Using Your Law Degree for a Career in Social Entrepreneurship

Using Your Law Degree for a Career in Social EntrepreneurshipThis week we welcome Natalie Holzaepfel, bar and law school tutor, to talk about how you can find an alternative legal career path in the area of social entrepreneurship.

During law school, we’re primed to walk the traditional path into a role as an attorney, whether that’s at a law firm, in government, or at a non-profit. But there are many other options worth exploring, whether you’re still in law school or already in practice. Right now, an increasing number of attorneys are using their law degrees in the growing field of social entrepreneurship.

1. What is Social Entrepreneurship?

Social entrepreneurship combines traditional entrepreneurship with a focus on establishing a business that creates a fairer and more just world. A social enterprise can be either for-profit or non-profit, but there’s been a recent wave of for-profit enterprises with a social mission. Across the country, states are admitting a special category of company—called a “B-Corp” or “Benefit Corporation” that addresses this hybrid organization. Unlike a traditional for-profit company, a B-Corp commits to a mission that produces a public benefit for society, and directors must consider the interests of non-shareholders that are impacted by what the company does.

The entrepreneurs that run these enterprises are passionate and driven by their cause. These causes are also as diverse as the entrepreneurs themselves, and run the gambit from cleantech to job creation in low-income communities.

2. Who should Pursue Social Entrepreneurship?

Many go to law school with the hope of creating substantial change in the world. But many legal positions cater to large corporations who don’t share these values, or legal positions don’t have the sweeping impact we hope they’ll have. Social entrepreneurship provides a way to have a positive impact on countless individuals by creating a product or service that improves their lives. If you’re finding yourself wanting to pursue a career with impact, and your traditional legal job isn’t cutting it, then social entrepreneurship may be a route to consider.

In addition to providing a way to make a positive and lasting impact, pursuing your own social enterprise or a role in another social enterprise can allow you to gain a host of new abilities. You’ll not only get to use your J.D. (as discussed more below), but you’ll gain critical business skills along the way.

3. How does a Law Degree Fit in?

Your law school experience trains you for more than just analyzing cases and drafting contracts—although knowledge of contracts and negotiations will serve you well in social entrepreneurship. Social enterprises, although mission driven, are still a business. They require the same foundation as any other company, and you can use your skills to with company formation and draft pertinent contracts, like non-disclosure agreements, equity agreements, and employment contracts. And if things go wrong, your litigation skills can help steer the company out of or through court battles.

Beyond those core legal skills you possess, you also have many other skills that can help a social enterprise succeed. Those many skills that you’ve cultivated (often without even knowing it), include analysis, research, writing, counseling, and management. They are invaluable whether you choose to start your own social enterprise, or seek a role within an existing one. Take some time to reflect on what those skills are that you enjoy using most, and allow those preferences to guide you as you look into specific roles.

No matter what path or role you choose, law school also prepares us in another critical way: you are adept at figuring out what you don’t know. At the end of the day, law school gives us the tools to research, explore, and learn difficult concepts. So no matter what your new role throws at you, you’ll be able to handle it.

4. What are some Resources if I’m Interested in Social Entrepreneurship?

If you’re interested in social entrepreneurship, there are many resources available for you to learn more about what social enterprises do—and what possible roles exist within each. If your goal is to learn more prior to taking the leap into social entrepreneurship, check out the following: Coursera’s specialization in social entrepreneurship, Ashoka’s social entrepreneurship fellowship, and ProFellow’s list of 25 fellowships for Social Entrepreneurs Globally. You can, of course, head back for an MBA with a program that offers specific coursework in social entrepreneurship, but there are also many cost-effective options to explore.

If you want to head right into a job in a social enterprise, you can check out job postings on Social Enterprise Alliance, AngelList, the Amani Institute, and Escape the City. With any tool you use, including these, target organizations that are a pursuing a mission that aligns with your values. When you find a company that’s a good match, explore the job openings within that company. But remember—even if that company doesn’t have an opening now, they may in the future, so it could be worthwhile getting in touch with your resume and expressing your interest regardless of current openings.

There are many pathways and job opportunities to explore as you progress as an attorney. If you’re mission-driven, looking to make an impact, and enjoy learning, then social entrepreneurship is a pathway you should consider.


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About Natalie Holzaepfel

Natalie is passionate about the law and recently founded a startup, Aliro Immigration, to increase access to immigration services. Prior to her startup, Natalie worked in New York as a white collar defense and internal investigations associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and in California at Perkins Coie. Natalie also clerked for Judge J. Clifford Wallace of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and for Judge James G. Carr of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

While attending The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Natalie served as a managing editor of the Ohio State Law Journal, interned in the Education Section of the Office of the Ohio Attorney General, and worked in the General Counsel’s Office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. She also was a judicial extern to Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.