Anyone who has been practicing law for a long time or is thinking about starting a legal career has likely heard the famous phrase, “You can do anything with a law degree”. Most lawyers know the extended version of that phrase, “You can do anything a law degree, as long as it’s practicing law.”
Jokes aside, lawyers have career options outside of practicing at a law firm, in-house or at their own law practice if they’re willing to pursue alternative legal careers. Law students and lawyers develop many transferable skills that are applicable in non-legal jobs. If your goal is to increase your income, it’s worth considering whether a new career may be the right path.
Here are some alternative career options for lawyers.
10 Alternative careers for lawyers
These are careers in which a lawyer can either directly or indirectly make use of their acquired legal skill set and professional legal experience. Some are appropriate if you want to leave law entirely.
At the end of the post, I’ve included a bunch of resources for lawyers looking for alternative careers.
1. Freelance or contract attorney
Going the freelance or contract lawyer route is an easy transition for those who aren’t ready to make the jump yet, or for those who simply want to be their own boss when it comes to choosing the clients that they want to work with. Most attorneys feel unhappy while working because of the pressure and workload – if you still want to remain in the legal practice, then going the freelance route is the best bet.
Many firms hire freelance or contract lawyers if there is a temporary increase in work or on a project-to-project basis. This gives you the flexibility to pick and choose your rates and hours.
2. Real estate broker
The real estate world can be a highly lucrative one for people with a law background. Whether it is interpersonal skills, negotiations or drafting and analyzing a contract, the skills of a lawyer come extremely handy as a real estate broker.
All you need is a license and you’re all set to begin the next step in your career. The requirements of obtaining a license differ from state to state, but are generally easy to come by for a lawyer.
Lawyers also have great project management skills which are transferable to organizing and running real estate transactions. If you’re looking to ditch billable hours for a chance to manage deals in the most efficient manner possible, real estate may be appealing to you.
3. Investment banking / private equity
If you’re someone who enjoys a high pressure and competitive working environment, then you might want to consider moving into investment banking or private equity. The lucrative earnings and highly incentivized reward-based system of investment banking draws many lawyers who wants to be on the “business” side of transactions.
Depending on your educational background, many firms will hire lawyers as junior analysts and trust them to learn the ropes in lieu of a finance degree. You may also want to work with a recruiter in your job search to help you find banks or private equity firms most receptive to hiring a former lawyer transition into a business role.
Typically, you’re going to have the best luck in this route if you’re already working in Biglaw in New York or San Francisco and have some experience working with private equity or investment banking clients (in fact, your LinkedIn contacts might be a great place to start searching for a job).
4. HR and recruitment
The Human Resources and recruitment industry is constantly on the lookout for highly skilled and smart individuals. As a lawyer, you’ll be bringing your people skills, organizational skills, assessment skills and if you happen to have a relatively high EQ, you’ll fit right in.
If you don’t want to steer far away from the legal world, you can opt for legal recruiting as well. Companies often require people with a considerable amount of experience in the legal world for their recruitment needs. This specialization can command high salaries, especially depending on the size of your network. Many law school graduates are well positioned to leverage networks (like you have on LinkedIn) to create a rewarding career as a recruiter.
If being a legal recruiter isn’t your dream, you still might enjoy working in Human Resources where you can utilize interpersonal and public relations skills in furtherance of your company’s hiring goals.
As the world becomes more and more oversaturated with tweets, social media posts and online content, there is a rising demand for long-form and technical writing. Lawyers who can understand complex events and jargon and distill it down for broader consumption will likely find an audience.
This isn’t much different from what you currently do for clients, taking the complex world of litigation or deals and efficiently explaining it and answering their questions. Most law jobs involve taking the complex and translating it into the simple, so it should be no surprise that writing or journalism would be a viable alternative career for a lawyer.
6. Project management
The role of a project manager is to accomplish the objective of a project by strategizing, planning and organizing. They wear multiple hats to see that the project is completed from the start to end in a successful manner. This is where basic management skills, problem-solving abilities, and organizational skills of a lawyer comes in handy.
If you’re someone who likes to be in-charge and has the ability to work across industries and generally has the skills to get something from point A to point B, this role is for you.
7. Content writer
A content writer or a copywriter is someone who writes useful material for an organization. This can be long-form or short-form content. While this is not the most senior position, if you are a young lawyer with an interest in writing, this is a viable career option.
Your typical day would be writing various marketing materials like emails, blogs, newsletters, etc. With the rise of many online agencies and marketing agencies, the role of a content writer is unlikely to go away anytime soon and offers a very flexible, often remote lifestyle.
There are also plenty of legal organizations that need content writers who understand legal issues (e.g. bar associations, legal service providers, etc.).
8. Business development manager
A business development manager is someone who drives sales in an organization. They’re responsible for getting new clients onboard and managing existing ones. This client-facing role requires strong communication and interpersonal skills.
As a lawyer, you can put your skills to use while preparing and making pitches to potential clients. You have to be highly personable with a likeable personality with a penchant for sales techniques to make it as a business development manager.
9. Account manager
Just like a project manager, an account manager also requires strong management and interpersonal skills. You need to be level-headed and should have the ability to manage and maintain existing client relations. An account manager acts as a bridge between the client and the company.
It’s a highly dynamic role that requires people management skills and a high ability to solve problems. The role is found en masse in virtually any industry, and can be a very fruitful career option for lawyers.
10. Teaching and academia
Are you someone that loves law but not the business aspect of it? If so, then going the academic route is a great option. You’ll likely need a masters’ degree to be able to teach law, but beyond that, practical experience is the great differentiator.
Teaching law can be a highly rewarding and fulfilling experience for many who love the nitty-gritty of law and are keen on passing down their knowledge to the next generation of lawyers.
Career resources for lawyers
If you need additional help regarding making the big leap from law to another career, you might consider seeking help from a career center (e.g. from your law school or the ABA) or by working with a career coach that specializes in lawyers.
Here are some additional resources worth consulting:
- The Unhappy Lawyer: A Roadmap to Finding Meaningful Work Outside of the Law, by Monica Parker (2008), “This book helps you ask and answer the hard questions about what you really want from your work and life and will help you successfully pursue your career goals.”
- 24 Hours with 24 Lawyers: Profiles of Traditional and Non-Traditional Careers, by Jasper Kim (2011), “ These working professionals each present you with a “profile” chronicling a typical twenty-four-hour day in their traditional and non-traditional careers. You will read actual twenty-four-hour accounts from the perspective of a venture capitalist, Wall Street lawyer, lobbyist, entertainment lawyer, IP attorney, sports broadcaster, JAG officer, prosecutor, criminal defense lawyer, mediator, and politician, just to name a few.”
- 60 Non-Traditional Jobs That You Can Do WIth A Law Degree by Law Crossing UK
- University of Toledo’s list of resources for nontraditional law careers options.
- “Alternative Uses for Your Law Degree” – article from the Missouri Bar Association.
- Life After Law: What to Do When You Don’t Want to Be a Lawyer Anymore, by Devo Ritter.
- Loyola University School of Law’s alternative law careers resources page
- The American Bar Association’s advice for tackling an alternative career, and a video about career changes and alternative tracks for lawyers.
- ‘What Can You Do with a Law Degree?’ book, by Larry Richard (2012). “This book contains career exercises, practical career-finding techniques, and a compendium of 800+ ways to use your law degree inside, outside or around the law.”
- Lawyer, Interrupted: Successfully Transitioning from the Practice of Law–and Back Again (2015), by Amy Impellizzeri.
- Leaving Law: How Others Did It and You Can Too, by Adele Barlow. “This is the ultimate companion for lawyers who want to escape their profession but are skeptical about career counselors. It is based on years of experience helping hundreds of confused lawyers at Escape the City, a community of motivated corporate professionals who want to do something different with their careers.”
- Alternative career paths and work-at-home suggestions for lawyers.
- The Official Guide to Legal Specialties (Career Guides), by the National Association of Law Placement (2008).” you’ll get an inside look at what it’s like to practice law in 30 major specialty areas, including appellate practice, entertainment, immigration, international, tax, and telecommunications. This book gives you the insights and expertise of top practitioners-the issues they tackle every day, the people and clients they work with, what they find rewarding about their work, and what classes or work experience you need to follow in their footsteps. Over 120 government, public interest, corporate, and private attorneys are featured.”
- Refer to the alternate careers page of Above The Law.
- Escape the City’s job listings board for many alternative careers for lawyers that don’t involve a fixed location.
- The Alternative Career Guide for Lawyers at Leaving Law Behind.
Joshua Holt is a former private equity M&A lawyer and the creator of Biglaw Investor. Josh couldn’t find a place where lawyers were talking about money, so he created it himself. He spends 10 minutes a month on Empower keeping track of his money and is currently looking for additional lenders to add to Biglaw Investor’s JD Mortgage service which connects readers with lenders offering special mortgages for high-income professionals.