Career Transitions: Tips for Second-Career Lawyers

By Robert Half on July 28, 2015 at 3:00pm

Becoming a lawyer mid-career can be an intriguing option for professionals in many fields. Career transitions into the law don’t necessarily mean starting from scratch. Skills learned at previous jobs that directly support the legal field, such as a legal assistant or paralegal, can improve your standing as a prospective lawyer, while experience in nonlegal fields such as engineering or accounting can help direct your path to a more specialized practice area.

If you’re thinking of going back to school to study law, consider the foundation that certain aspects of your current career could provide.

Journalism: Reporters for television stations and other news outlets can draw upon extensive experience in stating and supporting a case through research and writing. Interpersonal skills are key for lawyers, and conducting interviews for news stories translates well into interviewing clients.

Engineering/science: Employees with previous experience in engineering, technology, manufacturing or other sciences can call upon inside technical knowledge when practicing in a concentration like patent law and intellectual property protection. Corporate law jobs deal with patent infringement and IP protection cases, and knowledge of the R&D, production and distribution processes can give you a solid background of understanding if you are retained by a manufacturer.

Accounting/finance: Financial experience and business knowledge are huge assets when taking on convoluted corporate law and white-collar crime cases. If you’re good with numbers, you could provide insight and analysis that might not be apparent to other lawyers.

Writing/research: Any composition or research job requires considerable analysis and comprehension skills, along with intensive practice in researching patterns and precedents. These skills are helpful in preparing briefs in almost any legal specialization, especially in litigation cases.

Politics: Campaign managers and analysts benefit from a career-long focus on writing and analysis. Individuals who work in politics also deal with a wide variety of personalities, experience that is very useful in the legal field.

Nonprofits: Previous work in human rights, social services or the nonprofit sector gives excellent experience for taking on civil cases and controversial international disputes, or even government jobs. If your nonprofit experience is focused more on environmental issues, then you may hold a real advantage in the environmental law arena.

Computer science: A technology background makes you well equipped for dealing with corporate big data and cybersecurity issues, as well as legal cases following data leaks. This is a constantly changing (and growing) sector of the legal profession, so familiarity with current technology is one of your major selling points.

Non-practicing options: Obtaining a JD degree doesn’t limit you to only practicing law. With a background in education, a nontraditional legal career such as becoming a law professor may be an excellent route to take. Former publishers may want to look into legal journal publication positions.

Bonus experience — translation or other bilingual areas: Experience using bilingual skills in a position at any organization makes for a solid head start for those pursuing career transitions into the law. In a recent Robert Half poll, 42 percent of lawyers surveyed said their firms needed more bilingual hires. In the United States, Spanish is by far the second language most in demand among law firms looking for bilingual lawyers, so if you have experience teaching, speaking or writing en español be sure to feature it on your legal resume after graduating.

Of course, you’d have to go to law school mid-career to assume any of these positions that require you to be a licensed, practicing lawyer. That can be exhilarating but also challenging. It means you’ll be older than many of your classmates, most of whom come straight from pre-law degree programs. In law school and beyond, however, your experience in a previous career can serve you well in the legal profession.  

For more information on nontraditional legal careers that lawyers are exploring, read this blog post.

Are you thinking of switching careers? What experience will you bring to a legal career? Share in the comments below.

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