In addition to the wide variety of public interest practice settings discussed above, there are a multitude of public interest jobs that do not necessarily require a law degree but in which lawyering skills prove advantageous. More and more employers are hiring individuals with legal backgrounds and many lawyers who are disillusioned with traditional lawyering find satisfaction in these alternative career choices. If your interests and talents lie more in policy-making or program administration than in drafting legal documents, in resolving disputes through mediation or negotiation rather than through litigation or in combining your passion for journalism or counseling with your legal knowledge, an alternative to traditional lawyering may be appropriate for you.
Self-assessment, research, informational interviewing and networking become even more crucial in a nontraditional job search, which often involves changing fields. It is important to determine what an alternative career means and what it might entail. Employers may have to be convinced that your training and background will be transferrable and will meet their needs. It is important for you to reformulate your skills and experience into nonlegal terms to match the nature of the job, tailor your resume to the demands of the position you are seeking and be able to speak the specialized language of the field in which you want to work. Lastly, determine whether further education is required for the type of work you desire. Some questions to think about might be:
- What are my main area of interests? What do I LIKE to do?
- What type of work environment do I envision myself working in?
- What transferable skills do I have?
- Why do I want a non-traditional career?
- What aspects of the law do I love? What aspects do I hate?
- What skills can I develop in law school that an employer might find valuable in a non-law field?
In your self-assessment, it is important to recognize and reflect on your transferrable skills. Many organizations value, for example, the legal writing and analytical skills a trained lawyer brings to the table. Being able to scan through documents, synthesize information and present it in a clear and concise manner is an asset. Being detailed oriented, too, can prove to valuable. Other areas that can prove to be transferable are problem solving skills, leadership and advocacy skills that one can develop while practicing law.
Non-traditional careers/job titles (sampling)*
Environmental Protection Specialist, Research Director, Policy Advisor, Policy Director, Investigator, Government Relations/Public Affairs Director, Chief of Staff, Ethics Program Specialist, Civil Rights Investigator, Criminal Investigator, Analyst of Social Legislation, Foreign Service Officer, Financial Enforcement Specialist,Foreign Affairs Specialist,Customs Inspector
Law Librarian, Advocate/Advocacy Director,Community Relations Specialist, Grants Administrator, Development Director, Consumer Advocate, Non-profit Executive Director, Mediator/Ombudsman, Career Counselor, Admissions Officer, Program Analyst, Director of Planning, Chief Development OfficerDirector of Alumni Affairs
*These listings are a small sampling of opportunities in the public sector. For a more detailed look at job titles and descriptions for alternative careers, reference JD Preferred! – Legal Career Alternatives where these titles can be found.
Lawyers who want to combine their legal knowledge with a journalism background can explore writing for legal public interest publications, such as the Environmental Law Reporter. OPIA has some hard copy resources for reference available in its office. Stop by Pound 329 to check them out. Check out the Harvard Law Library for updated versions of some of these books.
- JD Preferred! – Legal Career Alternatives. Federal Reports, Inc., 1995
- The Lawyer’s Career Change Handbook – More Than 300 Things You Can Do With a Law Degree, Hindi Greenberg, 1998 (updated, 2002)
- The Road Not Taken – A Practical Guide to Exploring Non-Legal Career Options, Kathy Grant & Wendy Werner, 1991.
- Should You Really Be a Lawyer? – The Guide to Smart Career Choices Before, During & After Law School, Deborarh Schneider, JD & Gary Belsky, 2005
- What Can You Do With a Law Degree? – A Lawyer’s Guide to Career Alternatives Inside, Outside and Around the Law, Deborah L. Arron, 1999
The Canadian Bar Association’s Career Alternatives to Lawyers offers a good amount of detail on exploring alternatives to practicing law.
The National Association for Law School Professionals (NALP) Handouts
NALP has several Alternative Career Handouts specifically for JD job seekers.
OPIA Career Panels
OPIA annually hosts a career panel focused on introducing students to career options outside the practice of law. Below you will find some of the prior public interest panelists, including where they are now and where they were when they were at Harvard Law School for the panel.
Rachel Anderson ’03, Director of Faith Outreach
The Center for Responsible Lending
Rebecca Plaut Mautner ’94 , Affordable Housing & Community Development Consultant
Lourdes Rivera, Program Officer
The Ford Foundation
John Cisternino ’04, Director of Research
The Tobin Project
Anna Dunbar-Hester, Program Coordinator & Policy Analyst
Prescription Access and Quality and Policy Analyst, Hospital Accountability Project
Sarah Hurwitz ’04, Special Assistant to the President, Senior Advisor to the Council on Women and Girls, and Senior Presidential Speechwriter
The White House
Christie Getto Young, Policy and Budget Director
Office of State Senator Sal DiDomenico, Massachusetts State Senate
Brittny Saunders ’08, Senior Advocate
Center for Social Inclusion
Matt Van Itallie ’04, Chief Accountability Officer
Baltimore City Public Schools
Gina Walcott, Executive Director
Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers
Sharon Kelly McBride ’04, Communications Director
Human Rights First
Rebecca Plaut Matuner ’94, Affordable Housing & Community Development Consultant
Mike Wiser ’03, Film Producer
Tom Davis, Manager of Strategic Operations
Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH)
Andrew Greenblatt ’93, Founder and President
Vendorboon (Former Partner at Criterion Ventures)
Sheila Maith ’87, Consultant
Maith Consultant (Former Advisor for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors)
Baltimore City Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice (Former Director of International Programs for the Center for Court Innovation)
Cliff Sarkin ’05, In-House Counsel
VideoSurf (Former Associate at Children’s Defense Fund and Policy Director at Insure the Uninsured)
Alicia Ely Yamin ’91 (HSPH ’96), Inaugural Director/Affiliated Faculty Member
Program on the Health Rights of Women and Children/François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University (Former Director of Research & Investigations at Physicians for Human Rights)
James O’Neal ’82, Co-Founder/Executive Director
Seth Stern ’01, Reporter/Author
Michael Zamore ’99, Chief of Staff
Office of U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley