So What Can You Do with a Law Degree?
Albertine Y. DuFrayne, Esq. on 10/20/2011
Do you ever wonder if this is as good as it gets? You think that there must be something that you can add to your career to balance with the billable hours. Or maybe you are looking for a hobby outside of your law practice or to supplement your main source of income. Many lawyers and law students often wonder if practicing law is all there is, yet are not sure what to do with their law degree. The Solo and Small Firm Committee recently hosted a panel discussion on this topic to address alternative career possibilities and activities that are merely additions to the practice of law.
The panel focused on using the skills that are inherent to lawyers to assist with transferring to other careers. Some of the skills that you already have that help include analytical thought, public speaking, and, of course, the always important networking.
Michelle Wexler explained that she actively pursued a career outside of the practice of law after a fairly "normal" legal career in which she served as a judicial law clerk and then worked as a litigation associate with a civil defense firm. Seeking a change, Michelle began a consulting business to provide development and strategic planning services to non-profits. She sought out mentors and others more experienced in the area of her interest by attending networking events and asking for meetings with individuals from whom she thought she could learn. Ultimately, Michelle joined the Department of External Affairs at the Wharton School of Business as an Associate Director of the Wharton Fund. Michelle noted that the most important thing to making a career change is to do your research, including finding out whether you will need malpractice insurance, working out your own personal financial issues, and anything else that needs to be done to get your ducks in a row before going jobless. Once you make the decision to officially change your career, network as much as possible.
If you are looking to continue with the practice of law, but are not interested in maintaining a full caseload of your own clients, or are looking to supplement your income as you start to build your own practice, you can consider working as a per diem attorney. Stacy N. Lilly explained that she uses her law degree to make a living in a freelance attorney capacity. She is a sole practitioner who serves small businesses and entrepreneurs, providing legal advice and representation in litigation, commercial transactions, and business planning. Stacy helps with overflow projects and otherwise fills the gaps when firms need the extra help from an experienced attorney on a project or single uncontested representation. Stacy stressed the importance of networking, not being afraid to specifically ask if anyone needs help on a freelance basis, and continually following up with existing contacts. Flexibility, dependability and quick turnaround on assignments are important to ensuring repeat per diem work.
If you are not interested in leaving your law practice, you can also supplement a desire to feel more fulfilled with another interest outside of your daily law practice.
By day, Arthur Bugay is a Partner in the law firm of Galfand Berger, LLP where he specializes in litigation. After practicing for a while, Art realized that, while he likes his job, he also wanted to actively engage his interest in economics. Art found a position teaching economics and business law courses at Temple University and Moravian College on an adjunct basis. Although teaching in an adjunct capacity is not much of a financial benefit and grading papers and exams can take a great deal of time, Art enjoys teaching adjunct as it helps to "round out the edges" as to his interests.
Like Art, I practice law and also maintain outside interests. I am an associate with Petrelli Law, P.C., where I have a busy family law practice. I've always been artistic and enjoyed creating things. In my spare time, I knit and make bead jewelry, some of which I list for sale online at Albertine's Creations on Etsy as a hobby. Etsy is an e-commerce website focused on handmade and vintage items as well as arts and crafts supplies that follows the tradition of open craft fairs, giving sellers personal storefronts. It has been described as a "crafty cross between Amazon and eBay" and "your grandma's basement." Maintaining an Etsy shop is similar to any other business, including a law firm. Additionally, my knitting and beadwork allow me to network with people I would not otherwise meet about my crafts and my law practice. It's mutually beneficial as I occasionally learn lessons through Albertine's Creations that assist with the law practice.
The bottom line is that if there is something other than the daily law firm grind in which you are interested, you should follow your passion. Your law degree and practice have laid the groundwork for you to network, speak and write concisely, and a host of other skills that will transfer to whatever you want to do. Whether it is a full career change, stepping outside of what we normally think of as a law firm practice with freelance work, teaching adjunct or anything else you may be interested in, find a way to do it.
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