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How to Transition from a Legal Career into the Non-Legal Sector

Updated on April 14, 2013
Tired of your legal job? You can successfully transition to a new field.
Tired of your legal job? You can successfully transition to a new field. | Source

Moving from a Legal Job into a Different Field

The road of a lawyer looking for a non-legal job can be a rocky one--many employers will see a "JD" on a resume and quickly move on, assuming the candidate is overqualified or will want too high a salary. Thus starts a string of rejections or uncomfortable interviews where the employer focuses more on why you don't want to be an attorney than on why you do want the position in question.

Despite the difficulties, however, transitioning from a job in the law to a job in the non-legal sector can be done. There are plenty of positions that value writing, critical thinking, and analytical skills--you just need to spin your experience and education in the correct way.

Read on for tips on how to move from a legal job to a non-legal position.

Customizing Your Resume for a Non-Legal Job

You've found a non-legal job you think sounds like a perfect fit, and you're ready to apply--but don't hit submit just yet. Likely, your resume is filled with your law accomplishments--law firm experience, law review accolades, awards won and societies joined. While those things are important, you won't want it to look like your entire life is wrapped up in the law--the employer will be much less likely to take your application seriously if so.

Instead, tailor your resume to the job to which you're applying. Consider the new field the job is in--is it HR, corporate, business support, technology, etc.? Chances are there's a reason you're applying to a position in that particular new field--maybe a past experience, or maybe something you encountered in the law that made a light bulb go off about a new potential career path.

Take the skills you've earned and the experiences you've had in the law, and re-word your resume to highlight the qualifications that fit the position. Don't put the number of cases you've co-chaired or won if you're applying for a technical writing job--instead, focus on the research, writing, and interviewing skills you've polished. If you're applying for an HR job, don't focus on the settlements you've gotten clients--instead, focus on how you developed intelligent, sensitive people skills through your dealings with the public.

If you really home in on the skills you can bring to the company, rather than on the legal experience you've had, the employer will be more likely to consider your resume.

Convincing a Potential Employer That Your Move is Sincere

You customized your resume to the job, and now you have an interview--you're probably worried about what sorts of questions the employer will ask (the most dreaded question is, of course, "So why don't you want to be a lawyer anymore?").

The key to landing a non-legal job is convincing your potential employer that your move is sincere and motivated by the correct interests. The employer doesn't want to hear that you are overworked and too stressed out; even if you are looking for a position with more work-life balance, don't come clean about it in the interview. You don't want to give your employer the impression that you shy from hard work.

Instead, spin your answers in the most positive fashion possible--before the interview, practice a few stories about how a moment in the law inspired your new career move--tie the two together. Reiterate your interest in the field, and give examples of how the interest is well-established and not just a passing whim.

A career in the law encompasses critical thinking, people management, communication skills, writing and research skills, and time management. Those abilities can be translated to literally almost any job you can think of, barring positions that require highly technical knowledge.

If the potential employer brings up concerns that you are overqualified, emphasize that you are never overqualified to learn new things or have new experiences. Remember, many people are very impressed by a law degree--so don't appear lofty or arrogant.

The only thing standing between the new job and you is your ability to persuade your employer that not only are you the best fit, but that you have convincing reasons for leaving a field that took a lot of work to get into in the first place.

Your New Career Path as a Non-Lawyer

While many lawyers find their careers fulfilling, it's not for everyone, and there's nothing wrong with leaving it behind. It can be a very freeing experience to step away from billable hours, timesheets, and needy clients.

Furthermore, jobs in other fields can offer more stable hours, more work-life balance, and much lower stress. If you've decided to start a new career, the JD on your resume does not have to be something to overcome--you can turn it into an asset.

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