Q: I’m thinking about accepting a “quasi-legal” job offer. Will this hurt my chances of finding a future legal position in a law firm or company?
A: Generally speaking, lawyers who take “quasi-legal” paths (i.e., no J.D. required, but position may be housed in Legal or work closely with the department) experience a tough time getting back in the pure legal fast lane once they decide to shift back. But making the switch is not impossible. The ability to succeed depends on several factors:
The Type and Quality of the “Quasi-Legal” Role
If the position you are contemplating helps you develop transferable skills back to the legal world, it can help make the transition easier. These skills don’t have to be legal, but can include other areas of expertise like finance, real estate, tax, and writing, drafting and negotiating.
The Cachet of the Firm/Company
A well branded/hot company or highly ranked law firm will give you career credibility and will serve as an asset in your quest for a future legal position. Legal employers will like the cachet and will give it weight. A less known employer will hurt your marketability.
Your Academic Credentials
While it is true that in today’s legal profession academic credentials are not packing the punch they used to, those with great creds still get cut more breaks and are more often given the benefit of the doubt on career detours. So if your creds are stellar, employers are more likely to assume your career choices were proactive and for “good” reasons. If your credentials are poor, employers will assume you had no other options, which will compromise your efforts.
Your Legal Experience Before Your Quasi-Legal Role
If your prior legal experience was robust and high quality, legal employers will factor that into their decision to interview/hire you. The less experience you have—and the farther out in time your legal experience is, the tougher it will be to effectively highlight this asset.
The Strength of the Legal Market When You Are Ready to Transition Back to Law
When the economy is good, so is the legal market. And that means a healthy number of available jobs for lawyers. If the market is active when you are ready to transition, you’ll have more opportunity—both in-house and with law firms. However, given the migration of legal jobs to in-house legal departments, you will likely see more corporate opportunities. In addition, your quasi-legal experience could translate more effectively in this environment … if you position it wisely. In a less active market, competition is stiffer and the more difficult it will be to find a legal position.
How Effectively You Articulate the Value of Your Non-Legal Skills
If you can’t articulate how your “non-legal” skills add value to this potential employer, no matter how great your experience is … your candidacy will be DOA. If you do decide to take a quasi-legal role, be clear on the type of skills you’d like to develop upfront so you can navigate your role with a purpose and demonstrate their future value.
Your Reasons for Choosing the Non-Legal Path
Why are you contemplating this path? Are your reasons strategic or reactive? And why do you want to switch back to the legal world? Every legal employer on the planet will want to know. So your reasons need to make sense and be articulated well if you are to maximize your chances of re-entering the field.
At the end of the day, if your ultimate goal is to remain in the legal profession, the easiest path … is to stay there. But if your options are limited and taking a position outside the law is your only move—or if you want to expand your horizons and try something new, then choose this path taking the factors above into consideration. And go in with a strategy to maximize your marketability for a possible re-entry. It won’t be easy, but it can be done … if you educate yourself now and prepare accordingly.
Julie Brush is the founder and author of The Lawyer Whisperer (www.thelawyerwhisperer.com), a career advice column for legal professionals, also found on LinkedIn. She is co-founder of Solutus Legal Search, a legal search/consulting boutique firm, serving as a strategic adviser to lawyers, law firms and corporations.