Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

Leaving the Law: 5 Alternate Career Paths for Lawyers

Whether you’ve practiced for years or have merely tossed around the idea of attending law school, you’ve undoubtedly heard the old maxim: “You can do anything with a law degree.”

And for some lawyers, that sounds pretty appealing. A major shift in the legal industry has left many unemployed, overworked, or dissatisfied with their careers, so an increasing number of attorneys are looking to road test that “you can do anything” adage.

Problem is, many lawyers haven’t actually taken the time to think about—let alone seriously explore—non-traditional options. As a result, they’re not exactly sure what other options are available.

To dig into some alternate legal career paths, I spoke with several attorneys who packed up their shingles and found other uses for their hard-earned JDs. Here are five other careers to consider, as told by those who have already made the scary—but often incredibly rewarding—leap.

1. Author

As a lawyer, you exercise your writing skills—a lot. And because of that literary prowess, many attorneys—including John Grisham, Scott Turow, and Meg Gardiner—have successfully transformed their writing skills into flourishing careers as authors of best-selling courtroom thrillers.

But if you didn’t inherit the creativity gene needed for fiction, you don’t have to give up the dream of seeing your ideas in print. Consider this: A huge portion of the legal publishing industry is comprised of law school study guides, which are always in high demand. Attorney-turned-author Julie Schechter took advantage of this exact market. Her book, Off The Charts! Law Summaries, is a study guide that communicates complex information through easily-understandable charts and visual aids.

“I decided to share my experiences with struggling law students who, like me when I sat for law school exams, have no idea how to capture critical ideas while eliminating extraneous details,” Schechter remarks. And if you had a unique or particularly effective study style in law school, you can do the same. Schechter recommends drafting a book proposal highlighting your study strategies and sending it to as many publishers as possible. It’s exhausting and time-consuming, but it can really pay off when you see your ideas come to life.

2. Legal Sales

Legal sales is a particularly appealing field if you want to take on a social, flexible, and heavily client-facing role. In a sales position, you’ll engage with experienced attorneys and financial professionals and you’ll still get to use those legal research skills you picked up in law school. Products like Lexis, Bloomberg Law, and Westlaw often require salespeople who know the legal field inside and out and have excellent communication and persuasion skills.

In fact, I recently made the jump to Bloomberg Law to become a relationship manager. In my role, I’m in constant communication with financial companies’ in-house legal departments to ensure they’re optimizing their use of the Bloomberg Law product. I, like many of my co-workers who were prosecutors or corporate attorneys, have found long-awaited satisfaction in using my legal knowledge to teach and assist my (former) attorney peers.

3. Real Estate Broker

Property values are increasing, and that means it’s prime time to become a broker—especially if you have a law background. “Brokers with law degrees and legal experience are considered extremely valuable in the real estate world,” notes Blair Parsont, a real estate attorney who regularly works with brokers and sales agents. “Their ability to understand contractual and legal issues makes them more helpful to both their clients and the real estate professionals with whom they work.” 

The requirements vary by state, but attorneys are often just a few steps away from a career as a real estate broker. For example, if you’ve passed the bar exam in New York, you’re automatically deemed competent in real estate brokerage—to become fully licensed, you just have to submit a $150 fee and a completed application. You can expect to start in the residential arena—but if you’re able to align yourself with a licensed real estate firm within your first year, you’ll have a better chance of breaking into commercial brokerage, which is generally reserved for more experienced brokers.

4. Freelancer or Contract Attorney

When law firms and legal departments face a temporary overflow of work, hiring a full-time employee isn’t always the best solution—instead, companies often turn to freelance and contract attorneys. Hiring lawyers who work on a project-by-project basis helps the company manage costs—while continuing to meet deadlines and produce high-quality work. In fact, the demand for these attorneys is so high that it’s sparked the growth of companies like Custom Counsel, LLC, a legal freelance network that places experienced attorneys in temporary roles.

That type of work doesn’t only benefit the hiring company, though. Custom Counsel’s founder Nicole Bradick emphasizes that “freelance legal services allow lawyers to do real, substantive legal work on their own terms.” As a freelancer, you can often determine your own rates and select the projects you want to pursue—and as a result, experience much more autonomy than a traditional attorney role would provide.

5. Recruiter

Legal recruiting is a busy and highly lucrative industry, but it’s also very stable and tends to transcend dips in the economy. After all, law firms always require specialized attorneys, and recruiters are their link to finding those needles in the proverbial haystack of applicants.

Not surprisingly, former practicing attorneys are highly sought-after for legal recruitment positions, since partners and hiring managers want to work with headhunters who understand the firm’s structure and hiring needs. And this type of work can be extremely beneficial if you're looking for a break from traditional legal work: Instead of the typical long hours and heavy caseloads, recruiting careers often provide flexibility, the ability to work from home, and the potential to make hefty commissions.

As you can see, there is a wide array of opportunities available if you're ready to leave the confines of a law firm. Maybe you can even pioneer a new career path that other attorneys will seek to follow! Remember: It’s never too late to make a change and pursue career satisfaction—even if it’s not exactly where you thought your law degree would lead you.

Photo of woman working courtesy of Shutterstock.