Kate Neville Offers Career Advice for Lawyers

Law school is a common route chosen by college students hoping for a stable career.  However, law is not recession-proof, as career expert Kate Neville has discovered.  Neville counsels lawyers seeking to make a career move and says her business is thriving.  Ms. Neville answered some questions about law school and offered career advice for lawyers seeking a career change.

Are any specialties within the law field in high demand?

  • Pharma/health law/Medicare fraud/FDA/biotech
  • Government contracts
  • EE-type patent work
  • Procurement in government

What are good career options for former lawyers?

Of course, identifying good career options depends on the skills and experience of the individual.  Below is a list of some jobs that people with law degree often hold:

  • Policy positions in federal government or advocacy organizations
  • Local and state government policy and management positions
  • Researchers in think tanks
  • Financial analysts
  • Social work
  • Non-profit management
  • University administration
  • Ombudsman
  • Teaching (K-12)
  • Marketing and communications
  • Journalism (traditionally though fewer positions now)

What tips do you have for lawyers (or other professionals) wanting to make a career change?

1–Identify your skills generally, outside the context of law, e.g. prepare and deliver presentations on complex issues to sophisticated audiences/members of the public

2–Translate your experience into language that non-lawyers/prospective employers will understand and find impressive–do the work for them in a cover letter and your resume

3–Don’t dismiss the law if you didn’t like law school as practice is different–try practicing at first, consider it similar to a medical residency

4–Look into renegotiating the terms of your school loans and whether your school has any loan forgiveness programs

5–Think what content area interests you, but in addition to content, think about what role you want to play–what skills you have and that you enjoy using, e.g. research and writing, public speaking, negotiating, facilitating meetings, operations and logistics

6–Talk to people who do the work you think you want to do BUT be sure to prepare for those conversations–goal is to both get information and to make a good impression

7–Remember that networking is the most common way people get jobs–the vast majority of jobs are never posted.  Determine how to do it effectively.

Many college graduates consider law school, believing it will lead to job security and better pay. Do you think this is still true or has the job market for legal professionals changed?

The changes in the economy have made it much riskier to go to law school.  Pursuing a law degree as a default position because one isn’t sure what else to do is problematic. Large law firm hiring is drastically down, and more layoffs of experienced large firm attorneys took place in 2009 than ever before.   Because firms cut positions and deferred and rescinded offers in 2009, there is already a backlog of deferred associates and new graduates.  While the standard wisdom has been that going to law school will “keep your options open,” some employers see a JD as a negative in non-legal positions, and once in practice it can be difficult to determine what those options are and how to pursue them effectively.

Going to law school means taking on a huge amount of debt to get the degree and making a big investment of time and effort in school and to pass the bar.  It seems clear that the pipeline is flooded since there are more qualified attorneys than there are good jobs for them, but law firm applications are UP.  The assumption is that people want to sit out the economy by going to grad school, but it’s important to investigate what the options are after graduation to pay off that debt and get a good return on their investment of time and energy.  The pool of attorneys who need to figure out their professional options will only expand so it’s important to talk to people who do the type of work you think you want to do before deciding to go to law school and while there.

What advice do you have for law school students or graduates that wish to find a job in the legal field?

1–Participate in clinical programs to experience what it’s like to represent a client and explore different areas of practice

2–Don’t just look at jobs in large law firms, consider government, businesses, smaller firms

3–Law is a broad field, which can encompass real estate transactional work to litigating immigration rights to lobbying for energy reform–think what content area interests you

4–As above, in addition to content, think about what role you want to play–what skills you have and that you enjoy using, e.g. research and writing, public speaking, negotiating, facilitating meetings, operations and logistics

5–As above, talk to people who do the work you think you want to do BUT be sure to prepare for those conversations–goal is to both get information and to make a good impression

6–As above, remember that networking is the most common way people get jobs–the vast majority of jobs are never posted.  Determine how to do it effectively.

Kate Neville is a graduate of Harvard Law School and has practiced law in both the public and private sectors.  Her experience also includes management consulting and policy analysis.  After working as an advisor in Georgetown Law’s Office of Career Services, she founded Neville Career Consulting and provides career guidance to attorneys who are considering a professional transition.  Her articles have been featured in The Legal Times, YahooFinance.com, Roll Call, Veritas, and training materials for the ABA Section of Litigation.  Visit NevilleCareerConsulting.com for more information.



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