despite all the hard work and effort you put into law school and your legal career? If so, you’re not alone.
Many attorneys reach a point where they want to leave the law behind and pursue a different path. We crave a job that not only pays well but also provides us with a sense of meaning and self-worth. We’ve all heard the phrase “You can do anything with a law degree,” but sometimes, instead of inspiring us, this statement only adds to our stress.
When we start exploring other career options, we quickly realize that the choices are overwhelming. It’s human nature to struggle when faced with too many options. We become indecisive, unable to choose just one path. Instead of embracing the opportunities that a law degree offers, we often find ourselves paralyzed by the choices. As a result, we continue practicing law, remaining unhappy.
Another challenge comes when we seek advice on what jobs are available to someone with a law degree. The answers we receive are often too broad (Politics! Banking! Entrepreneurship!) or require additional training and schooling (Become a doctor! Become a chemist!). For those of us with student loan debt and bills to pay, these suggestions are simply unrealistic (Become a park ranger! Become a high school history teacher!).
What we lawyers who want to leave the law truly need is a realistic assessment of non-legal jobs that utilize our skills and exist within our professional networks. We require jobs that involve issue spotting, public speaking, analytical skills, client management, risk management, informative and engaging writing, and the ability to distill complex ideas into simple summaries. These jobs should also be available in the same geographical location where we currently reside.
In this article, I aim to provide a list of nine non-legal jobs that align well with a lawyer’s skill set, primarily in corporate settings. It’s important to note that pursuing these jobs requires hard work and intensive effort. We must first understand our unique strengths, preferences, and passions and identify roles that align with these qualities. We need to reposition our legal resumes to match these non-legal jobs. Networking and meeting professionals in these fields are also crucial steps to gather valuable insights into potential roles we may enjoy and secure warm leads within companies, increasing our chances of being considered for these positions.
So, without further ado, let’s explore nine corporate jobs that are highly suited to lawyers:
An HR Manager plays a vital role in shaping a company’s human resources landscape. They plan, implement, and evaluate employee relations and HR policies and programs. This position involves assessing new hires and employees, requiring the ability to read people accurately. Organizational skills, meeting deadlines, and unwavering attention to detail are essential. HR professionals also ensure the company’s compliance with legal requirements and may represent the company in hearings. This role aligns particularly well with employment or labor attorneys who possess strong people skills and empathy.
Chief Operating Officer
One of the great aspects of being a COO is that it permeates every aspect of a business. COOs, often alongside VP of Operations, influence everything from strategy and sales to HR, finance, and legal matters. They ensure that proper operational controls, administrative procedures, and people systems are in place to facilitate the organization’s growth, financial strength, and operational efficiency. COOs assess crucial metrics, oversee the organization’s infrastructure, and act as a glue that holds the company together. Seasoned attorneys who are natural leaders, enjoy influencing various levels and departments within an organization, and have valuable experience counseling company executives make ideal candidates for this role.
Recruiters focus on meeting a company’s staffing objectives by recruiting and evaluating job candidates. They advise hiring managers on the best courses of action, establish recruiting requirements, manage applicant channels, and handle all logistics of the hiring process while ensuring compliance with legal and regulatory requirements. This role is a great fit for lawyers who enjoy deal-making, leading recruiting events, possess a solid understanding of employment law, and thrive on interacting with different departments.
Chief Financial Officer
Although it might seem unconventional for lawyers who pursued liberal arts degrees, the CFO position actually aligns well with many legal skills. Being a CFO doesn’t require crunching numbers (that’s what bookkeepers and controllers are for). Instead, CFOs serve as true partners to CEOs and other executives, responsible for developing and maintaining the company’s financial well-being. Their teams provide financial projections and accounting services to inform strategic decision-making. In smaller companies, CFOs oversee administrative functions like Legal, HR, and Administration. This role suits lawyers who are meticulous, conservative with finances, possess a broad strategic mindset, and consider themselves “care takers” of the organization.
Vice President of Business Development
The VP of Business Development plays a crucial role in building a company’s market position. They identify, develop, define, negotiate, and close business deals, relationships, partnerships, and opportunities. Although similar to sales, this position requires even more strategic thinking and alignment with long-term company objectives. It involves creating opportunities and driving business growth. Legal skills such as managing complex contract negotiations and working closely with legal counsel are invaluable in this role. Corporate, M&A, or licensing attorneys who enjoy deal-making, building relationships, representing an organization, and contributing to short and long-term strategies thrive in this position.
Vice President/Director of Corporate Development
Similar to the VP of Business Development role, the VP or Director of Corporate Development focuses on proactive deal-making, legal awareness, and contract negotiations. Corporate development professionals, often high-level executives, lead a company’s growth through mergers, acquisitions, or reorganizations. The main objective of this role is to fuel overall corporate growth. Attorneys who enjoy deals, excel in interpersonal skills, quickly adapt to dynamic industries, and have experience advising clients in M&A make perfect candidates.
Project managers ensure the successful completion of projects by planning, evaluating, and overseeing project activities. They take full responsibility for the project, from start to finish, managing staffing, timelines, budgets, unexpected challenges, and final delivery. This role involves managing relationships between team members and stakeholders. It can span various industries, from technology and consumer goods to research, engineering, and professional services. Project management suits attorneys who excel in mentoring, possess leadership capabilities, are deeply interested in specific product types or industries, enjoy immersing themselves in tasks, and thrive under pressure.
While not typically a senior position, the role of a content writer focuses on crafting engaging content across various marketing channels to promote a company’s brand and mission. This includes writing blog posts, news articles, product descriptions, compliance documents, technical papers, social media content, emails, and presentations. Occasionally, this role may also involve editing and proofreading documents and proposals. It requires some marketing knowledge and a commercial mindset. Young attorneys who love to write, pay attention to detail, meet deadlines, enjoy marketing and branding, and possess excellent research skills find this role particularly appealing.
Corporate trainers teach skills and knowledge to employees within a company. Their responsibilities range from training new employees to teaching new skills or business systems to existing staff. They also play a crucial role during corporate mergers or transitions. Corporate trainers are essentially teachers who must be comfortable speaking in public, creating and understanding training materials, working closely with individuals, and evaluating employee progress. They need to select the most suitable programs and materials for the subjects they teach. Excellent public speaking skills, the ability to motivate and manage training staff, and a good understanding of training budgets are necessary. This role is an excellent fit for litigators who are tired of the adversarial nature of law, enjoy collaborating, educating, and performing with others.
While it may not be entirely accurate to claim that you can do anything with a law degree, there are undoubtedly concrete non-legal jobs that greatly benefit from a lawyer’s skill set. These jobs can provide the career path, financial incentives, and professional satisfaction that unhappy lawyers seek.
(To learn more about leaving the law and exploring alternative careers, visit Garrity Traina.)
Casey Berman, University of California, Hastings ’99, is a current chief strategy officer, investment banker, and former in-house counsel. He is also the founder of Leave Law Behind, a blog and community dedicated to helping dissatisfied attorneys transition out of the legal field.