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How to hire a lawyer when you don’t need one

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I asked Kate Neville, a career consultant who serves attorneys who are considering a professional transition, to share her advice on hiring a lawyer for a nonlegal job. She shares her advice in today’s post and a followup on Thursday. Learn more about her at

What are the common advantages and disadvantages to hiring lawyers for non-legal jobs?

People go to law school for all kinds of reasons. Some are attracted to roles portrayed on shows such as Ally McBeal or LA Law, which of course do not show the hours required researching the law, reviewing materials, and drafting documents. Others go because they are good at school and aren’t sure what else to do, often based on the premise that a law degree will “keep their options open.” It is difficult to know what practicing law is like until doing it as a member of the workforce, and while in school few law students take the initiative to research the range of career paths attorneys ultimately pursue, particularly as their financial debt mounts.

It is not surprising, then, that many attorneys discover that the practice of law is not for them. The advantages and disadvantages of hiring them of course depend on what is required in the non-legal job and the specific experience, skills and temperament of the individual attorney. Some lawyers have training as engineers, some are great at statistical and financial analysis, some are very comfortable presenting to sophisticated audiences, some are great at facilitating groups and reaching consensus, and some bring in-depth knowledge of an industry or issue that can advance the interests of an organization.

Though difficult to generalize, the following are some advantages and disadvantages frequently cited from the employer’s perspective.


  • Smart, hard workers, responsive to deadlines.
  • Research skills both in law and policy but also investigation more broadly: ask substantive questions that get to the point.
  • “Issue-spotting:” typically know when a business practice or incident rises to a level of needing to be investigated and can anticipate problems with various courses of action.
  • Understanding of how corporations are structured and how laws are passed, regulations developed, judicial decisions made, and rules enforced.
  • Analytical skills: can connect individual events to big picture and develop argument to support conclusions.
  • For the most part, ethical: bar membership requirements.
  • Good memory of facts: necessary for passing bar exam.


  • Some lawyers tend to think they are smart enough to do any job without additional training, but—even if that’s the case—their lack of deference to how things have been done in the field and to those who followed traditional career paths can create conflicts among colleagues and others outside the organization.
  • Some are overly focused on winning v. losing.
  • Many lack any other type of work experience having gone straight from college to law school into a law practice so are unfamiliar with other types of work environments.

What careers do you find are often particularly great fits for workers with JDs? Which ones are often very bad fits, even though lawyers are attracted to them?

Since people with a wide range of backgrounds and personal strengths choose to pursue law degrees, many careers prove to be a good fit for former lawyers. Attorneys go on to be successful in jobs as varied as CEO’s, professional chefs, journalists, novelists, actors, and social workers.

Typically good fits:

  • Policy positions: advocacy both in writing and orally, research.
  • Consulting: conducting needs analyses.
  • Compliance work and auditing.
  • Directing theater and movies.
  • Teaching both at K-12 and in law schools.
  • University administration.
  • Counseling and coaching individuals.
  • Negotiating.
  • Business-related journalism and trade publications.
  • Developing and presenting training materials for professional audiences (e.g. translating laws and regulations so implications are understandable by lay people).

Can be bad fits

There are of course notable exceptions where lawyers have succeeded in each of the following fields. Many attorneys, however, become frustrated in these types of positions and find that they encounter obstacles that their skill set is not well-suited to overcome.

  • Jobs in which they managing employees. Lawyers often like being responsible for own work rather than being held accountable for work of others.
  • Positions that require complex mathematical calculations. Perhaps they got a JD because no numbers skills were required.
  • Jobs responsible for implementation solely focusing on logistics of making something happen.
  • Writing for general public consumption.
  • Positions with no autonomy.

(Coming Thursday: The questions every hiring manager should ask before hiring a lawyer for a nonlegal job.)