J. Nick Augustine J.D., “The Law Publicist,” is the principal of Law Publicist Communications, an ALR/PRA, Incorporated agency. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in public relations, marketing and practice management. Nick shares recruiting and staffing experience and tips for legal job seekers.
A friend of mine, Cheryl Heisler, is the principal of Lawternatives, and she helps lawyers select alternatives to traditional legal careers. Ok, I understand that some get a wandering eye when faced with law school loans and the desire to pay the bills. Don’t toss your legal career away, your family says. Fear not, you can have your cake and eat it too.
A few years ago I ran into a fellow law school alumni at an event. She told me that after law school she had children, her husband took a job in Hong Kong and she ended up working overseas as a teacher. Upon her return to Illinois, she served on boards of education and worked in fundraising. At the time, I was working in legal staffing and recruiting and my friend told me she felt behind the curve and was starting all over trying to get a job in law. At the time, I told her not to worry, and I would say the same thing today.
Many leave the practice and profession of law, and they can and do return, often with a better outlook, making them better practitioners. There is nothing that makes me shutter more than a senior attorney who says, “Shut up and take the money and tell these people what they want to hear – that’s the secret. …” What on earth? Where’s the ARDC when we need them? These practitioners need their cards pulled and should be removed from the bar. The practice of law is a privilege, not a right.
Having said that, if you find yourself compelled to work in another industry for a while (and I might add I recently heard some school reported 68 percent of grads were not employed in traditional legal practice) you can always stay in touch with the legal practice or profession. Here are a few ways you can stay involved: (1) pick a legal topic you like and become an “expert” on your own and at your own pace; (2) maintain an active presence with your alumni organization; (3) volunteer in a legal clinic; (4) offer to do work or volunteer at the law school.
If you want to practice law and spend your life in the legal profession you will do so, it is just a matter of what you are willing to put up with until you get there. If you want to explore a “Lawternative” you should, and consider the value add you might bring to the table if/when you return to the law. Yes, the years of experience you gather in consistent practice can give you a good sense of legal instinct; however, the same can also breed contempt.
Sometime it seems like you are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. At the end of the day we should all pursue what makes us feel enriched and what hopefully inspires us to make the world a better place. If the law doesn’t do that for you, feel free to take off. Nobody will condemn you for living a life of misery for a decision you made when you were 21 years old. At the same time, if you left, regret the decision and want to come back, just do it!