Guide: Career Change Tips & Job Titles for Attorneys that Don't Want to Practice
Put Your Degree to Work and Move Beyond the Practice of Law with these Job Search Tips
Tired of traditional legal roles, but not sure what else you can do? This complete guide breaks down everything you need to know to move beyond practicing law and into a new field. Keep reading to find the steps, industries, and fields that work for attorneys wanting to move on.
You’ve been an attorney for years, and you’re tired of practicing law. You want a change, but you’re not sure what kinds of job titles to pursue. Our recruiters and career change experts put together the following guide to plan your career change and the titles that many attorneys successfully pursue outside of traditional legal roles.
What Skills Do You Have?
First, take inventory of the skills you have acquired as an attorney. Many of the skills you have developed, such as research, writing, and critical thinking, are valuable in a variety of industries. You may be surprised at how many doors your legal training has opened for you.
Network With People Outside of the Legal Field
One of the best ways to find a new career is to network with people who are already in the field you're interested in. Talk to your friends and family members about their careers and see if they know anyone who's hiring. Attend networking events and trade shows related to your field of interest. Get involved with relevant online communities and forums. The more people you talk to, the more likely you are to find a new career that's a good fit for you.
Decide Your Level in the New Field
Moving from traditional legal roles to non-traditional legal careers can also mean a change in your level. This career change doesn't have to mean a cut in pay, but it can mean that your title will fluctuate.
Your experience as a lawyer and any other experiences outside of the legal field will play a big role in what types of titles to look for.
Every organization outside of law firms, can vary in what titles they use to explain the level of a job. But, here's an explanation of the basics:
Coordinator - these are usually entry-level jobs that require 1 - 3 years of work experience, but sometimes are training roles that move into management positions.
Analyst - these are often more than entry-level roles. Analyst positions frequently require 3 - 5 years of experience. They often work with multiple groups, data, and initiatives.
Officer / Associate - another mid-level role that is facilitating initiatives. This term is often used in compliance or regulatory work to show accountability. However, these are typically individual contributor positions.
Manager - can reflect the ownership of a program, policy, or requirement. A manager can also manage people, but doesn't always. The manager frequently has budget influence or administrative authority, but not always.
Director - typically leads programs/policies, people, and budgets. However, in some organizations, only senior directors have budget authority.
Senior Director - owns the P&L, leads people, and sets the strategy for the group/department. Typically reports to a VP or other senior-level executive.
VP - often reports to the divisional leadership or the C-Suite depending on the organization's size. For the most part, is a higher-level role. However, in some organizations/industries, the VP title is commonly used and not inherently reflective of a senior-level executive role.
Focus on Relevant Industries
In making your career move, make the decision to focus on the industries that will be an easier transition for you. For many, the specifics of what they did as a lawyer will play a big role in what industries they focus on (or avoid). Here are some industries that lawyers moving out of practice often focus on:
A lot of attorneys provide advice well beyond the traditional legal aspects of their clients' needs. This often includes a level of consulting through challenging business or personal decisions. This skill is highly valued by consulting firms that need someone capable of working with their clients.
Many attorneys find careers in financial services, where they use their legal knowledge to advise clients on investments and other financial matters. Financial services firms hire attorneys to work in a variety of positions, including investment banking, risk management, client services, compliance, and regulatory matters.
The technology industry is another great option for attorneys looking for something different. Technology companies hire attorneys to work in a variety of positions beyond the legal department. This includes compliance, data, product, sales operations, government relations, operations, and customer success/relationship management.
There is a growing demand for lawyers with experience in the health care industry. It is highly regulated and companies in this field need people that can navigate a variety of rules, jurisdictional requirements, and complex personality dynamics. The healthcare field includes insurance carriers, but it also includes providers, hospital systems, specialty clinics, technology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and organizations that sell to providers/systems.
While many attorneys start their careers in government, others find their way there after a few years in the private sector. The type of work that lawyers do in government is as varied as the number of agencies and levels of government. Many attorneys find their way into policy roles, while others focus on regulatory or compliance work. Still, others become program managers, investigators, auditors, or case managers.
Many non-profit organizations need attorneys to provide legal services, but there are also many positions that don't require a law degree. These can include policy work, fundraising, marketing, human resources, and program management.
Lawyers are uniquely positioned to provide a number of functions and that's important to non-profits as they have limited budgets. So, a lawyer willing and interested in doing more than simply traditional legal work is a huge find for many non-profit organizations.
The culture and business needs of start-ups are different than those of established businesses and so the skill set required is also different. Start-ups need people that can wear many hats and be comfortable with change. This is what most attorneys do all day. So, attorneys and start-ups are often a good match for the fast-paced environment of start-ups.
A lot of attorneys find that they are a good fit for start-ups because they have the ability to think outside the box and be creative in their approach to problem-solving. Start-ups also need attorneys that are able to work independently and take initiative. If you are an attorney that is interested in working for a start-up, it is important to research the company and its culture to make sure that it is a good fit for you.
Plus, the ability of many attorneys to think through and create processes is hugely valuable to a growing organization. Many start-ups need people to create processes for growth from the ground up. Lawyers have seen the worst when such processes weren't in place and can provide the practical advice to create such processes and ensure they are followed.
These are only a few examples of the many industries that attorneys can pursue. The key is to focus on the industries that you are interested in and that will be a good fit for your skillset.
Top Non-Legal Fields where Attorneys Succeed
Now that you have a sense of the industries to pursue, you will want to focus your job search on the right types of functions in those organizations for your skills as an attorney. Here are some of the top fields that attorneys pursue outside of the legal department.
Attorneys are often a good fit for operations roles. They have the ability to see the big picture and understand how all the pieces of a company fit together. Additionally, they are used to working with a variety of people and personalities and understand how to get things done in a large organization.
Operations roles often require an understanding of the company's strategy and how to operationalize it. As such, they are a good fit for attorneys that want to use their legal training in a more strategic role.
Lawyers that are interested in operations roles should focus on developing their problem-solving and analytical skills. They should also be prepared to discuss how their legal training has helped them develop these skills.
Human resources is another area where attorneys often find success. Lawyers are used to dealing with sensitive and confidential information. They are also adept at handling difficult conversations and managing conflict. These skills are valuable in human resources, where attorneys often serve as advisers to employees and managers.
Human resources roles also require an understanding of the law and how to interpret it in complex settings. Attorneys that are interested in human resources should be familiar with employment law and have a working knowledge of the laws that impact the workplace. People in this field also need strong interpersonal skills and problem-solving abilities to guide decision-makers through the situations handled by the human resources department.
Project / Program Management
Project and program management is another area where attorneys often find success. Lawyers are used to managing complex projects with multiple stakeholders. They are also used to working under pressure and meeting deadlines. These skills are valuable in project and program management, where attorneys often serve as project managers or program coordinators.
Project and program management roles often require an understanding of the company's business and how the project or program fits into the larger organization. Attorneys that are interested in these roles should be familiar with the business of the company and have a working knowledge of project management principles.
Marketing is another area where attorneys often find success. Lawyers are used to dealing with complex information and distilling it down to its essence. They also have marketed themselves to build their practices if they worked in a law firm.
Lawyering skills are rooted in persuasion and communication. These skills are valuable in marketing, where attorneys often serve as copywriters, content marketers, or brand strategists.
Marketing roles often require an understanding of the company's products and services. Attorneys that are interested in these roles should be familiar with the company's offerings and have a working knowledge of marketing principles.
Sales is another functional area where attorneys often find success. Lawyers are used to building relationships and managing expectations. They are also used to negotiating and closing deals. These skills are valuable in sales, where attorneys often move from developing their practice to growing a business line as an account manager, business development, or channel manager.
Compliance is another area where attorneys often find success. Lawyers are used to working with a variety of rules and regulations. They are also used to interpreting complex information and communicating it to others. These skills are valuable in compliance, where attorneys often serve as compliance managers or risk managers.
Compliance roles often require an understanding of the company's business, the industry, and navigating regulatory frameworks. Attorneys can often move into these roles when they have a background in the field or are skilled at training others in rules or evaluating the application of such rules.
Strategy / Innovation
Strategy and innovation roles have many different titles, but they all focus on the same thing - taking the organization forward. This is a natural fit for many lawyers that are used to thinking creatively to solve complex problems.
Attorneys are also used to analyzing data and understanding how it can be used to inform decision-making. These skills are valuable in strategy and innovation roles within organizations or those that serve companies in need of such services.
Strategy and innovation roles often require an understanding of the company's business, the industry, and the competitive landscape. Attorneys that are interested in these roles should be familiar with the company's offerings and have a working knowledge of strategic planning principles.
Customer success is all about making sure that customers are successful with a company's products or services. Lawyers are often well-suited for customer success roles because they are used to learning about systems or products and educating others on the best practices.
Customer success roles often include an account management function. This relationship development ability is what many lawyers do in maintaining their client satisfaction in the representation.
Lawyers that find success in customer success roles are those that have the ability to learn quickly and that want to listen to their clients to understand their challenges. Customer success professionals are always looking to provide solutions with their products and to share input with the teams that guide the strategy of the future of the products.
Talent development or Learning & Development covers a wide range of functions within an organization. This could be the person that creates the training, presents the training, manages the learning management system, or that oversees the employee training programs.
Where you may fit in this field depends on your strengths and experience as an attorney. Many lawyers find success in talent development roles because they are used to working with people and educating them on complex concepts or rules.
Talent development or training-related roles frequently sit in the human resources department. But, not always. These types of roles can be found in any area that requires a standardized approach to onboarding employees. So, it could be sales, product, compliance, finance, or operations. It could also be a client-facing role where the person is training the clients on the products.
Change Management - Organizational Development
Change management is the process of planning, executing, and monitoring changes to a company. This could be a change in strategy, products, processes, or people. Many lawyers are familiar with change management because it is often required in response to new regulations.
Organizational development is the field that focuses on developing the systems and structures within an organization. This includes the development of policies, procedures, and processes. It also includes organizational design and change management.
Lawyers that are interested in these types of roles should have a passion for understanding how organizations work and how they can be improved. They should also be skilled at problem-solving and have the ability to lead teams through change.
Business development is about creating and executing a plan to grow the business. This could be through new product development, expanding into new markets, or acquiring new customers. It could also be mergers and acquisitions or post-acquisition integration of companies.
Lawyers that are interested in business development roles should have a strong understanding of the company's products and services. They should also be familiar with the sales process and be able to identify opportunities for growth.
Business development roles often require strong networking and relationship-building skills. Lawyers that are interested in these types of roles should be comfortable meeting new people and building relationships. They should also have the ability to influence others and be persuasive.
Coaching and consulting roles usually involve working with individuals or teams to help them improve their performance. This could be through developing a plan, providing feedback, or teaching new skills.
Lawyers do a lot of coaching of clients through various stages of the representation. This can translate into the skills that make a great coach. Coaches can support people or companies through a variety of areas from management to personal coaching. Whatever your area of interest may be, coaching can be a great career move for many lawyers looking to move beyond traditional practice.
These are just a few examples of the types of job titles you should pursue if you don’t want to practice law anymore. Remember, your legal training has prepared you for more than just a career in law. Use your skills and experience to find a career that’s right for you.
If this feels overwhelming, The Contingent Plan team would be happy to help. Submit your information below to claim your free consultation. One of our attorney careers experts will reach out after receiving your information to schedule a time to explore how/if we can help.