Attorneys working non-attorney jobs at the firm

J. Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve PR Marketing, a firm that creates and manages a focused image of success through marketing and publicity strategies for law, finance and small business professionals. Nick enjoys sharing career growth, strategy and experience with legal job seekers and attorneys in transition. The Pro Serve Club is a members only PR Marketing resource.

There are attorneys who cannot find jobs, and they don’t want to work at the mall to make ends meet. There might be another spot in a law firm where you could hang your hat for a while. You are not going to earn as much income as a practicing lawyer but it will probably be better than folding shirts and jeans all day. While working as a support professional, you might apply for an associate position when the next one becomes available.

There are a variety of professional positions at midsize and larger law firms. More consumers are searching for professionals in a digital world, and many firms experience increased demands on marketing and communications departments. If you are a numbers person, you might find satisfying work in the billing and accounting department. Technology skills are also valuable to law firms, and when billing and profitability pair with technology, law firms need IT people. These are just a few of the professional capacities in which new lawyers can work in firms and keep a foot in the door.

I understand the hesitation to work at a law firm in a capacity other than attorney. Sure, there might be some who look down on the non-attorney “professionals,” but most lawyers are happy to go to work and build their career. If the alternative is not working in a law firm, wouldn’t you be better off around the industry on a daily basis? If you’re in the marketing department, for example, you might have cause to learn a few things about new practice areas. If your experience set is insurance defense, and now you’re writing ad copy for the trademark attorneys, you just might discover a new practice area you enjoy.

Don’t worry about “tarnishing” your resume with non-attorney work after graduation. Anyone in a hiring position understands the economy and job outlook over the past half-decade. Recruiters are more impressed by a candidate who continued working towards their goal instead of throwing in the towel when the perfect job didn’t materialize in a few months.

Back in the marketing department you keep hearing about a developing area of intellectual property that the attorneys continue promoting. You might want to let it be known that you find a particular area of law interesting and communicate that if a position opens up in their department, you would be interesting in practicing intellectual property law. Remember, there are many people who really don’t want to practice law and are quite happy working long-term in a professional position at a firm – so do not assume people know your career goals. At the same time, you might enjoy your alternative legal career and accepting this might put a smile on your face.

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4 responses to “Attorneys working non-attorney jobs at the firm

  1. Nick,

    Excellent advice! Sometimes getting where we want to go takes a mid-step … I’ve seen this 2-step approach work to great advantage!

  2. I have seen very mixed results – the attorney really has to have some sort of relevant background to the role and you really do not want stepping stone employees. I do well in firm management roles as I have always had a business clientele, have a management undergrad, and have a marketing undergrad as well (ie. running a firm is no different than the matters I have handled/handle for my clientele). I also seem to be equally a cash cow in these roles as I have a strong understanding of firm mechanics, share same standards, and have the same public access as firm members, plus I am never afraid to direct people to practitioners who will solve their needs. Where I find most firm make their mistakes is some sort of dominance factor that causes them to hire waif like things (hire down verses up) that they can control / keep a thumb upon – and those firms survive but …. (actually whole thing is pretty sad).

  3. Nick: I would like to think that it’s OK to do what you’re suggesting, and have given similar advice in the past, but I am less sanguine now that it will not damage your resume. The reason is that both employers and recruiters have either come right out and said, or otherwise demonstrated to me in the worst possible ways that they regard such work as a sure sign that someone is not worth hiring. Now I happen to think that the folks holding these views are a collection of elitist incompetents who couldn’t find a good lawyer with a GPS and a flashlight and a personal recommendation from God and wouldn’t know how to do a real search that didn’t involve just picking the most arrogant Coif candidate from Top Ten U. But they’re hiring and have the ability to damage me and my career, not to mention my family, with their ridiculous prejudices. It’s unfortunate, but until the profession stands up to these credential snobs and realizes that great lawyers come in all shapes and sizes, and with all kinds of backgrounds and employment histories, especially the last several years, I would think twice.

  4. Good stuff!

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