Rethink Traditional Big Law Career Path
It may be time to consider an alternative rewarding legal job, at least temporarily, while the economy recovers, and private law firms figure out where and when they’ll begin to consistently hire again.
New and experienced attorneys should consider Non-Profits with an altruistic mission/cause such as Southern Poverty Law Center, Chattahoochee River Keepers, Innocence Project and Legal Aid. Take the time now to lobby for an organization or work for a political campaign.
Freelance opportunities in the Gig Economy have usually been reserved for lawyers with a nomadic path. Why not see this interruption as an opportunity to explore new places for a period of time? There are firms and staffing agencies recruiting contract and hourly employment for opportunities (such as document review projects) all over the country. If you have your heart set on a practice area that is slow or depressed due to economic conditions, take a step back and write a legal blog or white paper that will gain you exposure as an expert in the area and show off your writing skills.
It goes without saying but master your networking skills by utilizing your law school alumni network. You could go so far as to seek alumni at smaller firms or solo practitioners to leverage the connection and suggest they hire you on a paid internship basis. While you wait for your state’s bar to confirm a new date, seek out temporary positions like file clerk and legal assistant opportunities. Use this time to get your “foot in the door” with a firm strong in your desired area.
During the recession of 2008/2009, new graduates or laid off attorneys that never returned to practicing law were often incredibly successful in other industries. Examples that come to mind: CEO of tech start-up; lobbyist for GA Power, executive of prominent medical non-profit, attorney with Habitat for Humanity (started as a volunteer). Now is the time to think outside the box and explore your career potential based on your strengths and capabilities.
Alternative or Temporary Career Paths Beyond Big Law
Federal or State Government
- There are over 30,000 federally employed in a variety of agencies and departments across the US and internationally
- Lobby Groups
- Regulatory Agencies: FDA, DOD (FAR, DFAR), Treasury, IRS, SEC
- Clerkships, Assistant US Attorney
- Local D.A., municipalities including airports
Legal Operations & Technology
- Corporations’ in-house departments seek tech-savvy attorneys to create efficiencies, manage outside counsel, create vendor and litigation management tools, manage staff, and run operations of the legal department
- There are over 1,000 legal tech startups worldwide worth $15.9 billion globally. Companies that provide legal industry-focused Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, blockchain, quantum computing
- Contract Managers
- Legal Operation Managers
Non-Practicing/Alternatives to Practicing
- Legal Recruiting – a large % of the legal recruiting population have JD
- Legal Services Sales – research & billing software, court reporting, document/exhibit production
- Consulting – Altman Weil, Lexis Nexis, EY, Legal Tech companies
Compliance & Consultant Roles
- Compliance Manager in charge of Data Privacy, Cyber Security, Breach Response Plan
- Compliance Attorney with expertise in CCPA,, HIPPA are in high demand
- Corporations are hiring attorneys to oversee all compliance from FMLA to ADA to OSHA to Sarbanes-Oxley to HIPPA
- Investigations organizations (P.I., forensics, jury/trial consulting)
The Corporate, In-house Track
With shifts occurring in the market and companies are seeking to cut outside legal costs, a good start to your career would be to get your foot in the door with a company on the rise.
Consider where the government is spending money. Large Banks or Regional SBA Approved Lenders like Wells, Bank of America, Regions and SunTrust each have large legal departments with opportunity for entry-level hires. Businesses with large government contracts such as Northrup Gruman, General Dynamics and construction companies need extra hands for legal work. Consultancies: EY, PWC, Accenture, Deloitte, McKinzey, Bain are seeking legal and accounting professionals to assist in the anticipated M&A market as big businesses that have borrowed money with low interest rates seek to gobble up devalued companies in and outside of their industry. Consider those companies with products that are more in demand than ever with supply chain and new regulations or liability issues to navigate – medical equipment manufacturers or COVID Response companies such as Amazon, LabCorp, Walmart, CVS, Walgreen’s and countless Pharma companies. How about the transportation industry? Railways, cargo airlines and shipping are responding to the shifts occurring in the market.
What other businesses or sectors are benefitting from COVID? Delivery services like Uber, UPS, FedEx, Walmart, Target. Corresponding transportation and logistics corporations such as trucking, railways and cargo shipping. Additionally, insurance companies are inundated with business interruption claims and coverage liability issues on a countless number of fronts. With the new normal of the work from home workforce, online communication companies/software like Calendly, Zoom, SalesForce, SKYPE and Netflix are seeing increased utilization and needing to hire legal professionals.
There is reason to stay optimistic & positive
Courts are reopening and virtual hearings are being held – successfully! Bar Exams are being rescheduled. Law firms are figuring out they can practice law with just as much effectiveness from home. Firms and corporations are resuming interviews via video conference, and they are onboarding new hires remotely.
The biggest lesson & observation I must share from the fiasco of 2008/2009 is that life went on for the attorneys caught in the fray of economic collapse and the ensuing mass layoffs. The vast majority of lawyers landed on their feet and found their way to success in law, business or public service. If you’re in law school or an alum, recognize that your intelligence and problem-solving skills are abnormally high – you are at the top of the food chain when it comes to having the survival skills and resilience to carry on. It’s going to be OK no matter how this plays out. Not all the law grads of 2008, 2009 and 2010 are practicing law today, but there is not one example that I can give you where an attorney I worked with at that time did not eventually find a fulfilling career path.
For better or worse, the country is opening its physical offices and doors for business, and the demand for lawyers caused by this rush to open the economy is guaranteed. Keep your eye out for classes or experiences that will give you exposure or experience in the predictable areas of expected demand increase (bankruptcy, foreclosures, insurance law, employment, etc.) as well as new demand caused by the pandemic – compliance (fraud), data breach response (and liability), wrongful death, medical malpractice, premise liability, family law, Trust & Estates and more. A huge swing in litigation and deal flow could come at any moment and be a free for all for lawyers. The need for firms and businesses to hire smart, ambitious law grads will return – guaranteed.