Thinking About a Non-Traditional Law Career? Get A Bird’s Eye View

Jared CorreiaJared Correia is back with another fascinating installment, this time about how he found his non-traditional career path. If you’re considering going off the school-firm-retirement pathway, this one’s for you!

Take it away.

Alison: Could you talk a bit about what you do in the average day at work, and how it’s similar to (or different from) what you thought you’d be doing when you started law school?

Jared: Since the avowed purpose of your service is to assist girls (and probably some boys, too) through the law school experience, it may be most instructive for your readers if I am permitted to relay something of the full breadth of my experience post-law school, which may offer folks a view as to how a non-traditional legal career might proceed, as well as allowing me an opportunity to explain why I left the practice of law, or, more specifically, why I made the determination not to practice law for very long.

Coming out of law school, I was a practicing lawyers, in small law firms in Massachusetts; in fact, I sort of rushed into it: I started as a clerk at the first law office I would work at the day after I took the bar exam. (Gotta make that paper.)

Why I Didn’t Like Practicing Law

However, I never really liked the practice, for some primary reasons:

  • I found it to be constraining — especially for someone like me, who tries to make everything a learning experience and creative outlet. There was something essentially rote and mind-numbing, to me, about finding and running down precedents to construct a brief, or tracking down clauses to create an easement from a template that looked like so many of the other easements that had been drafted throughout history.
  • In addition to, what I felt, was the stagnant nature of the work, I also didn’t like having practicing attorneys for bosses. I always felt like the concept to be applied was to show that you worked harder than everyone else by working long, and longer, hours. It became a competition with older gentlemen in my office to see who could come in on Saturday, and stay the latest. I had, and have, better things to do.
  • I also did not appreciate the way that a number of attorneys I knew/worked with treated their support staff, as second class citizens; I wanted to remove myself from an environment where that sort of behavior was treated as acceptable.
  • In a small firm practice, whether you are working as an associate with an otherwise solo attorney, or under some small number of partners, the well-being of that firm, as a closely-held corporation, essentially or in fact, is so tied to the vagaries of one, or a few persons’ income that a downturn in someone’s personal finances might scuttle the whole firm, or get you laid off, as the last in, now first out. I desired more stability than that.
  • Finally, I will say that there are probably no professionals in the world (aside from monks) who cling so tightly to traditions, or the: it’s-the-way-we’ve-always-done-things philosophy, as attorneys do. I remember partners in my small firm experience staying late every Friday night to run down every active case in the office to see what needed to be done for the next week . . . before doing it all over again the next Friday night. I couldn’t have constructed a more time-consuming, error-fraught system if I had tried — by the way, case management systems, continually updated, provide the efficient answer.

I knew that there had to be a better way to do things: more logical, reasonable methods to apply to law firm management than the haphazard combination of homegrown devices that passed for business acumen among lawyers that I knew. (Of course, this is not to say that lawyers, generally, don’t know what they’re doing. In any field of human endeavor, there are those who are more skilled than others. I know a number of lawyers who do a tremendous job managing successful practices. Neither do I mean to say that the law is a stupid profession. I didn’t like it; but, I know a number of people who love practicing, and would not prefer to do anything else.)

The reality, though, is that, with so many law graduates being cranked out these days, there are a lot more attorneys who are trying to fit themselves into round holes, as square pegs, in traditional practices.

What I Did Next

So, roughly four years out of law school, I had had my fill of practice, and I started to apply to ancillary legal positions, eventually deciding to take a job at the Massachusetts Bar Association, managing its CLE publications and online research tool, over an invitation to come work for another law firm in Boston.

At the MBA, I gained more exposure to some of the effective tools, especially new technologies, that attorneys could use to bring logical order and a higher level of professionalism to their practices, while saving money and time.

In 2008, I left the MBA, and joined LOMAP, where I have been able to advise attorneys more generally with respect to the management of their law practices.

At LOMAP, we focus on providing attorneys with information and advice across a variety of practice management subjects that they would not have time to engage so deeply themselves (being busy practitioners), and that information and advice is buttressed by the fact of our consulting with so many of their colleagues, and having a deep knowledge of the work life of the solo/small firm practitioner — this gives us a prevailing sense of our clients’ concerns, and informs how we meet those concerns with effective solutions.

While we are not in the same trench everyday, as solo and small firm attorneys are, we visit various trenches, and have an unique knowledge of the general state of the profession, which is a survey that head-down practicing attorneys don’t necessarily have the time to make.

What I Do All Day

On any given day, I could be doing any number of things at the office:

  • researching (including making site visits to providers, when appropriate) and drafting product reviews;
  • holding meetings with clients (either at our office, or at their offices);
  • making CLE presentations for various legal groups;
  • recording a podcast;
  • creating events and marketing matter for our program;
  • having lunch meetings with Massachusetts legal community stakeholders;
  • engaging section meetings at bar associations;
  • auditing attorneys who have run into issues with the state ethics board;
  • drafting and publishing posts for our blog, and guest posts for other blogs, like this one;
  • hosting our legal marketing webinars;
  • drafting follow-up matter for clients;
  • and, sometimes, I’ll even check in on my fantasy baseball team . . .

Neither is this an exhaustive list.

We try to keep our hands in as many honey pots as possible, without getting stuck.

It’s a fast-paced job with lots of freedom to maneuver. And, given that we are a free service sponsored by Massachusetts attorneys’ bar dues, we are able to offer assistance to a significant portion of our state’s attorneys, from those who have just graduated from law school, to those in their 80s, winding down (or maybe not) their practices.

Massachusetts is actually just one of a number of states that offer practice management assistance programs to attorneys. There is a full list of practice management advisors (including some in Canadian provinces) available at the American Bar Association’s website, here. I can personally attest to the impressive breadth of knowledge of all of these folks; and, while these programs all feature resources built for attorneys within their states/provinces of location, many programs publish information generally, via blogs and websites, which means that much of the information disseminated by PMA offices, including our own, is freely accessible to attorneys anywhere.

How I Got Here

To return now to the substance of your question, following that long, introductory digression, I will say that I sort of expected this

I went to law school because I was a captain of my nationally-ranked college debate team (#2 in the country in 2000 (the year I graduated), having lost the team national championship by a single point), and I figured, “Hell, if I can argue, I might as well go to law school”.

But, I never wanted to be a lawyer for the long-term. I mostly wanted to go to law school because I wanted to handle any legal matters that I was engaged in (including non-profit work, in which I remain involved) on my own, without having to pay someone to do it for me.

I also felt that the transferable skills inherent in the acquisition of a juris doctor degree would allow me the flexibility to choose an alternative career path, which is what I was really aiming for — even though, when I started law school, I did not quite know what that alternative career path would be, whether it would be related to the law, or not.

When I was in my third year of law school, I met with the career services folks, and they were asking me what I wanted to be; so, I ran down the list: NBA player; astronaut; history professor; the guy who invents some small but exceedingly necessary part of a train car, and becomes insanely wealthy . . . or, maybe, a consultant. I felt that I would be good at being a consultant.

Well, the career services people told me that that was crazy, and that I needed at least some experience to consult in whatever it was I was intending to advise on.

Well, they were half right: I wasn’t crazy; but, it has been extremely useful to gain the experience that I have in my career: first, as a practicing attorney; then, as a bar association administrator; and, now, as a practice management consultant.

I am a fairly recent graduate of law school (or, at least, I like to believe I am); and, that tells me that there is some room still for those people who want to go to law school, but don’t necessarily want to be career-long practicing attorneys.

There are other paths open, through which one can make a living.

— – —

Thanks, Jared! Fascinating career trajectory.

If you missed the first two parts of Jared’s interview, check them out here:

Got questions? Leave them in the comments!


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Comments

  1. These days, women who remain steadily employed are in non-legal careers, such as nursing and childcare; although these are not “power jobs” and don’t have the same elitist appeal that law does, they are solid careers that can’t be outsourced overseas. Many women are still stuck on proving themselves in a “man’s world”. However, the best long term financial security is found in “womens work”.

    • It’s an interesting question. Even in the law, “women’s work” tends to be lower paid, but more stable (family law, permanent clerk positions, public interest, etc.).

    • These days, it may be that anyone who is steadily employed is not in a legal career . . . The legal field is certainly very much in flux these days; and, everything and everybody is affected — from large firms to small firms to solo attorneys to lawyers looking for jobs. There are certainly many stable careers outside of the legal field (and, there are some within the legal field, as well); but, I think your larger point: that law is very much a man’s world, is still true today, which is unfortunate. The law firm world is generally chauvinistic and not at all family-oriented, to its great loss, because a lot of excellent female attorneys are held down, or drop out, due to continuing influences of what is a recycling ol’ boys’ club.

  2. Susan L. says:

    I am a female attorney who has been in private practice for 12 years in a small college town. I did family law for most of that time, but after having health issues I switched to criminal law representing mostly college students in first offender drug and dui cases, etc. I find it difficult to deal with evil people judges, attorneys and even the courthouse clerks. I am a Christian and find that I am able to be a lawyer and still be ethical and moral (not to say non-Christians are not), but dealing with people who are not makes me miserable. I found this website while searching for a non-traditional legal job.

    • Best of luck in your search for a non-traditional legal job! It’s definitely important to find a job that suits your values, and you’re not alone in finding certain attorneys trying. People aren’t always on their best behavior, sadly.

  3. Ahyiesha S says:

    I start law school this year and when I tell people that I don’t plan on practicing law very long afterwards, they don’t understand what I mean. So I’m not crazy, and there are people just like me? Very refreshing!

    • haha. Nah, you’re not alone. There are plenty of lawyers who do not practice, whether they leave the field or never get started in the first place. Welcome to the club :). Let me know if you ever want to talk about career options.

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