How I Left the Law
The post about Why I Left the Law was a surprise success. I continue to receive comments and questions from other people sympathizing with my story and asking me how I did it. People seemed especially interested in technical writing careers as well.
I thought I would finally write a post containing that information. Here it is.
Here’s the fun version of my resume (skip below if you just want the advice!): I got my undergrad Bachelor of Arts degree with a pre-law type major. I had worked at a law firm while getting my undergrad degree — writing petitions (the Missouri version of a Plaintiff’s lawsuit). I then went to law school, and got on one of the law review journals. I had an article published, and later became an Assistant Managing Editor and got an award for my work. I studied abroad in South Africa one summer, and summered at a small personal injury firm for my second summer. I graduated law school in 2006. I got an on campus interview with a small general practice firm. I think they liked my interest in personal injury work, so I was hired and started working there in fall the fall of 2006 after I took the bar exam.
As you remember, I grew unhappy with what I was doing. I was pretty sure that I wanted OUT of the law entirely. Initially, I thought I would be an editor. I really loved it in law school and always had a strong aptitude for writing and grammar. I got a proofreading job at a small technology company. After a while, I realized that becoming an editor might not be a workable plan for a variety of reasons. However, I started to get some technical skill (working with XML, testing software, became a part in builds and maintaining PCs), so I started browsing for technical writing jobs.
Right around when I was looking for a new career was in 2008-2010 and jobs were scarce! Not to mention – new careers!
In 2009, I started writing a legal column. I used this experience, my previous proofreading job, and writing experience in school, as leverage to get my technical writing job. I found it from a recruiter’s posting on Craigslist.
Wow. That sounded so easy. But it wasn’t easy. It did take me quite a while to land my new job, and even when I did, I was hired on as a contractor. While job searching, I considered anything and everything:
- Going back to practice at another firm – I even got an interview
- Doing doc review – again, I even interviewed
- Editing, yes, I still wanted to do that
- Working at a publishing company
- Working at a law school admissions / career service job
- Working at any school
- Getting a government job – I phone interviewed for that
- Clerking for a judge
- Stripping – just kidding
- But seriously, I think I considered everything I possibly could
During the peak of my search, I spent several hours every week related to this effort – 2-3 hours a day most weeks (filling out applications, writing cover letters, searching). I did less when the jobs were particularly dry, or when I was starting to drive myself nuts.
If I had to give advice for would-be ex-lawyers or poor souls in law school that have just realized that the law isn’t for them, I would say. . .
- Don’t give up.
- Except if you’re in law school and can leave. In that case, leave.
- Remember that you are not a special snowflake and in many cases, you are probably one of hundreds that is applying for that job. And unfortunately, many people applying for the same job you are probably have direct experience for that job.
- Write fresh cover letters. Don’t use a form and adjust it for each new job application. You can smell a stale cover letter a mile away. I find that when I write cover letters from scratch, I put more thought into the argument that they should interview me. I truly believe that is what a cover letter is – a persuasive letter.
- To that end, don’t forget to adjust your resume too! Towards the end of my job search, I put my publications first on my resume, instead of my work experience. I also changed my legal experience to a very abridged version and tried to emphasize the communication portions of it.
- Consider seeing a legal career counselor. I did this a couple of times and it was ok, but I probably would have gotten more out of it if my problems could be fixed by just switching jobs, not careers.
- Don’t quit your day job. Hold on to whatever crap you are doing right now and just keep doing it. The author at the Simple Dollar has good advice for how to do this without going insane.
- In the meantime, try to get good sellable experience on top of your day job that will help you get your future gig. You want a technical job? Start a blog. Learn about HTML. (Another thing I did that I forgot to mention.)
- Keep your mind open. In this economy, you have to. And maybe your in-between job isn’t where you envision yourself retiring – but that’s ok. As long as you are getting experience you can use later – it will be worth it in the end. Hell, another paycheck is better than no paycheck, friends!
I could go on and on… It all varies depending on what you want to do, and what your background is. Hope that helps someone out there!
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