It happens to plenty of lawyers: One day you wake up, look in the mirror, and realize you simply can’t do it anymore—you need to get out of the legal profession.
Okay, okay, so it’s usually not that dramatic or sudden. But we all know that practicing law is an extremely demanding and stressful profession, and lots of lawyers come to the eventual realization that it’s not what they want to be doing for the rest of their lives. What happens then?
There are plenty of ways a former lawyer can utilize his or her abilities beyond law firms and courtrooms. Here’s how to choose a new path when you’re ready to go outside of the law.
Think About What You Love (and Hate)
Resist the urge—at least at first—to focus on what jobs would best put your law degree to use. Instead, consider what you loved about your job and what you couldn’t stand. Make two lists: the best and worst parts about being a lawyer. Then, use the list to see how the things you like to do match up with potential job prospects. The skills you honed in law school and on the job will make you an attractive candidate for plenty of non-legal opportunities.
Put Your Lawyer Skills to the Test
Speaking of the skills you developed during your time as a lawyer, your analytical abilities will be helpful when it comes to developing an exit strategy. Use them to logically figure out how to get from where you are to where you want to be. Then, lay out a plan to get there. No matter what, remind yourself not to worry if your background doesn’t perfectly match up with a job description. Instead, use cover letters and interviews to communicate how your skills and experience translate.
Volunteer in the Meantime
Trying to get a sense of nonlegal jobs that might be a fit? Volunteering is a great way to try on an industry before committing to it fulltime. There are myriad nonprofit organizations or foundations that are in need of help from those with lawyers’ skillsets. Volunteer opportunities are also invaluable from a networking perspective and can directly lead to job opportunities outside of the law down the road.
Talk to Everyone
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Networking is critical. Hands down, the best way to find a new job or start a new career is to leverage your network—even if you feel like you only know lawyers. Who do you know who has already left the industry? Who do your friends and family know who works in an industry that’s appealing to you? Ask for introductions as needed. Reaching out to those in your new field of interest for an informational interview can help you with advice as well as job prospects, which will come in handy as you attempt to make your transition.
Look for Nonlegal Jobs in Your Specialty
If you’re open to working in a field related to the one in which you’ve been practicing, you’ll likely have a leg up on the competition. For instance, if you worked in environmental law, you’re likely already more qualified than many of the other applicants to work in certain areas of government or environmental nonprofits. Once you’ve figured out how you want to spend your time, assess whether there are specific fields with which your experience aligns.
So, you’re absolutely sure you’re ready to leave the law. Take the next two weeks to make the lists of what you liked about lawyering and what you didn’t like, as well as a list that lines up your skills and preferences with potential jobs. This is the first step to get you on your way to your new career.