At some point in their legal careers, most attorneys make a major job transition. It might be a change in practice area, a move from a law firm to in-house or even a switch between private sector and public sector work.
At Latitude, we also work with a number of attorneys whose job transitions involve returning to the legal field after a break from the industry. Some of these attorneys have taken time off for their families. Equally common are those attorneys who have transitioned to a business management role, moved into a government or non-profit position or worked as an entrepreneur. And now, for an equal multitude of reasons, they are looking to get back into the practice of law. Whatever the case, there are challenges to making the move back into a position as a practicing attorney.
No matter the reason for the attorney’s time outside or away from the profession, there are multiple challenges to transitioning back into the practice in a way that will maximize the likelihood of a successful and rewarding career. Many, but not all, of these challenges will revolve around finding and being a strong candidate for a good job.
To begin, there’s the challenge of finding opportunities. In addition to job boards, an attorney’s network of professional connections (colleagues, clients and peers) are excellent resources for finding un-posted jobs or getting a “leg up,” but what happens when you leave the practice of law and lose contact with your legal network?
Additionally, attorneys who have taken a long break from the practice may not feel confident that their technical or substantive legal skills are as current (and relevant) as they should be. And chances are they don’t know what to do about that or how to catch back up. There is also the delicate task of positioning and “selling” oneself versus other applicants who may have taken a straighter path. Then, there are the more mundane tasks of updating resumes, LinkedIn accounts, bar association memberships, and so forth. How do attorneys who have taken nontraditional career paths positively distinguish themselves to be noticed among a crowded applicant pool.
Strategies for Success
Luckily, the world is not one dimensional – and neither is the legal profession (though it can feel like when you are faced with these challenges). There are a number of paths an attorney can take to re-enter the practice of law. For starters, it’s important to understand and define your goals, which may encompass any number of professional and personal factors well beyond compensation or title. Be honest with yourself, and consider what your personal definition of success is and looks like. Let your own priorities shape your goals.
Many attorneys-both those who are currently practicing and those who are returning to the practice-do not realize the widening variety of modes of practice that currently exist. Law firms, legal departments and legal services companies are creating positions that provide flexibility and lifestyle value to experienced attorneys. These can include “counsel,” part-time and remote roles, among others.
Reach out to friends and former colleagues for help. Let them know that you are looking to get back into the legal practice and that you would appreciate any advice or insight on the current market—including an assessment of your experience, goals and the current market. Don’t be afraid to ask for their introductions to their connections who might be helpful to your journey.
Joining and participating in a bar or industry organization can be an invaluable resource for information-gathering and job opportunities. With good communication and persistence, these channels could lead to a new job.
Consider utilizing the services of a career coach or resume consultant or meeting with a legal recruiter who can help optimize and craft your resume and application; position your “gap;” and highlight your strengths, newly acquired skills (from your non-legal experience) and relevant work experience. They typically know the legal market better than anyone else. They know the opportunities that are available and those employers who would likely benefit from or be amenable to your nontraditional career path. Let them advocate for you and present you in the best light.
Finally, starting your journey back into the practice of law via a contract or engagement position can often be a good way of getting into a job faster, becoming “current” and even test-driving a long-term opportunity. After all, it’s often not just about finding a job, but finding the right job for you.
Since 2014, Latitude has met the needs of its law firm and in-house legal department clients with both engagement and permanent attorneys and paralegals, while in the process creating opportunities for skilled and experienced candidates who want engaging work that aligns with their own priorities – in and outside of the office. Learn more at latitudelegal.com.