What to do with my law degree, if anything?

It looks like I’ll be re-entering the job market in a couple years. I have a decidedly mixed bag of pros and cons as a job applicant. I know some things I definitely DON’T want to do. I have some interests, and I have some experience, but they generally don’t coincide.

Let’s see if I can give a coherent but brief account of my career.

In 1997 I graduated from Duke Law, planning on being a prosecutor. I couldn’t get a job locally, so I wound up backing into work at a small firm that mostly represented small businesses. That was about 1999.

In 2002, I got fired. I was severely depressed and not working efficiently, and the remaining partner (after a firm breakup) and I did not get along, so I wound up getting canned. The other two lawyers who’d been partners agreed to serve as references, and I’d been looking for another position, but nothing panned out.

From 2003-present I’ve been a full time mother.

2007-present I’ve been volunteering as a breastfeeding counselor.

I just found out that the requirements to get certified as a Lactation Consultant will get more rigorous in 2012, so I will probably take the test next year, just to take advantage of the opportunity. But I’m not at all sure I would actually like working as an LC.

It would also be nice to bring in as much money as possible, seeing as I owe more on my legal education than we do on our house.

At the same time, I refuse to ever do civil litigation, and I have enough problems with the drug war, death penalty, and police practices that being a prosecutor is off my list. Doing something transactional like real estate or wills seems appealing, but I have zero knowledge on those subjects.

I am passionate about civil liberties, reproductive choice, and church-state separation, but would working with an advocacy group on those subjects put me back into litigation?

The biggest need for legal-ish work in the breastfeeding world seems to be lobbying, and I have the exact opposite personality of a good lobbyist.

I will be calling Duke’s career services and setting up an appointment. But I wondered if anyone had some ideas, guidance, or caveats for me.


An ideal back to work entry would be doing paralegal work. There are lots of people that need some legal advice, but really don’t need a lawyer. For instance a no asset, Chapter 7 bankruptcy, a no kids, no contest, divorce, simple wills, a name change, etc etc

What I would do if I was you, is decide how many hours a week you could devote to simple legal issues, like a simple will.

Then go to 1and1 or GoDaddy and get a domain and set up a simple website.

Then start putting ads in Craiglist. This way you can work when you want. On what cases you want etc.

So many people need just simple guidance, and the fact that you are a lawyer and not a paralegal will give you added weight. Just don’t charge lawyer rates :slight_smile:

Jeeze…a lawyer that won’t litigate…that knocks a lot of options off the table. Given the employment gap and limited experience, I was going to suggest trying for a staff attorney spot at a Legal Services office. Probably would involve family law, but maybe also bankruptcy, housing, consumer protection, public benefits stuff.

Maybe look in to state or federal government jobs? Social Security hires lawyers as administrative law judges, or staff attorneys that assist the judges with research, etc. Unemployment agencies likewise, plus attorneys to defend cases that are appealed to trial courts and beyond…

Also, Lexis and Westlaw both hire LOTS of lawyers to do editorial work, and also customer service assistance with their research software…I worked for Lexis years ago.

Advocacy groups don’t only need litigators. They also need research attorneys, community coordinators, policy wonks, and all sorts of other back-end jobs where a legal degree is invaluable even if not required.

For example, look at this open position with the ACLU:

Litigating isn’t in there anywhere. You might coordinate with litigators at some point but organizing events, public speaking, and monitoring government bodies seems to be the major thrust of the position.

You should check out www.idealist.org and see what’s out there.

My wife left her fulltime law gig as in-house counsel around 1992 when our 3d kid was born. During most of the time since then she has taught business law at a community college, and done arbitrations for the local state courts. About a year or so ago when our youngest was a HS senior she decided to seriously look into getting a full-time law job. She put in a hell of a lot of effort, networking, training, applying, with a total net result of 2 interviews and 0 offers.

Even for jobs for which she was tremendously qualified and which paid little, they would report getting hundreds if not thousands of applications. I think she (and possibly you) had 2 things against her. First, given the recent economic climate there are a ton of highly qualified lawyers from elite schools and bigname firms looking for work and willing to accept positions they previously wouldn’t have even considered. My government law office has recently hired folk from Harvard and UofC, and other young associates recently fired from bigname firms - folk who previously would not have considered our shop. Second, our impression is that there is considerable prejudice (for lack of a better word) against individuals who have been out of the fulltime job market for an extended period. Simply put, the vast majority of prospective employers (foolishly IMO) consider your aquired life experience of no value, and would rather hire an unexperienced recent grad or someone who has been let go from a big firm.

Sorry to be pessimistic, but this was our experience. The job search was such a grind with so little payoff that I convinced her to hang it up and look for ways to enjoy the life (and income) we have. If we had known at the time how difficult it would be for her to re-enter the field, we might have made a different decision when she decided to stay home with the kids. Probably not, but we had always assumed she would be able to get somekind of a legal job.

SS is definitely hiring, tho right now mainly at OGC. ALJ hiring is a different beast entirely, and not an option at the moment.

My .02:

I graduated from Georgetown Law in '04.

I passed the New York bar (never actually joined)

I am a full-time author and editor, primarily for international non-profits. My non-legal background (heavy economics and environment) is the subject-matter in with the organizations. My analytical skills are what sets my work apart and drives recommendations (i.e., how my client base grows). Research and absorption ability really helps too. Working on climate change issues introduced some gender work, and with a bit of focus that’s becoming a substantial area of expertise.

Another relevant skill is conforming with quirky client requirements. If you can tackle the Bluebook or arcane court filing rules, then adapting to so-and-so’s style manual should be a breeze. You’d be surprised how just knowing an organizations preferred spelling, grammar, and style can get you clients.

I do this full time with Mrs. Devil, who does the graphic design end of things. It’s a great combo; together we can take a book or other publication from inception to print, but it’s not necessary to pair–we both work with other editors and designers.

Though I work on some democratic governance issues, I do miss legal thought and analysis. Anyone know a way to parley the above into something a bit more law-related (short of writing legal memos)?

Good luck!

At my first post-college job, I worked at a nonprofit refugee services agency. We had a woman on staff to help us with grant/donor compliance issues (we had grants from the Dept. of Public Aid, various refugee services organizations, etc.) That is for sure the sort of work for which a law degree is very helpful (contract analysis, etc.), but not required. The pay may not be so great, however.

Much immigration work is purely transactional and doesn’t involve litigation at all (family-based green cards, that sort of thing).

Duke is going to have a lot of employers submitting jobs to their online careerbank - make sure you get a usename/password from your alumni services office, and check that site every day. Seriously - every single day. If you see an interesting job, try to apply within a few days. Same day is better - employers are getting deluged with applications, and so anyplace that’s doing a rolling application process might fill a job quite quickly.

Keep an eye on www.usajobs.gov. A job title you might want to search for is “attorney-advisor.” I’m sure there are exceptions, but that seems to be the default title for lawyers in non-litigation roles. Often, these jobs will consist of reviewing denials of various federal benefit applications, or labor discimination claims, or things of that sort.

Have you considered volunteering with a local legal non-profit? ACLU, or someplace else? Could help give you a feel for what you’d like to do, dust off your skills, and put you in touch with people who’ll know more about your local job market.

Does learning the Federal Acquisition Regulations sound interesting? There is a huge need in both the Public and Private (Defense Contractor) Sectors for Contracts and Subcontracts professionals. With a legal degree, you could pretty much write your own ticket, even though they’d have to train you in the regulations and procedures.

You could easily start in the low six figures.

Wow, thank you for your responses!

I am definitely going to be checking out Lexis & Westlaw (my undergrad degree is English, so that could be a great fit).

Government work sounds like a good possibility too - thanks for the link to usajobs.

And yeah, the ACLU was one of my first thoughts, given how well their mission overlaps with my passions! I’m also in a very fortunate position that I can afford to volunteer/apprentice for a year or two so I can learn how to do the job I’m interested in and get experience and contacts along the way. I don’t know how a private real estate firm would feel about that, but I imagine non-profits would love the help.

I’m a little afraid of the horrible soul-crushing grind **Dinsdale **describes, but at the same time, I’m in a position now where I have a lot more flexibility and perspective than I did in my last job hunt. I’m no longer trying to just find some legal job and trying to pander to the interviewers. I will find something I like that works for me, or I will simply get a retail job or random office work and tell Sallie Mae to take what I can give them (which they have been more than accommodating about so far).

Since you live right outside Raleigh there are always advocacy groups that need legal help dealing with state government so you are in a good place to help them. Sierra Club has a Raleigh office for example if you are into environmental issues.

Are you ruling out just civil litigation, or all courtroom work?

Because, if you had an interest in criminal law at one time, but your feelings on the drug war, death penalty, and police practices make prosecution untenable… may I suggest that the defense bar is always in need of passionate and committed practioners? If you have a public defender’s office in your area, perhaps they might be a good fit.

You may have heard this, but now that Campbell Law school is in Raleigh they are opening a legal clinic for low income people.

As much as I think everyone is entitled to a good defense, I don’t think I could do it. Between the people who are too addled to help in their own defense and the people who are clearly guilty of awful stuff, I’m pretty sure I would hate it. It was a good idea based on the information I gave, though!

TruCelt, FAR certainly sounds interesting. How does one get into that arena? And where are these jobs that pay $100K and offer to train you? :smiley:

I don’t want to discourage anyone from applying to federal jobs but you should know the following (and I say this as a former federal attorney…I quit 2 weeks ago)

  1. A lot of those public announcements are already set aside for people even if they’re announcing it publically.

  2. Make sure to check the “who can apply” category before you start writing your KSAs. If it says “internal only” don’t bother. It means that they are only going to hire inside the agency which goes back to Point 1-usually it’s a pre-selected lateral but for whatever political reason they opened an announcement, or they’re genuinely looking to tempt people from one office to another.

  3. KSAs. They take a lot of effort so be realistic about what you’re applying for. A lot of government work can be extremely specialised and even if the opportunity sounds extremely cool, they want you to have demonstrable work experience in that area. Attorney Advisors, especially for OGC, do more than just review federal benefits applications. The work varies by agency and can be rougly seperated out in to Program (this was me) and HR (internal labour stuff). If you are applying for a program side job, it usually means knowing the statute/programs inside and out. For instance, I was a transactional attorney for a federal agency structuring secured transactions for public-private development projects. My agency is currently hiring for my old position (internal only) and they want people to know the specific type of regulatory transactions I was working on-because L.A. is an extremely high volume transactional office and they don’t want to spend the time training people.

Also remember that if you are anywhere near entry-level a lot of agencies want you to come in through the honours fellowship program. You can only be out of school for 1 year to qualify for that.

What I found was that they don’t want the civil service to really be a revolving door (except at the very top)-the whole system is kind of jerryrigged to get you in and then most people stay (because it’s a 40 hour per week job that pays reasonably well, which is hard to find in the legal world). This means that you have a much better shot at getting a federal job if you are super-senior and worked on the private side of the exact work you’ll be doing as an attorney-advisor (as my work husband and I termed it, “Industry Rejects”), or you’re just out of school and know absolutely nothing and they train you with a very steep learning curve (commonly known as “Homegrown Reject” → this was my situation). Even when you’re in the racket, it’s like a freaking headache and a half to try to switch agencies.

In my experience, there are basically three things you can do careerwise as a lawyer.

  1. Litigate/prosecute. Basically anything that involves the courtroom. This is ruled right out on both sides as you really don’t seem to enjoy it.

  2. Research/document creation. This can be as boring as finding a standard form online or in your law firm’s database and plugging and chugging through the client’s information to draft up an applicable motion. Or staring at a computer screen and highlighting text for senior attorneys/partners to review as backup on large cases at large law firms. Or it can be as exciting (if you consider research exciting) as spending all day in the library looking through old texts or journals or whatever for publication or to help determine the law behind your client’s problems.

  3. Consultation/mediation/arbitration. Set up your own shop. Become a judge of sorts and solve problems.

That’s basically it, honestly. You could attempt these as a solo practitioner or in large law firms or even in various governmental entities but it all comes down to those three.

Now, here’s the key, no one says you HAVE to be a lawyer. There are tons of opportunities out there for someone with a law degree whose job isn’t defined by the “attorney” aspect of it.
My job right now is working for the government. It’s pretty darn helpful that I’m an attorney…but it’s not a requirement of this position.

So if you want to go that route, I suggest you determine what skills you can bring to the table and match that up with various careers and see what shakes out.

I have no advice, but I thought I’d just chime in to wish you good luck with the job search. It sounds like you will do fine.

Thanks. Believe it or not, having someone say it sounds like I’ll do OK makes me feel better!