Career in Law
Archived Q&A and Reviews
|Resuming Law after Time Off for Kids|
Hi, What advice do you have for going into law without a law degree? I've had a great career as a number cruncher. I have steady work, but after so many years I am ready for new challenges. I am very good at reading and interpreting rules, and excellent at navigating large bureaucrcies and being an advocate. I am organized and love planning. I would like to work as a legal advocate, or do research for law firms. What careers are there? What is being a paralegal like? Are there other careers in law besides a lawyer and paralegal? I am interested all experience -- good and bad. Thanks ahead of time! career changer
the paralegal term is quite broad and can mean a number of things. Research in law firms is usually done by paralegals. Best thing for you to do would be to consult Cal State East Bay Extension as they have a paralegal program in the evenings. UC Berkeley has one too, they both offer certificate programs, but UC Berkeley's is NOT approved by the American Bar Association, CSU's is approved by the ABA.(why bother with a program not fully accredited!!!) Certificates were not required previously but they are now more & more as the American Bar Association tries to raise the professional standard. Main requirement for ANY non-attorney legal professional is that you MUST be working under the direction of a licensed attorney, NO independent work is allowed. Sandra
I suggest that you consider looking into working for any of the tax agencies (IRS, Franchise Tax Board, State Board of Equalization, Employment Development Department) or the California Public Utilities Commission as a technical staff person, particularly in each agency's equivalent of the Taxpayer Advocate Office (in the CPUC, it's called the Department of the Ratepayer Advocate or something like that). Your ability to efficiently churn numbers combined with a willingness and skill to interpret the written word and an interest in helping the taxpayer/ratepayer/consumer face complex legal situations is the skill set that's needed. The job titles are opaque so will require some research and persistence to find a fit (as well as possibly a willingness to ''take a pay cut'' in the short term), but despite the current budgetary situation, the long-term trends are in favor of the new employee because so many experienced staff are eligible to retire in the next 5-10 years, so those who come in now will have excellent promotional opportunities coming up sooner than you would think. Happy Tax Agency Employee
Being a Lawyer
I am considering leaving my government attorney job to try to work as a ''contract attorney,'' i.e., as an independent contractor doing legal work. I'm wondering whether others out there are doing this... Do you tend to work for one firm on a contract basis, for several firms, or for a middleman/agency that hooks you up with firms that need short term help on work on a contract-basis? How do you market yourself/find the work? Do you specialize? What is the pay like? Any advice and/or leads appreciated! Working Mom needs change of pace
I stay at home full time with my two year old, and I work for myself doing mainly auto tort and non-profit advising. I love it! I have gotten all my clients from family, friends, moms at the park, etc. I have enough work and have even turned some work down. It's a little scary working for myself, but so worth it to be home. Marie
Two years ago, I transitioned to being an 'of counsel' attorney from my career as a government attorney. It has worked well so far. I networked briefly with firms that already were in my practice area and/or outside counsel for my local government. Some things to consider: 1) you will get the best compensation for 'contract' work if you make a deal directly with a firm - not a service, so think about what contacts you have or can make; 2) it helps to have a specialty which appeals to certain firms, and 3) if you can take any cases or projects with you, and bill as an outside counsel, that makes you a more attractive option to firms.
A cautionary note: while you can make better $$ in private practice (I have), it is quite nerve-wracking not to have a guaranteed paycheck or paid benefits Think positive! Still Thriving
Questions for estate planning attorneys: I'm a former trial attorney who contemplates a new practice in estate planning. Some practitioners advise that I need to take at least income tax and estate gift tax courses to have the sufficient knowledge prior to start this area of practice. My issue is whether I can gain this knowledge from CLE or similar type of education (i.e. paid subscription to certain programs); OR I do need to head back to take those classes from law school. Any recommedations would be greatly appreciated. anon.
You absolutely want to take the classes through CLE - the bar regularly offers a basics course and then you can go to the more advanced stuff from there... classes in law school are great theory but have little to nothing to do with real estate planning in california Maggie
I am in a very similar situation as you are, as I am a property lawyer trying to transition to wills and trusts. I will read the other responses with interest. I did a lot of informational interviews, which might be best for you as well. Although your not required to do additional education to practice this area of law, most of the younger wills and trust lawyers whom I spoke with get an LLM in taxation. Golden Gate University has the best (possibly the only) LLM program in taxation in the bay area. Otherwise nothing is stopping you from just going out on your own, I have spoken to people who have done it, but its scary and such people often networked to find a group of attorney of whom they can ask questions when needed and its often helpful if you have rich friends or know Estate Planners to build your client base. The MCLE courses are helpful, but if you don't know the basics, they can be tough to understand (atleast in my experience).
Will and trust litigation seems to be a hot area these days, if your not totally trying to get away from the litigation aspect of the work, that maybe an easier transition for you. Good luck ANON
The law firm where I have worked for 5 years just informed me that in June, the partners will consider me for partnership in the law firm. I have no doubt that I will be offered partnership. I like my co-workers, clients and the kind of law that I practice, but the firm seems like it is in financial disarray and there are lots of reorganization plans that I have no information about (as a mere associate). I don't want to leave (or be a stay-at-home mom), but I do not even know the factors I should be considering while I weigh this decision. Has anyone else out there faced this question and thought it through like this? Up until this point, I thought this would be a straightforward decision, but now that I face it, I do not feel like I have the tools to think about it. My husband is supportive of whatever I want, but has not faced this himself, so really just listens well more than anything. Any thoughts? Thanks a lot.
Law partnerships and criteria vary pretty widely. Here's my 2 cents.
1. You typically have a period of time, after you make partner, to decide whether you will buy in. Accordingly, you do not have to make this decision right away and certainly not before you get the proverbial tap, punch, nod, or whatever they call it at your firm. Don't make yourself crazy over-thinking it now.
2. At the time you are tapped, you should ask the managing team a series of questions, including a) the price of the buy-in b) whether the firm provides financing for it; c) whether the firm will buy you out if you're unhappy, and if so, at what rate; d)whether there are part-time options; e)what your business development commitment will be; f) what the firm's commitment to you is if you don't produce.
3. There are other issues. For instance, as a partner, you may have to pay for your own insurance, your own office furniture, and your own membership fees. Make sure you know the ''real'' financial cost of a partnership.
4. You mention that the firm may have some problems. At the point at which you make partner, ask firm questions. They're not going to take away your offer to join if you do, and it will force them to come clean. If your spidey sense tingles when you hear the responses, consider it a red flag.
5. In addition to financial costs, consider the other things you may be giving up. Your fellow partners' lives will likely give you some insight into your life as a partner. Do they see their kids? Do they work late? Do the associates have more fun?
6. Ask about ''of counsel'' or ''special counsel'' positions if you don't know about them. Explore whether that's a good route for you.
7. Some people thrive as partners. They like the prestige, the responsibility, the chance to create business opportunities. Others do not for very good reasons. They'd rather focus on legal work and not administrative responsibilites; they do not like to do business development; they do not want to devote more time to their career than they already do. Taking on or not taking on the title and the responsibility does not make you a better lawyer.
Keep in mind there is life after turning down a partnership. You can join another firm (Big or small); go in-house, or hang out a shingle. I was with a 600+ law firm, moved in-house, and am now part of a progressive small partnership of women. I have loved each for different reasons. You're probably a decent attorney if you have come far enough to make partner.... Use your legal skills to gather up as much information as you can both about yourself and the firm, and then make your move. Whatever you decide will be the right move.
Good luck and congratulations. T. (partner)
Resuming Law after Time Off for Kids
I am looking for part-time work and have some experience in a law office, plus a law degree. I know too much to be a file clerk, and not enough to be a litigation secretary. I am best at research, and the ideal would be a clerking job. I am simultaneously pursing a writing degree at Mills. I have been out of the work force for many years, although I have some recent experience and references. Has anyone out there done something like this? I am getting no response to every job I apply for on craigslist. The attorneys I know have not been able to help. Does anyone have any suggestions? There are so few openings, and every job seems to have its own track the anon
Consider working for an attorney services or investigator firm (which tend to have more part timers) rather than a law firm.
Or what about a law library? (I believe most public and university libraries look for library science degrees, but some large law firms hire people with legal research experience for their in-house libraries.)
When searching listings, law firm and service company job titles to look for: paralegal, legal assistant, investigator, research associate/specialist/assistant, and even service representative or account representative.
Real estate law paralegal
I have been a stay-at-home mom for the last four-plus years and now I am looking to return to the workforce full-time. I became pregnant with my child during my last semester of law school (I am now licensed to practice law in CA) and have been a stay-at-home mom since. My child is now four and due to my impending divorce, I have to return to the workforce. I studied corporate and securities law while in law school and I would like to ''start'' my full-time legal career in that area of law. My problem is this. I have been looking full-time for an attorney position since September. The legal market is extremely tight and I am having no luck whatsoever in my search for an attorney position. I am assuming that the combination of my lack of experience, the time gap between my graduation from grad school till present, my decision to stay home with my child, and the tight legal market have put me at a severe disadvantage as I compete with other candidates. I am feeling extremely discouraged - no - at this point I am really depressed about this situation. My financial situation is critical and I need a job ASAP. Has anyone gone through a similar situation? I am looking for words of encouragement, creative ideas, and/or connections with people who have been in my shoes. Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.
To: Trouble Finding Work..... Before becoming a ''stay-at-home-mom'' myself, I completed my masters degree in psychology specializing in life transitions. For two years I interned at Golden Gate University Law School working with attorneys who were returning to the workforce after an absense, as well as those just entering law after a transition from a previous career. Although I've now been home for almost 2 years with my daughter, and may be a bit rusty, I would be happy to talk with you and share whatever insights I can.
One thing to try. My best friend is an attorney who practiced in Colorado for a few years and then moved back to California but is not licensed here. She took a job with a law firm in SF as a legal assistant/paralegal type. If she passes the BAR, they will move her into an attorney position. I know she isn't making as much money as a full attorney but apparently she is doing pretty well and she actually appreciates that the pressure is not as much as the attorneys. Her biggest problem is that the attorneys keep trying to give her attorney-level work when she is not legally supposed to be doing that and is not compensated for same. Keep trying and be willing to step back to an ''entry-level'' position - you'll get your foot in the door. Barbara
Hello Legal Mom, I can not address the areas of corporate and securities law, but I can address the issue of your difficulty finding an attorney position. Corporate Recruiters are paid to find people with experience, newspaper ads are often only there to meet EEOC reqs, and if your personal network were deep and wide enough you would not be writing to this list. Thus standard ways are out. Internet searches ? A little better, but with so many others trying this, you have a lot of competition. Time for a paradigm shift. Use your contacts with local attorneys and your Alumnae Association to find out what value your skills have. You might be able to develop a professional looking letter to send out to other attorneys stating valuable skills and ask for overflow/research work. The word ''spam'' comes to mind, but you need the odds to be in your favor. Be honest about your skills and you have good shot. The socond place to look is big, solid companies like Chiron, Bayer, Clorox. Again this is dependent on being able to show skills, but there are openings that come up. AND don't wait to see something show up in the paper or on the net. Finding the name of the Chief Legal Council of any major local Corp is easy. And contacting them, by mail, with a telephone follow-up takes more psychological energy than physical. Good Luck, jon
Although I have not had to look for work after a stay-at-home stint, I am an attorney and have some ideas for your job search. First, as you mentioned, the tight economy has been hard on Bay Area law firms and, in particular, on the corporate and securities departments of those firms. Most big firms have laid off many attorneys so you are competing with more experienced folks who don't have the stay-at-home stigma to contend with. Ok, now that we have admitted that there is a stigma (especially at big law firms)what can you do? I would suggest trying smaller firms and government agencies. Because these kinds of employers don't necessarily hire junior attorneys from name schools and through their summer programs, they are sometimes easier for a non-cookie cutter applicant to be hired. Also, my experience is that they have more family friendly hours and may be less likely to rule you out immediately based on a perception that you would not be able to work the insane hours typically required by bigger firms. If you have not already, I would also suggest that you try firms outside SF. I often see ads for Pleasanton, Walnut Creek, Marin and other suburban locations. Finally, if you really need a job you might want to take a paralegal position. I know of attorney paralegals who have eventually moved up to attorney positions within the same firm. At the very least, you would be earning money and learning skills that you will need to be an attorney. Good luck with your job search. Andrea
I am not a lawyer, but I worked as a legal temp when I first moved to the Bay Area. I worked at a very large law firm in San Franscisco and many of the paralegals there were people like you who were licensed to practice in CA, but they could not find employment as lawyers. Applying for a paralegal position is a place to start. Many of my lawyer/paralegal friends got comfy with the money in their positions as paralegals and never went on to practice law, but I'm sure you could get your career jumpstarted from this position. Some were eagar to practice and told me that they couldn't remain paralegals for long because it would ruin their resumes for getting positions as lawyers. If I were you, I'd go to Certified Personnel, a temporary agency in SF. They have an office devoted strictly to providing temporary help to HUGE law firms. Once you get a temp job, start applying for legal positions and getting to know the attorneys. If they like you and your work, they can help you make contacts in the field. As a single working mom myself, I commend you for choosing to stay home with your baby when you did. Sadly, our society does not reward women for the sacrifices we make from our careers for our children. If we don't stay home, who will? Some dads do, but most don't. You can get to the top in legal. You just have to start a little lower than you expected. I'm in your corner! Hopefully, one of the women who has read your post has a connection that can help you start out as a lawyer rather than a legal assistant or paralegal. I wish I knew someone. Christina
My heart goes out to you. It sounds like you're in a very difficult situation. Don't give up - there are legal jobs out there. It may take you a little longer to find a job, however, given your lack of experience. I am an attorney and a mom who started my career as a corporate/securities lawyer at a big firm. If you are having difficulty locating a position in this area, maybe you should consider other areas of specialization. From experience, I can say that the corporate/securities field tends to be very male-dominated, very aggressive, status-oriented and stressful, with a lot of value given to those who make their jobs their lives. The hours tend to be VERY long; meaning its not uncommon and in fact, is expected that you work all night or practically all night on a fairly regular basis. From my observation, most of the successful attorneys in this field are either single, about to get divorced and/or have a spouse who is the primary home-maker and care-giver. I found this type of work and the expectations it carried incompatible with my emotional and physical well-being even though I was single and childless at the time.
I suggest that you do some research and find a field of law that is more compatible with your status as an about to become single mom. Some ideas that come to mind are estate-planning, transactional real estate or transactional (non-securities) general business law. Also, if you live in the East Bay, you might want to consider options on this side of the Bridge. The commute alone to S.F. can be very time-consuming and stressful.
As for finding a job, be very open and flexible and adjust your expectations. If you can't find a full-time job with a ''status'' firm, try to locate a job with a smaller firm or a solo practitioner. If you can't find a full-time job immediately, try to find a part-time job or several parat-time jobs with smaller firms or solos. And if you are unable to find a job as a traditional associate, you could start as a law clerk/paralegal and then hopefully acquire some experience and contacts.
As for networking, you should exhaust every opportunity. Call all of your friends and acquaintances and let them know you are looking. Your law school alumni office should know about networking possibilities as well as have other resources for job hunting. You could also call headhunters or firms that specialize in placing contract workers (you can find their numbers in The Recorder) and ask them how you might be able to make yourself more marketable.
You could try ''informational'' interviewing, whereby you call an attorney (preferably after an introduction) and ask to meet with that person for the purpose of learning more about their practice, rather than asking for a job. You should also join a local bar association and start going to bar events and training programs. Most local bar associations have a young lawyers division. You could volunteer for the bar association's pro bono projects. This would allow you to hone your legal skills as well as make contact with other lawyers. (Many attorneys who volunteer their time are in private practice in other fields.)
Finally, there are several support groups out there for people (particulaly women) who are trying to re-enter the job force. There used to be an organization called Alumnae Resources in S.F. that was focused on women's issues. Also, the Berkeley Parents' Network has groups for parents in career transition. You may be able to find other organizations geared especially to lawyers in the Recorder or other legal publications.
Above all, be realistic and don't get too discouraged. Potential legal employers will not be interested in candidates who appear insecure or less than enthusiastic. Legal jobs are out there to be had; you'll just need to focus your efforts on a lot of different fronts until something comes up. GOOD LUCK!! Another Lawyer-Mom
Have you considered/tried public service? Government practice? I am certain you will find much much less prejudice regarding your choice to have taken time off for your child, and much easier entry, and much more satisfying work and training in the immediate term, in public practice. You will also find fabulous benefits, long term (health, retirement, pre-tax child-care funds, etc.), but of course, much lower salaries. Even if you would like to remain committed to your long-terms goals, as you've stated them, you could get a few years experience and training in government practice and then move to the private sector much more easily and with probably more choices, than you can now. Other things to consider while your child is still small: government employers are considered more family friendly than the private sector, much more reasonable hours, flexibility, etc, which, in my view, are way worth the salary differential when your kids are small. Consider state/federal agencies if you want a more ''in-house'' practice. Check State Attorney General/City Attorney/County Counsel offices, if you want more of a litigation practice. Check the web sites for current positions. Fed gov agencies (e.g., Securities & Exchange Commission, HUD, EPA, you name it, mostly in S.F.; IRS in Oakland) Cal. agencies (even tho Cal is currently in a ''hiring freeze,'' due to budget crisis, there are exceptions), check State of Cal. homepage for links to most state agencies, and agency positions available (don't be intimidated by ''exam'' procedure, it's just a resume collection and ranking device). Even if it's not what you want to do ultimately, consider it a stepping stone, with the added benefit that you might just it interesting for awhile as well. City attorneys offices seem to post opeining routinely in the legal papers, but I know that the State does not always do so. The web pages should have the complete listings of openings. Good luck! raissa
Changing to a Different career after Law
Hello, I am an out of work lawyer and a mom. Other than volunteering twice a week at a legal services organization for the last year and a a half, I've been happily at home with son since he was born almost 3 years ago. For the last few months I've been trying to go back to work for real, but haven't seemed to find anything. I feel like my resume is pretty decent - my degree is from a top law school, I spent two years at a firm and also have some government and public interest experience. And I feel like I've cast a pretty wide net - I'll go contract or full-time, public or private, almost anything that sounds reasonably interesting, pays for childcare and a little more, and will get me home for dinner most nights (so, no big firms). But either my experience is too limited or I don't speak a foreign language or I've been out of the picture too long for anyone to give me a serious look. To be honest, I never loved being a lawyer. Often, I didn't even really like it. So it makes sense to me to think seriously about doing something else with my life, especially since I would love to have another baby in the near future. But I really don't know what people do with their JDs if not practice law. I would be really interested to hear what people have done after they left the law. Did you end up in a job that credited your degree and the skills you developed as a lawyer? How did you get that job? Are you happier now than you were when you were practicing? Thank you! Why Did I Go to Law School???
I am a lawyer who hasn't practiced in a very long time. I work for a nonprofit, and I love it. I have a lot of friends from law school who are doing all kinds of things -- research attorneys in the courts, teaching, nonprofits, government (non-legal), foundations. I probably know more lawyers who are not practicing than who are practicing, and for most of them it has been their choice to pursue another path.
A law degree (especially one from a top school, like you have) is generally a plus on your resume. Employers understand the rigor of the education and appreciate the writing skills and logic that are developed.
It's a very tough job market in the legal world. The economic model is changing, firms are letting go of both associates and partners, and there are a lot of people looking for work. So don't feel bad about not being able to find something in law. Best wishes in your expanded pursuits. Once a Lawyer
You might want to look into the field of mediation/conflict resolution. I have a good friend who was a lawyer (public defender) for 10 years, went back to school for her MA in dance therapy, had a baby, and then ended up working now in conflict resolution because she couldn't find a job in dance therapy in the city where she lives. I think she is enjoying the work and finds the hours work well with family life, and it uses her law degree and counseling skills. just a thought
I have a good friend who decided working for a law firm wasn't for her. She started doing mediation for divorcing couples and likes it pretty well. She has her own company now, more business than she can handle, but sets her own hours so she can spend time with her preschool aged daughter.
I've always thought that doing mediation for families who have to deal with an aging parent would also be a good business (since I'm sure our family will need that at some point and I haven't heard of anyone doing it). Anon
I would suggest looking into Insurance. Most insurance companies and Brokers hire people with law degrees for various roles. As you can imagine, the hours are family friendly and while you may not see the same salary as a law associate, the quality of life is much better. Feel free to email me if you'd like to bounce ideas. B
I totally relate to your post. I practiced law for a few years, didn't really like it, then pursued another career path which I love but which does not allow me to earn any significant income. Now I'm home with a 9 month old, and I love that, too, but I want to be back in the workforce when he goes to school.
There are things to do with a law degree besides practice law. Check out this article: http://law.scu.edu/CareerPathwaysWiki/index.cfm?path=Non-Lawyer_Jobs_for_Lawyers=Main=PDF and maybe read a few books about alternative careers for lawyers.
Or if you DON'T feel strongly about using your law degree, you can think about a total career change. I liked the book The Unhappy Lawyer: A Roadmap to Finding Meaningful Work Outside of the Law. It is geared toward readers who are currently practicing law, but I think it has valuable advice for everyone.
My current plan is to try to get into legal writing (like for Nolo Press or a legal publication). It might be worth it to sit down with a good career coach to help brainstorm options. Good luck! There are lots of us out here!
I am the parent of two grade-school aged kids who was a lawyer before I became a parent. I left my last attorney job nearly 8 years ago after a series of disputes with my employer made it clear to me that I would be expected to put my job first--over and above my new role as a mom, which was unacceptable to me. Since then I have been resolute about not returning to the legal profession. I am not interested in being a trial lawyer, a corporate or non-profit lawyer, or a brief-writer. I taken temp teaching jobs and have flirted with the idea of going back to grad school. What I would really like is a job where I can still be an advocate. I want something that involves the process of standing up for people who have been injured, abused, etc. I am just not sure where to begin. Does anyone know of any advocacy work that I could do without being a practicing attorney? advocate-at-heart
Check out CASA, Court appointed special advocates. They run trainings on a regular basis. You will follow a child in the court system and serve as his/her advocate. You can look them up on the web using ''CASA.'' Another group that I once volunteered for is Legal Assistance for Seniors (LAS). They are great folks too. Good luck! anon
I am unclear from your message whether or not you want paying work or simply a connection to your passion for advocacy. If it is the latter, then there are countless non-profit agencies in the Bay Area that would be elated to have an energized and active board member to get involved in their cause (I should know, I'm an ED of a local non-profit in need of qualified board members). If I were you, I would think about what issues are passionate to you and to do some research on local agencies. Check Craigslist for non-profit jobs or go to their Foundation link to see if they have a list of non-profits by issue. There is also the Volunteer Legal Services Program of the SF Bar that has an amazing volunteer attorney program - you could take pro bono cases and get your advocacy heart filled easily that way as well! Good on you!!
I have been an inactive member of the California Bar for almost ten years and I am never going to practice law. I'm tired of paying $50 a year for a license I don't use or need. I can think of a lot better uses for the money. Can I ask to be removed from the bar? Or is this a life sentence? Bar-b-Gone
You can resign from the State Bar. The option to pay for an inactive license is so that if you ever return to practicing law (I know you said you have not practiced for 10 years)you can regain full status (return to active enrollment) without having to go through a reinstatement proceeding. There is a form at the state bar for what is called ''resignation without charges pending.'' Be aware that to get your license back after resignation you will have to go through reinstatement procedures. Check out the state bar website for more information and forms. anonymous
You may ''resign'' from the bar. Go to http://www.calbar.ca.gov for details. You can also call the state bar for the information. It's a simple procedure. That said, you should really think about whether you want to resign. You never know when a job might want you to reactivate, or when you might want to revisit this at a later stage in life. lawyer chick
All you have to do is resign. Of course, if you were ever to change your mind, you'd have to take the bar exam again.