Monthly Archives: April 2013

Bridging The Gap: How to Frame Non-Law Jobs On Your Resume

Let’s say it’s been a while since you practiced law, and you’re not sure you want to go back to it.  You’ve gotten some non-legal experience under your belt, either paid or unpaid.  How should you deal with it on your resume?  Hide it, or flaunt it?  My advice is to flaunt it by framing it carefully to show off your portable talents and skills. 

Let me show you what I mean.  On Monday, two people gave me resumes.  One came in my actual home mailbox, hand delivered by an out-of work lawyer who would “love to work with my firm” but who must not know that I help people leave their law careers.  His research skills aside, what stood about his resume was the yawning gap between his last job (in 2011) and now.  Even if I had a job open, I wouldn‘t give it to someone whose resume sparked so many questions at first glance.

The other resume also came from someone who hasn’t practiced law in a while.  I knew more of her story because I counseled her a few weeks ago.  This dynamic young woman had taken a job with a social service agency immediately after law school.  She deferred the bar exam while she set up and ran a legal services clinic for the agency’s clients.  The funding fell through after a year, leaving her out of work and seven months from the next bar exam.   So she started a new a business with her husband.  Their dog grooming boutique is now doing quite well, but it’s not what she wants to do for the rest of her life.  She has a passion for helping people, and wants to use her training toward that goal.  I advised her to showcase, rather than hide, her entrepreneurial experience on her resume.    

Here’s an excerpt from her new resume entry:

Founder/Co-Owner: Founded a boutique retail store with a focus on canine health. Conducted significant research and developed a network of canine professionals, including veterinarians, dog behaviorists, professional photography and local animal rescue organizations to create a unique business in the area served.  Designed website and built a strong customer base through various channels, including social media networks and targeted mailings.

This entry serves her well.  It shows off her initiative and drive, especially when paired with her previous job creating the legal services clinic.  It highlights her research, marketing, and collaborative skills, and shows tangible results, which any career counselor will tell you is a great way to rev up your resume.

Explaining non-traditional work experience is important, and not just because it fills suspicious gaps.  It’s important because it gives you another opportunity to shine.  Writing up your non-legal experience focuses potential employers’ attention on the experience, skills, and results that make you an attractive candidate and a valuable hire – no matter what you plan to do next.

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Eight Steps Toward A Successful Post-Law Career

I love meeting other people who advise lawyers on career change, and one of those great advisors is Marc Luber.  Marc is the author of 99 Things You Can Do With A Law Degree and the founder of a video website exploring what to do with a law degree and sharing advice for professional development called JD Careers Out There. Marc is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law and has used his law degree to work in the music industry and as a legal recruiter in Los Angeles.Marc Luber Host Photo 180x270

Marc advises lawyers and law students who are interested in exploring non-law careers to do the following eight things:

1) Be proud of your decision. Don’t feel guilty for one second that you’re pursuing a career path other than law. It’s not a sign of failure or a step down for your life. Earning a JD gave you a great foundation – it’s up to you to build on that foundation in a way that fits you.

2) Be aware of the skills that you’ve developed through law school or practicing law. You may not realize it, but you bring skills to the table that much of your non-JD workforce competition lacks.

3) Don’t expect that having a JD attached to your name by itself will get non-law positions to roll out their red carpet for you. Instead, be able to articulate your special skill set and explain how those strengths help to accomplish each step of the mission of whatever role you’re chasing.

4) Be in touch with what you like doing and be able to articulate it. Do you enjoy problem solving? Analyzing documents? Meeting with people and charming them? Working with numbers? People want to feel your passion if they’re going to invite you onto their team.

5) Do your research to find what roles or paths have a market demand and combine those things you like doing with the skills that you have. Law school only told you about a fraction of the career paths available to JDs. It’s going to take some exploration on your part. Do it so you can move forward.

6) Fully assess your financial situation and goals so that you choose a path that will meet your obligations (like food and student loans) and provide for your lifestyle of choice.

7) Consider meeting with career counselors and taking assessments – these can be helpful in both your self-discovery and career path exploration processes.

8) Meet with as many people as possible face-to-face to learn about their paths and determine whether those paths fit you. Informational interviewing is essential. You’ll be building your network while you discover your path.

Readers, what is helping you change careers?  Where are you in the process?  What are your sticking points?  Let me know in the box below.

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Making Your Hours Matter More

People have a fundamental need to do something meaningful with their lives, says Viktor Frankl, and I agree. Some recent events have brought this home in a way that makes me especially grateful for my own career transitions.    

When I started practicing law, I thought I would add value to the world by being a good advocate and seeking justice for my clients.  Too often, I felt instead like a hired gun, with only a hazy rationale for my hard work.  Many lawyers end up feeling this way.  One critical problem with law firm’s billable hour requirements is that they tend to conflate time with value.  What would you find if you started accounting to yourself for your time, instead of your firm or an external client?

Finding something personally rewarding in your past or present work can help spark a great career transition.  As a litigator, I loved counseling, but not the adversarial process.  Now, as a writer, professor and career counselor, I spend most of my time doing work that satisfies my need for meaning.  It has entirely changed my view of work and my general happiness level (through the roof!).  Other ex-lawyers who enjoy counseling include Will and Van; many more are profiled in Life After Law

But there is more to life than meaningful work.  Freeing yourself from the billable hour minimum gives you more time for everything else you care about.    

On Patriot’s Day five years ago, I was in the office, editing a motion for summary judgment.  On Patriot’s Day this year, I was on the Boston Marathon route.  As my four year old daughter watched the wheelchair racers go by, we talked about how some people achieve amazing things despite enormous setbacks.  Seeing this in action helped her understand it more concretely than any of our earlier talks.  Later, I joined a friend running for The Schwartz Center.  We were heading towards Boston when the police turned us back.  Bombs at the finish line, they said.  It made no sense at first, and then we heard the police officer’s radio  – something I haven’t yet gotten out of my head.  But this day mattered to me.  I helped my daughter, and I hope I helped my friend.  I was part of something larger than a case.

Does your billable minimum get in the way of what matters in your life?  If so, maybe it’s time to step back and reevaluate who the client really is here.  My advice is not to let anyone deprive you of the experiences that give shape, color, and value to your life.  Not even you.

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What Suing Law Schools Doesn’t Tell Us About the Legal Profession

tumblr_mgrqt73cvg1qmsspwo1_500The pending lawsuit against nearly 20 law schools by frustrated unemployed graduates has been coming up a lot lately.  How should I advise my college students who ask about law school?   I think somewould enjoy practicing law, but I urge them to consider other ways to use their skills before they make the enormous financial commitment of law school tuition.  I also urge them to actually talk to lawyers before training to become one.

Life After Law is not about dissuading people from going to law school.  It’s about dissuading people who would end up hating law from going to law school, and helping those who already have or are getting their JD to find work they would love more than law practice.  That career pivot usually requires repurposing the skills they love using in creative new ways.  College students can reframe their skills too, although they generally have less experience to infer from.

Inflating employment numbers is unarguably wrong, but law schools aren’t responsible for so much disappointment in the legal profession.   It’s well known that the rate of recently minted JDs who can find work practicing law has been dropping for years, and now hovers around 56%.  There are certainly fewer legal jobs available now, relative to the number of recent JDs, than there have ever been.  The collapse of major law firms, including my former employer Heller Ehrman, every year or two for the past decade is one sign of this contraction.  Just as law takes time to catch up with technology, it takes time for popular conceptions of law practice (fueled by TV shows from LA Law to Boston Legal) to catch up with the deteriorating realities.    But the fact that law school application rates have also been dropping suggests that college students are getting the message.   Law school isn’t a quick route to the good life for argumentative liberal arts grads.

These lawsuits don’t reflect the real problem with the legal profession.  It isn’t that too few JDs can find work.  It’s that too many practicing lawyers dislike their work, but can’t figure their way out.   If more of these unhappy lawyers transitioned into better-fitting careers, they might make room for those new lawyers who genuinely want to practice law.  Like the thirty ex-lawyers profiled in Life After Law, they would enjoy their work lives more.  Lawyers’ rates of depression (currently twice the national average) might go down.   More writers, analysts, managers, counselors, advocates and entrepreneurs might do the great work they should be doing directly instead of suffering inside law firms or law schools.  I can dream, can’t I?

photo courtesy of www.careercast.com

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From Lawyer to Publicist & Social Media Strategist

JenBersonI’m thrilled to present the first 0.1 Billable Hour Interview, the interview with an ex-lawyer that should take just six minutes to read.  Jennifer Berson is the President & Founder of Jeneration PR, a public relations and social media marketing firm that specializes in promoting beauty, fashion, lifestyle and baby brands.  Prior to founding Jeneration PR in 2005, Jennifer was an attorney in Los Angeles, specializing in civil litigation.  Jennifer has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur Magazine, PR Week, Los Angeles Daily News, Fox 11 News, TV Guide Network’s “Hollywood 411,” and was profiled on Apple.com.  Babble.com selected her as one of the 10 “Mompreneur’s Who Made it Big!”

1) Why did you leave law?   I always felt like my position as a lawyer was more of a job than a career.  I wasn’t as passionate about my work as I knew I could be, and I was frustrated with the extremely slow pace of litigation.  I wanted more creativity and balance in my life, and I knew I would want to start a family someday, but I didn’t see many female partners who seemed to have the work-life balance I was seeking.  I always felt that there was something out there for me that was a better fit with my personality. In the back of my mind, I knew I could always go back to practicing law, but after 8 years of having my own PR firm, I’m confident that I will never have to.

2) What was the hardest part of your career change?   In the beginning, I was concerned about my lack of experience and credibility in this completely different field. I worried that I might have a hard time convincing prospective clients that we could be effective with so little experience.  I busted my butt, working late nights to make all of the connections I could, and trying to get my name out there.  To help bridge the gap from lawyer to fashion and beauty publicist, I took a position at the Fashion Institute of Design & Marketing (FIDM) teaching Principles of Entrepreneurship in their beauty department.  I also took on clients for a below-market retainer fee, and made the case that if they took a chance on our agency, we could grow together. I believe that my genuine passion for their brands helped me win the work, and I’m thrilled to report that my very first client when I started my business 8 years ago, Little Giraffe, is still a client to this day!

3) What advice do you have for other lawyers who are thinking of changing careers?    Think about what you are passionate about and what you would genuinely enjoy doing every day.  Ask people you know personally, or whom you admire, who have a career similar to the one you are seeking to share their experience with you.  Do as much as you can to plan for your transition while you are still employed–save money, plan your exit strategy, carefully build your network.  Give yourself a significant period of time–3 to 6 months– to see if you can make this career change happen.  Draw as many connections to your experience as a lawyer to the skills you will need in your new career, and move forward with the confidence that you can successfully make the transition.

Excellent advice! Do you know an ex-lawyer I should feature on www.lifeafterlawblog.com?  Let me know at lizafterlaw@gmail.com.

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