26 September 2011

Alternative careers for the cold-footed attorney

Graphic by Will Manolis
By Will Manolis, Juris Blogger
The law—A beautiful, yet brutal beast of logic with an intricacy enough to occupy the better of us for eternity . . . Or not.

Considering the cutthroat and shrinking legal job market, ever-increasing billable hour expectations, unruly clients, or the uninteresting administrative tedium ad nauseam—practicing attorneys and law students alike are contemplating, have been compelled, or have already sought employment elsewhere.  But where might you ask?

I remember first considering law school.  My discussions with people revealed that it would be in my best interest to pursue a graduate/professional degree—especially a law degree.   But three years later and all the wiser, I have come to the realization that is not necessarily true (I would go so far as to say not true at all on certain days).  But, before you find yourself teetering on the ledge of the Hanley Law Building roof, be advised: Whether you wish to become a practicing attorney, or plan to seek refuge elsewhere, you do have options.

Individuals have written entire books on this subject, so do not expect a conclusive survey.  I will, however, make every effort to provide you with a sliver of serenity to cling to in your post-law school angst.   Do not misunderstand: Many will charge valiantly into the legal gauntlet, and more likely than not, will prevail with their dignity still intact—though another increasing few will find themselves clawing at an exit, or alternatively, will quietly pass at their office desks from boredom.

Sports/Entertainment Agent

This may require a change of location, and undoubtedly will need your utmost diligence and effort.  If you can stomach contract, intellectual property, labor, employment law, and the thrill of the deal, then this may strike your fancy.  But the simple fact that you love sports or movies does not transform you into the Ari Golds of the world.  You may have to pull yourself up from the bottom heap of the agency bucket, but a J.D., and some real-world experience may facilitate your climb.   It will be a struggle for the first few years, but you passed the bar, didn’t you?

In-House Counsel

For those not entirely disinterested in being an attorney, certain individuals may find sanctity within the confines of a non-profit or other corporate entity.  The workday typically conforms to the manageable 9 – 5, five-day workweek, and you will be exposed to many legal concentrations (no, not just corporations).   Although it may seem like there are an endless number of corporations seeking in-house counsel, many of these positions are reserved for more seasoned attorneys, and thus may come at a premium.  But if you manage to put, or shove, your foot through the door, put in your time and produce the best work possible—people will notice.   Lead counsel will die *ahem* retire at some point . . . Just keep yourself in the know.


Soothsayer.  Miracle worker.  Mediator.  Whatever you call it, this may be right up your alley.  In an effort to decongest some of the county, state, and federal dockets, litigants have turned to types of alternative dispute resolution, specifically mediation.  The mediation process is both private and confidential, and its intimacy sometimes lulls the parties into a cooperative mindset, whereas a jury trial may bring out the talons.  There is no obligation to go into mediation, but if the parties are able to agree on settlement the order is binding.  It helps to have a background in law, but only a 40 some hour qualification course is required.  If you have a knack for impartiality, excellent communication skills, and are capable of forming a navigable bridge between the adverse parties, I would seriously consider becoming a mediator.  With more and more disputes being resolved in mediation, this is becoming an increasingly enticing alternative legal career.

Legal Consulting

This is more of an umbrella term.  “Consulting” could involve both businesses and law firms, and your expertise may be anything from marketing and management aspects of a firm to trial strategy and/or jury consulting in high stakes litigation.  It goes without much exposition that to be considered an “expert” in any field you will need to possess some practical experience and knowledge, as well as a certain affinity for that particular subspecialty.  If you know your stuff, though, you may be able to transform any consulting gig into a rather fulfilling and lucrative career.


Start a business.  Be your own boss.  'Nuff said.

With enough hutzpah, a solid plan, and some of your nest egg from practice you could start your own business.  Whether the next popular food franchise, clothing line, or social media/time squanderer (no more Facebook(s), please.), with enough time, conviction, and cash you might be able to put all that school to work—and love it.

Regardless of your decision to (or not to) change career paths, significant research into your prospective field and a ruthless self-evaluation must be conducted.  It may help to develop a tentative career plan, identifying both time segments and your expectations within those periods.  You must be realistic in the survey.  It is for your own benefit—do not lie to yourself.

If you are miserable at your job, I implore you to search elsewhere.  Granted, this economic downturn does not seem to be dissipating and all professions hold their own unique bag of misery, but life is far too brief to willingly subject yourself to occupational agony without even contemplating a change.  Yes, I understand the literal mountain of debt seems insurmountable at first blush, but you will eventually repay your obligations.

I am not telling you that you have to order, but at the very least—have a look at the menu. You may be surprised with today’s special . . .

Will Manolis is a third-year evening student and earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied English Writing and Political Science. Will is a clerk at the law firm of Portnoy & Quinn, LLC, and this is his first attempt at b(law)gging. Will may be reached at w.j.manolis@gmail.com.