Last week I wrote about weighing “the desperate need for a paycheck against the prospect of selling your soul, or at least performing work that you despise.” This week, I am writing about taking a non-legal job, and the potential consequences.
So, you have graduated with a mountain of debt and cannot find a job. It can seem like you are at the wrong end of a dead end street with an out of control steamroller headed your way. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You might have more options than you think. Be creative, seek advice from several reliable sources, and you could land a position that isn’t perfect, but it will pay those bills.
I am going to use a real life example of a recent law grad, very smart, good head on his shoulders and ready to go. But, he can’t find a job for months. Finally, he lands a position in a smaller corporation doing — guess what — compliance work. It is a non-legal position with an underpinning of legal writing and research. He writes me for advice on where to go next. My advice to him was to stay right where he is until ready to leave. Oh, and while he’s there, be sure to branch out once the learning curve is met and learn as much about the corporation as he can. You see, this person is already “in-house,” he just didn’t realize it.
Let’s be candid and honest, the best way to obtain a position in today’s market is to have an “in.” It could be a former classmate, a friend, colleague, or even a friend of a friend. But, it needs to be someone who is willing to go to bat for you. Or at least put your résumé in the right hands. If you don’t have an in, your résumé is going to be stacked with hundreds of other résumés of qualified people. Our person up above has skipped over that step, and put his foot right in the door of a future in-house position. All he needs to do is make some connections, do excellent work, and keep his ear to the ground for an opening in OGC. Yes, it could take years, but during that time, he’ll be receiving training that you cannot obtain elsewhere, and he’ll be there to strike first when an opportunity arises. I will confess, this person is lucky enough to be able to swing loan payments and rent on a much lower salary than starting at a firm, but given the choice between no job, and a sort of legal job, it is a no-brainer. Especially when the gig is in a hot area such as compliance. I didn’t say “sexy,” I said hot. Lower prestige areas such as tax, bankruptcy and compliance are poo-pooed too readily. Especially by those who feel entitled to a position in Biglaw doing whatever it is they envisioned doing as law students.
My advice is to seek alternatives if the profession is not co-operating in the way that you first expected. There are plenty of avenues to pursue if you’re willing (and able) to look away from a straight legal job to begin your career. The person mentioned in this column has an in-house gig out of law school, with the potential to parlay that experience into a very nice job the second time around. Don’t be afraid of ruining a career you don’t yet have; it’s hard to make a mistake from zero.
After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.