Jobs for Lawyers: Alternatives to Practicing Law

Published: Mar 31, 2009

 JD Alternative       Law       
From Jobs for Lawyers: Effective Techniques for Getting Hired in Today's Legal Marketplace by Hillary Mantis and Kathleen Brady.
Courtesy of Impact Publications.

Given the dissatisfaction rampant in the legal profession and the problems inherent in creating a part-time schedule, many lawyers now face tremendously difficult decisions:

  • Do I give up the practice of law entirely?
  • Is there some way to combine my practice with my other, equally important interests?
  • Can I combine my practice with raising a family?
  • If I do give up my practice, what else can I do with a law degree?
  • How much money will I earn?
  • How do I find a new job?

These questions, which have become all too common, often lead to a state of panic from which no rational decision can be made. There are no Martindale-Hubbell listings for nontraditional or part-time lawyers. For lawyers trained in the highly structured law school environment where getting hired was almost part of the curriculum, the prospect of leaving the profession can be daunting.

The good news for the lawyer pursuing alternative work arrangements is that what first appears as a murky road toward instability can be broken down systematically and logically into a series of viable options. Even more encouraging is the tremendous wealth of resource materials that have appeared in recent years. The world of nontraditional/alternative careers has developed into a veritable industry, ranging from books to newsletters to specialized career counseling consultants. As the industry evolves, these positions will become both more readily available and more "acceptable" in the eyes of the legal profession.

~In general, making the move out of a traditional legal position involves three components: self-assessment, analysis of possible options, and decision making implementation. Examination of these components should not be treated in a simplistic manner. If you are dissatisfied with your practice, think about exactly why you are unhappy. Do you really dislike the practice of law? Or is it just that you hate writing briefs? Or that you hate working until 9:00 p.m. most nights and can't juggle work and family? Or that you hate living in a large urban environment?

Since practice in the legal profession is preceded by a rigorous course of study most often extracting a three-year commitment of time, energy and financial resources, it is readily understandable that any lawyer would first give serious thought to the implications of making a major move. A comprehensive self-assessment to elicit the potential for change may include, among other things, one's tenure and progression in the legal profession, the skills and experience acquired that may be trans-ferred to another setting, the compensation differentials that may accompany such a change, the substantive knowledge required, the impact on personal or family lifestyle, whether the change translates into short-term or long-term employment, and most important, whether making the change will bring success in achieving the lawyer's ultimate goal.


When most people come in to inquire about nonlegal career options, salaries are their primary concern. "What can I do where I will make as much money as I am now, but not have to practice law?" they ask, hopefully.Not very much, unfortunately. Lawyers are among the most highly salaried professionals in the "food chain." However, many attorneys have no idea how much other professions pay. It is possible to earn a very satisfactory living in other professions. Often a much more reasonable lifestyle is a viable tradeoff for lost earnings. And as we saw in Andrea's profile, doing what you love most is often what you have the most talent for-and pays off in the long run.~


The path to a nontraditional legal position is challenging. As you explore your options, keep in mind the following:

  • Always trust your own instincts. Do not be scared off by peer pressure or anyone else's advice. Even if you are not sure where your instincts will lead you will almost always be headed in the right direction. You should feel no embarrass-ment in not being a 12-hour-a-day lawyer, nor should you feel any guilt associated with not being a lawyer at all. There is no reason to be trapped forever by a decision made at the age of 21.
  • Try not to let money completely rule your life. Granted, almost everyone has financial obligations. Money is an extremely important factor in most career decisions. How-ever, a substantial number of legal, law-related, and nonlegal positions pay very acceptable salaries. Before seeking a new position, write out a detailed budget for yourself and your family.
  • Motivate yourself. It is somewhat paradoxical that lawyers, who are often highly motivated and adept at massive research, are so resistant to the legwork involved in a job search. Remember, as you have already learned the majority of jobs are never advertised. They are discovered through net-working, personal contacts, and research rather than through recruiters or published ads. Call on friends, colleagues, and professionals such as your undergraduate or law school's career services staff for support and motivation. In this way you can assure yourself that you have explored, in depth, options for a career change or alternative work arrangements.

    If you have your own question for Hillary send her an email to Help me Hillary.

    Hillary Mantis, Esq.,is a career counselor and author of career books. She is the author of Alternative Careers for Lawyers and Jobs for Lawyers: Effective Techniques for Getting Hired in Today's Legal Marketplace.

    Ms. Mantis consults with individuals and corporations on issues including: career transition, career advancement and direction, interviewing skills, leadership development, women in the workplace, and professional growth. She has been affiliated with Fordham University School of Law Career Planning Center for the past six years, and has been a career counselor for over ten years. She is a graduate of Brown University and Boston College Law School. For more information about private career counseling, email altcareer@aol.com, or go to www.mynewcareer.net.