Changing Paths: Becoming an Attorney as a Second Career

Changing Paths: Becoming an Attorney as a Second CareerThis week we welcome back guest writer Mark Livingston to talk about his path to becoming an attorney after another career.

During the 20th Century, it was common for people to have one job for a lifetime. People would begin working for one company, and decades later, retire from that same company with a gold watch, a handshake, and a hearty thank you. In 2020, the trends have changed. People change jobs, career fields, and industries, in some cases, every few years. My professional journey has been unique, but admittedly my mid-career shift to the law was not unusual. After several years working for a variety of state agencies, I made the decision to go to law school and become a lawyer. The following is a glimpse at the challenges and rewards of this change in career paths.

Leaving Was Hard

After years of working in the public sector, I was comfortable. I knew what to expect, and I liked the benefits. Having November and December off as “public employee appreciation” months was fantastic. Sadly, I found myself working in an agency, the character of which I no longer recognized after a change in administration. I wasn’t happy, and I needed something more from my career. I needed more from my life. I decided to go to law school and become a lawyer. As simple as that! Right?

Not So Simple

Becoming a lawyer is, as you know by now, not as simple as filling out the application and speaking to the hiring manager. There is law school itself, student debt, internships, externships, job interviews, character and fitness, bar exams, and on and on. Choosing the law as a new career path mid-career is fraught with challenges that, at times, seem insurmountable. For the older, more experienced law students, activities like the character and fitness examination become a much more laborious endeavor. Explaining to prospective employers why I would abandon relative security and employment stability for the pain of law school and all that follows took a bit of creative storytelling.

Check Your Ego at the Door

One of the most difficult things about becoming an attorney as a second career is the requirement of mastering one’s ego. It is sometimes difficult to go from being a respected authority in one’s field, to being a green, inexperienced baby attorney. No one at your first firm cares how important you were in your last career. No one is impressed with your accomplishments or awards. What they care about is your ability to be an effective attorney. Of course, what most employers understand is that your first career likely provided you with many of the requisite job and people skills to be effective within the firm. A second career attorney comes equipped with the basic skills an employer does not want to spend time and money teaching a new attorney. To become an attorney as a second career can represent strength, maturity, and a solid foundation attractive to many employers hiring new associates after bar results are released.

Leverage Your Skills

Of course, a mid-career change toward the practice of law is scary and difficult, but it’s important to leverage your strengths and experience from your “previous life” in your new legal career. I have not specifically found applicability for my extensive knowledge of incident management and disaster preparedness (my first career) at the family law practice at which I now work. That does not mean the experiences don’t inform my perspective with my public defender clients or even my family law clients. My previous career gives me a bit more depth, and I think that it allows me to connect with my clients in a meaningful way. I have life experiences on which to draw and with which I can relate to them. Of course, my clients know that my legal career is in its infancy, but they can also see that I have a much broader perspective than the average new associate.

Find Your Niche

When one has shifted gears mid-career, there is opportunity to find an area of practice that complements or draws from your former career. If one previously worked for an environmental non-profit, it is possible to find a satisfying second career as an administrative law attorney working for the government with the Environmental Protection Agency, for example. It’s entirely possible that the one’s first career could help make one even more effective in the second career as an attorney.

The Benefits Can Outweigh the Costs

Life is a colorful painting, each color a different experience, good and bad, that shape the image on the canvas. Leaping from the initial path and relative comfort of one’s first career onto the legal career path can be challenging, awful, rewarding, and wonderful. Having traveled through the gauntlet of this mid-career change, I believe that it was one of the most amazing and best decisions I ever made. If you are called to the law, even as a second career, choose the legal path to find happiness.


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About Mark Livingston

Mark earned a B.Sc. in Criminology and Sociology from Ball State University, a M.Sc. in Criminology from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and a Master of Philosophy in Russia, Central, and Eastern European Studies from the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Mark earned his JD at Valparaiso University School of Law in May 2019 and passed the Indiana Bar Exam in July 2019. Mark worked for more than ten years in state and local government in the areas of emergency management, law enforcement, and probation. Mark is a veteran of the United States Army Reserve. Mark is a family law attorney at a firm in Zionsville, Indiana, just outside of Indianapolis.

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