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Life Outside The Law: When Lawyers Pursue Alternative PathsAustin Baird, a legal consultant, recently interviewed a couple law graduates who have taken up non-traditional jobs. The following is an essay of his experience interviewing those on the other side of the legal career track.
I didn't know that peacocks were that dangerous. In fact, I didn't know that peacocks were dangerous at all. But there I was, crouched behind a cafe table, trying to gauge the distance between the bird and the restaurant door. Luckily, Derek had a pocketful of golf balls and a healthy disrespect for the opinion of any PETA members in the onlookers' gallery.
Once we had reclaimed the area from the aggressively ornamental turkey, I was able to finish asking Derek questions while he snapped pictures of a slightly bored bride and I drank a four-dollar bottle of water. "So are peacocks the biggest occupational hazard?"
"Not necessarily," Derek laughed in between clicks; "Mothers who find out I'm single probably take that title."
Derek was a wedding photographer, and I was stuck at a stuffy, expensive wedding reception, desperate to talk to someone who wasn't 70 years old. Derek was a University of Texas law school grad who had worked as an oil and gas associate for three years before taking a skiing vacation in Utah and never really leaving.
"But when I think about the managing partner I used to work under, and the peacocks and aggressive mothers don't seem so intimidating," Derek said.
I asked him what he missed most about practicing.
"Bouquet at your side!!" he yelled at the bride, before laughing at my question.
"Are you expecting me to say anything other than 'the money'? There are times that I miss the fast-paced nature of practicing law or the expense-accounted lunches. I occasionally miss seeing girls look impressed when I tell them what I do for a living. But I no longer wake up at three in the morning, frantic that I missed a deadline or forgot to check an email. So yeah... I'm going to stick with 'the money'."
Derek said he never really envisioned this career change when he was in law school.
"Who in their right mind would stick with an entire year of legal writing if they knew they were going to be focused on f-stops and apertures instead?"
Many former lawyers move into non-traditional law jobs because of lifestyle changes, scheduling, and autonomy. For Derek, being able to ski and to set his own schedule were attractive. But many law graduates today are faced with a stiff job market and a larger influx of law school graduates, making a non-traditional law job a necessity rather than a good back-up plan.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics noted that because of the nature of the legal profession, a recession hits the industry particularly harder than other industries. Combined with that, the BLS also noted that the number of law school graduates are increasing at an ever-expanding rate.
The report stated: "Lawyers are increasingly finding work in less traditional areas for which legal training is an asset, but not normally a requirement-for example, administrative, managerial, and business positions in banks, insurance firms, real estate companies, government agencies, and other organizations."
For others, non-traditional law jobs are a necessity, not a choice.
Slightly buoyed by my experience with Derek, I flew out to Washington D.C. for a friend's wedding and some networking. My cab driver and I fell into easy conversation; he complained about the traffic that day and I complained about having to wear dress shoes for 12 hours. I asked him how long he had been driving for and was surprised at the answer: "Six months now, but I hope that I'm done soon. Student loans are starting to come due."
Joaquin, my driver, had graduated from law school several months earlier and had moved to D.C. to find a job. He graduated from a third-tier school in the Midwest with hopes of getting on a political staff. After his money ran out, he took a job driving because he was able to drive at night and job search during the day.
"Of course I'm disappointed that I haven't found a job yet," he said. "Nobody plans on working as a cab driver with a law degree. But D.C. is a hard place to break into the job market and I'm willing to put in the effort."
Joaquin continued by telling me that most of his classmates ended up doing what they did before law school from software development to serving Coca-Cola.
"Yeah, this is definitely what you would call non-traditional, but at least I'm out working and trying to find better work."
Posted: July 05, 2012