is my law degree keeping me from getting interviews?

A reader writes:

I have taken so much of your advice during my job search — personalizing my cover letters, delineating my accomplishments rather than job descriptions on resumes, etc. In particular, I have explained in my cover letters, best as I am able, why I am pursuing administrative positions in human resources and higher education student services rather than legal jobs, although I was most recently an attorney. (My reasons, FYI, are many. I have young children, I prefer a less adversarial role, I was a solo and I miss having coworkers, I just do not like being a lawyer…)

I know it is a rough market right now and not a good time to be switching fields, but I have spent two months applying to so many positions and have gotten not a single phone call or rejection email or anything else that would indicate that my application is not just being immediately removed from consideration. I am often applying for entry level positions that do not have experience requirements. I do have administrative experience and some educational experience from before I made the apparently terrible decision to go to law school and obtain a JD. I can’t help but think that people have a lot of incorrect notions about what kind of education law school provides. I think it turned me into a focused, hard-working person, enhanced my analytical skills, and made me an effective communicator. But I am worried that hiring managers might assume that it turned me into a lawyer-stereotype: argumentative, materialistic, and arrogant.

Am I just using my JD as a scapegoat for my job hunt frustration, or could this be true?

It’s less likely to be that they assume law school has turned you into a jerk and more likely that they assume that you want to be a lawyer. I know that you’re explaining in your cover letter that you don’t, but they’re looking at your resume and seeing: Lawyer.

The other factor is likely that your qualifications aren’t as strong for the roles you’re applying for as other people’s qualifications are. That’s partly a line-for-line issue with your resume and work history (you’ve been working as a lawyer rather than doing the work they’re hiring for), and partly because when they look at you as a package, what they see is someone who’s been on a different track than the one they have in their head as the strongest profile for the jobs they’re hiring for. Their ideal candidate profile probably doesn’t include law school and working as a lawyer, so you deviate from it in significant ways. That makes it much harder to get interviews in a tight job market.

(In fact, changing fields in this job market is extremely hard to do in general, not just for lawyers. When employers have loads of qualified candidates with experience in their field, there’s not much incentive for them to take a chance on someone without that track record. To give yourself even a fighting chance, you’ve to paint a really compelling picture of exactly how your skills are transferable — you can’t assume they’ll figure it out for themselves.)

On top of that, you said that you’re applying for entry-level positions — but you’re not entry-level. Most employers are almost certainly dismissing you right off the bat because of that. Very few managers want to hire a former attorney to do entry-level work; they assume you’ll be bored, dissatisfied with the pay, and likely to leave as soon as something better comes along. It doesn’t matter if you tell them that’s not the case; it’s the case enough of the time that they’re not likely to play those odds.

So I think the issue is twofold: First, you probably need to recalibrate what jobs you’re applying for so that they match up with your actual skill and experience level. Second, I suspect you need to put more work into explaining why an employer should be excited to hire you for whatever specific opening you’re applying for. Not just why you’re qualified to do the work, but why you’d excel at it. You need to paint a picture of why you’d be awesome at this particular job that’s compelling enough to make you competitive with candidates who do have a track record in the work.

What reason can you give them to pass up those people and talk with you instead? I can’t figure out that answer for you — but you’ve got to figure it out on your own, and explain it to them. That’s what will start getting you interviews.

Related: Should you go to grad school?

{ 188 comments… read them below }

  1. Lily in NYC*

    Your experience sounds tailor-made for a chief-of-staff role. Some chief of staff jobs are mainly glorified admin roles and others are very high level (when my sister was a chief of staff, her internal title was executive vice president -the woman who has the role in my company is much lower level than that). I have also seen job postings for administrative-type jobs that mention that having an advanced degree is a major plus – but if you aren’t in a large-ish city those are probably few and far between. I am an executive assistant and the other one in my department has a JD.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm, as a former chief of staff, I’m not sure I see that fit here. You’ve got to have reasonably high level management experience, strategy experience, and generally I think just more work experience than it sounds like the OP has. I do agree that the title can vary widely but more often than not, it’s a second-in-command type role. I think I might nudge the OP more toward looking at special projects type roles.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Interesting, I thought maybe it would fit in certain places – our chief of staff is a glorified admin and doesn’t manage anyone. But my sister’s chief of staff role was much higher level – more like 3rd in command with a supervisory role.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          I think that “chief of staff” is generally understood to mean that you supervise just about everyone…your sister’s title sounds like an exception.

      2. Rat Racer*

        Eh, it totally depends. Even within my own company, some chiefs of staff manage entire departments, others do grunt work. It depends on how high up the food chain your executive is. I’m somewhere in the middle: I manage a small team, but I am by far the most junior member of the leadership team, and don’t manage any of the other VPs who report to my boss.

        The company president’s chief of staff was an attorney in a former life, so there’s an n=1. Is it possible to work as an attorney and branch yourself into more corporate/management roles while at a firm? That might be an easier segue if you can make it work…

      3. AM*

        Hi Alison,
        I’m in a sort of similar situation – here’s the rub: OP has a certain skill and experience level, and should be applying to jobs commensurate with her skill and experience level, *yet* she doesn’t have the industry-specific experience to address the qualifications noted in these job postings…

        What’s a career-changer with a certain skill and experience level to do, particularly in this market?

        Thanks in advance for any advice or ideas you might have!


  2. Volunteer Advocate*

    Another option, if it’s possible for you, is to get a little experience in the field by volunteering somewhere doing the type of job you want to get paid to do. Volunteer experience is just as valuable on a resume as paid work experience.

    Good luck to you!

    1. fposte*

      Volunteer experience can be helpful and valuable, but I’m afraid it’s not just as valuable as paid work experience.

      1. BRR*

        I second it’s not as valuable. It can certainly help but often it can’t match paid work experience in terms of accomplishments.

        I’m going to use grant writing as an example. Let’s say you want to get into grant writing. You’re currently a chocolate teapot maker. You start writing grants to help some small nonprofits around you. You find an open grant writing position. You’re up against someone who is a full-time grant writer who has more overall experience writing grants because they are able to spend more hours in a day doing it. Because they have written more grant applications, they can frame that in a couple ways to make themselves a more appealing candidate. So while it certainly does help that you have some grant writing experience it doesn’t equal the paid work experience of grant writing.

        1. fposte*

          And grant-writing is probably the best-case scenario, because you at least have quantifiable financial benefits created by your work there (assuming you got grants). Most volunteer positions are completely unquantifiable.

          1. AnonyMouse*

            And in addition to not being quantifiable, sometimes (though not by any means always) volunteer supervisors have lower standards for a volunteer than they would for a paid employee…so by extension, the fact that you volunteered doing something doesn’t necessarily mean you have experience doing it well. For example, I once worked at an organisation that had volunteers helping out at all our events. The volunteers and I would do similar tasks, but I would normally do them much more efficiently, and on a few occasions I remember my supervisor being frustrated that volunteers were actually doing a truly bad job, but she couldn’t say anything because they were generously donating their time. I think there was even an AAM question a while back with a similar issue.

            This definitely doesn’t apply to all volunteering – some organisations have very high standards for their volunteers, and generally I do believe volunteer experience can be really valuable. But as a volunteer you’re not being compensated for your time and you’re not getting performance reviews etc, plus a lot of people won’t ‘fire’ a volunteer even if they’re awful. So yeah, probably not quite as valuable as paid work on a resume.

            1. tt*

              I think it’s often true that there can be lower standards for volunteers, but I had a surprising but pleasant volunteer experience several years ago. I was volunteering in a small organization that also had paid part-time staff doing the same job, and the supervisor made a direct effort at making sure the volunteers were doing *better* work and higher standards. To her, the part-timers were already getting paid, but the volunteers were specifically doing it for the experience. I don’t think I’ve seen that at other places.

              1. fposte*

                The work itself can absolutely be the same caliber–the problem is that since it might not be, it’s not automatically as valuable on the resume, which was what was being suggested.

                We get a lot of volunteer experience on our applicants, and we take it seriously, but we don’t take it as equivalent.

              2. AnonyMouse*

                This is definitely a best case scenario for volunteering, and it would be great if more places would treat it like this. But like you said it’s not hugely common and unfortunately a lot of employers will have no way of knowing whether an applicant’s volunteer experience was like this without further information.

                None of this is to say that the OP or other job seekers shouldn’t volunteer to get experience if they can make it work, just that if they are relying on volunteer experience to get a job they’ll need to make it extra clear how the experience was relevant and how they were evaluated/how they succeeded etc.

        2. Rose*

          Obviously it’s not as valuable, but she’s not choosing between volunteering and having a full time job on her resume. She wrote the letter because she can’t find a job. You have to do what you can with what you have, not only do things that are best case scenario.

          I think volunteering might be particularly helpful in this case because one of he hurdles she’s facing is proving that she’s truly interested in the jobs she’s applying for.

      2. Traveler*

        In OP’s case – with admin work, I’d say this statement is true, and likely in a lot of fields it stands that way. There are sectors out there and/or jobs that require specified knowledge though, that volunteer work is just as valuable. For example: If you volunteered for two years in white chocolate teapot making under Dr. White Chocolate Teapot Maker Extraodinaire, you have a good shot at getting the job over the chocolate teapot makers who have been paid for two years – because while they know the ins and outs of chocolate teapot making, they may not have a full grasp of how the white chocolate is going to temper in X conditions.

        1. BB*

          I agree. Even if volunteering may be held slightly lower in the eyes of the hiring manager, volunteering in an office would be a good way for OP to get her foot in this area and to show that she is serious about stepping down from being a lawyer and the salary that came with it. My other advice would be to also look into internships. You don’t always have to be a student even if it says so in the description. Just send them an email explaining yourself the way you did in this post.

          There are also other similar positions that the OP can apply for – Executive Assistants to a small or medium-sized organization, office managers or coordinators.

      3. Stephanie*

        As someone who has interesting volunteer experience in fields that interest me…yeah, hiring managers don’t place it at the same level as paid experience. It can help to show an interest in the field. The problem I picked up is that the stakes are lower (so with high school robotics team I supervised, if the robot didn’t work, the kids just learned a valuable lesson versus some company losing money) and that most (except for the really wealthy) can’t afford to volunteer enough to gain the equivalent amount of experience.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          Yes. Although hiring managers see it differenlty, it certainly isn’t the exact same thing as paid work, at least in the minds of most people who will be reviewing your resume.

          However – and I think this is a big however – that’s not really the choices you’re making here (is volunteer work as valuable). You are trying to convince employers that you really are looking for a career change and aren’t just applying because you need a job (any job). SO MANY lawyers are applying for random jobs right now because they just need work – and employers are realizing how quickly they will leave when they find something better. I, for one, and awfully hesitant to hire a recently-graduated lawyer for and entry-level role because I cannot imagine how it would make financial sense for them long-term, assuming that most have huge loans.

          What you’re trying to do it provide solid evidence that you actually WANT to change careers. Doing volunteer work in the target field will certainly help with that!

          If I were you, I would also consider breaking a rule and talking briefly about your family situation in your cover letter. I don’t usually like to see this in cover letters, but I think that you’re going to have to offer a convincing explanation for what appears to be taking several steps down the career ladder. When you do this, you have to realize that many, many people are writing similar letters when they don’t mean a word of it and are just looking for work while they wait to find something that’s a better fit. So you’re going ot have to come across as really, really genuine and convincing.

          1. Midge*

            I agree with Ashley. My department recently had a job opening that many K-12 teachers applied for. However, if they didn’t have any experience in our industry, even volunteer experience, in addition to their teaching it made us sceptical that they wanted our just, not just any job.

      4. Zillah*

        This is my experience as well. That’s not to say that it’s not valuable, especially if you 1) have limited experience in a field and/or 2) are un/underemployed, but it’s not quite the same thing as paid work. I liked my volunteer experience, but there’s no question that I was held to much, much lower standards than I would have been if I was being paid for the work.

        1. LucyVP*

          I agree. I also want to add that most volunteer experience is either short-term, part-time, or seasonal. I see a lot of volunteer positions on applicants resumes. For example, I am currently hiring for a position on our event team and I see of lot of applicants who have volunteered for annual multi-day festivals, or school fundraisers. Many of them have leadership roles at large events, but it isn’t comparable to doing this work 5-7 days a week throughout the year.

    2. Lizzy*

      I can understand why some other commentators are reluctant about volunteer work and thinking it is comparable, but I do think there are certain instances where it can work in your favor.

      In June, I went on a job interview with an environmental-based organization; it was a communications and development position. Since I have been interview a lot this year — I mean A LOT– I can say with confidence that this was my best interview. I thought I knocked it out of the park. So I was shocked when I didn’t make it to the 3rd round (I know, I know, Alison). The rejection email even indicated they would invite me back to interview again if another position opened up. So what gives? They never held a 3rd round of interviews with the finalists. Instead, they ended up hiring a volunteer who was with the org for 2 years. Doesn’t mean they wouldn’t consider outside candidates if one really wowed them, but the volunteer was the clear-cut favorite and she already had the inside knowledge and experience to make her the frontrunner.

      Another example is currently I am volunteering as Director of Development (been doing it for 9-10 months) for a startup nonprofit with S.T.E.M. initiatives for underserved female students. It is entirely volunteer-based at the moment because it is new, hence not enough capital. Because a lot of territory has yet to be covered, myself and the other volunteers get to implement a lot of our own ideas (that don’t cost too much $, of course) and track our own successes. I have already procured grants and created a successful donor cultivation program, and I am next planning to create an online marketing campaign. I think a lot of what I have done is comparable to someone who gets to this full-time. A few years from now, I might be able to do this full-time, but in the meantime, I start a new job in November (more about that tomorrow), and the skills and experience for my volunteer position really won over the hiring manager for my next paid gig.

      One last thing: my brother, who was laid off 2 years ago, landed a job by volunteering; however, he used the social environment of his volunteering experience — mainly soup kitchens and community restoration projects– to network with people. You just never know who volunteers in the free time after work or on the weekends. In my brother’s case, it was the owner of a chain of auto shops. My brother just started as the Operations Manager for the flagship location a few weeks ago.

      So while volunteering might not always be seen as comparable to a paid position, there are situations that you can work in your favor. And you just never know who you are going to meet.

      1. Zillah*

        I don’t think anyone is reluctant about volunteer work or saying that it isn’t valuable – on the contrary, I think most people have said that they think it can be very valuable to your career, both for experience and for networking. In fact, I’d argue that when the alternative is not getting experience at all, volunteering will often work in your favor. It doesn’t have to be equivalent to be valuable.

      2. Bebe*

        Lizzy, This is my first time commenting on AskAManager, though I read it fairly often! The non-profit you’ve described sounds like it does amazing work that really interests me. I’m a young woman working in (the infamously male-dominated) tech scene in the SF Bay Area, and I would love to support and volunteer my time, skills, etc with an organization like that. If you’re willing to share any more information, please do!

    3. Anx*

      Volunteer experience is absolutely not just as good. I have been trying for years to get a job at the place where I’ve volunteered (also for years). One department even interviewed me, told someone I trust that they were excited to hire me and very impressed with my resume, and then HR intervened and finally read my cover letter/resume and realized my experience is all volunteer.

      Volunteering is not the solution to overcoming the limited-experience paradox.

  3. Allison*

    I’ve heard there’s a surplus of lawyers, and many people who have law degrees do either work in law libraries or take other non-law paths for the time being. It’s sad, really, when you think of all that time and money invested in getting that degree. I wouldn’t be totally confused if someone with a law degree applied to a non-legal position in my company.

    That said, I would have two concerns, 1) they might be a flight risk, and 2) they may not be that invested in the position. Will they be okay with the pay? Will they leave the second they can get a job as a lawyer? Are they trying to work their way into the legal department? Will they eventually become resentful? Will they be the type to talk about how they have a law degree whenever they’re frustrated or in a dispute with someone – “how dare you? I have a law degree!” “I have a law degree, I think I know what I’m talking about.” “I can’t believe I have to do this, I have a law degree!” No one wants to hire someone who sees the position as a stepping stone, or “for now” job.

    Is it possible for OP to just leave the degree off their resume completely? I mean, the resume should be tailored and contain information relevant to the job. It may be impressive, but if it’s not relevant it may just confuse people.

    1. BRR*

      I agree with all of your points. My SO is finishing his humanities PhD and all of his recent experience is teaching. He’s applying to non-teaching positions in case the tenured professor thing doesn’t work out but isn’t getting much response for what I imagine are all of the same questions you’ve posted.

      I don’t think OP can leave the JD off because it would then be weird to have the lawyer position and if they took that off they have a gap in the resume which is also bad.

      1. Melissa*

        Does your SO know about Versatile PhD? It’s a website specifically created to help humanities PhDs get non-academic jobs. It’s an amazing resource!

    2. Ann Furthermore*

      Oh, someone at my company does this — not the person who has the JD, but her manager. This woman is *always* going on and on about things that her employee should be doing, as part of her job description, but her manager feels that she should be exempt from them since she has a JD.

      “I can’t ask Mary Sue to do that! She has a JD! Her time is much too valuable to be spent doing [insert task perceived to be menial and lowly]!” So the rest of us that have jobs at her level that have to do these things are pond scum, I guess. Drives me nuts.

    3. Original Poster*

      I thought about leaving the law degree off of there entirely, but as my most recent job was Attorney, it would be pretty obvious anyway. Also, I would have to explain a 3 year gap in regular employment.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Do you plan to keep your license up to date?

        If no, that might be a talking point for you to persuade other people that you will not fly out the door on them.

      2. Blue Dog*

        I think your biggest problem is going to be one of perception. Prospective employers may assume that you are just taking a position because you need the work and that as soon as a law job comes along you will fly the coop. This is not entirely unjustified as the pay scale for the “entry level” positions for which you are applying will not be remotely similar and you could have a change of heart down the road. This will be less of an issue after a few years, but right now it is going to be tough.

        I think you should come up with an “elevator pitch” response. Something like, “You know, most of people I knew went to law school because they wanted to be lawyers. They saw it as a means to an end. But I really wasn’t like any of classmates. I just wanted to study the law. It sounded fascinating. I never really wanted to be a lawyer. I always knew I wanted to work in the business world.”

        Good luck.

        1. K*

          There’s actually not that much difference in pay scales. A lot of lawyers make $35k-60k, most will not make 6 figure salaries.

      3. Renee*

        I left the law degree on my resume but put my education at the bottom and took off the bar membership. I also went to a hybrid skills/experience resume so my job titles are at the bottom. So most of the resume consisted of bullet points under skill categories (Administrative, Compliance — these changed depending on the position). Following that was a section with my prior positions listed in chronological order. I did have a summary at the very top with something like “Experienced professional committed to transition from legal practice to legal compliance.” The only places that called attention to the fact that I was an attorney were the job titles in my list of positions. This way the hiring managers had access to my work history, but the emphasis was on skills that would translate to new positions (customized to fit the position posted). I mean, really, how much does a hiring manager need to know about your attorney duties? Just about every job description would have been identical anyway but for the subject matter. What they need to know is that you can type 90 words a minute or you can review legal materials or employment regulations and communicate compliance requirements to the executives in plain language.

        1. Zillah*

          That sounds like more of a functional resume, though, which a lot of hiring managers don’t like… and you should be listing achievements (as opposed to duties) on your resume, which presumably wouldn’t be the same across jobs, anyway. And I think there’s definitely a way to list your achievements so that they’re customized to the type of job you’re applying for.

          1. Renee*

            It’s a bit of a hybrid. I did actually list the job titles at the bottom of the resume with dates as I know that information is important to hiring managers. Specific attorney accomplishments in the family law field don’t transfer all that well to other jobs (successfully won hotly contested order to show cause regarding support and visitation — kind of expected as part of the job), but more general accomplishments can (primary writer and researcher at each position, consistently the employee tasked with reviewing factual documents and creating case plan, etc.). I get that a lot of hiring managers may not care as much for the format, but you have to play where you are. We’re taught in law school to argue the specific when on point and the vague or policy when not. My experience as an attorney is not going to impress the hiring manager, so I have to start with the skills that translate and downplay the job titles. FWIW, if I were applying for an attorney position, I would submit a regular chronological resume.

            And, yes, the resume got me interviews and the job I have now as an Office Manager within two months of leaving my last job. I am fairly happy where I am, but I sometimes apply for positions that look intriguing. Out of the four administrative positions I applied for in the last year, I got called to interview for three. One liked me but couldn’t afford me, one I did not get (they wanted more direct supervisory experience and they were up front about it), and one I withdrew from the process because I looked into the company further and didn’t like it.

  4. Hiring Manager of Student Services Staff*

    As a piggy back to the volunteer suggestion above, would you accept an internship? We hire career-changers as interns at $10/hour so we both have the opportunity to try each other out.

    1. Riya*

      Hello Hiring Manager of Student services,
      I am in a similar situation, and would like to talk to you. Could you please provide me your email address or contact number, where I can reach you?
      Thanks a ton,

      1. Hiring Manager of Student Services Staff*

        Hi Riya,
        Can you share your email? I’m hesitant to post mine online.

    2. Original Poster*

      That sounds like a great program! I have not found anything similar in my area, or I would be happily interning right now. But I have followed this suggestion to some degree by applying to a couple of short-term or temporary positions, since employers are taking less of a risk by hiring me on that way.

      1. Jill-be-Nimble*

        Is there a reputable temp agency near you? That’s really helped me out–the temp agent will talk to you one-on-one and you can explain the situation to them. Then it’s their job to help talk you up to the people who are hiring. They also control what gets seen on your resume by the people doing the hiring, so they can explain why they think you would be good for the job directly to the people doing the hiring.

        I, too, have been in a weirdly transitional point, and this has taken soooo much stress off of me. Bonus–I think my current employer is about to buy out my temp contract and hire me full-time! (Knock on wood)

  5. MB*

    As someone who’s served on hiring committees for higher education administration/student services positions, I can add that these areas tend to attract a lot of professionals changing careers–many from law. It makes a lot of sense in some areas of higher education, such as student advocacy and accountability, but for some applicants, “I just didn’t like being a lawyer” comes across as “I don’t want to be as serious,” so higher education feels a bit like a catchall for people who want to be back on a university campus. For what’s it worth, we’ll give those with law degrees a serious look if it seems like they’re coming to the field with intention, but it’s a competitive area for even those with graduate degrees in higher education.

    1. Original Poster*

      That’s interesting to hear. I have definitely been assuming it is the case that those looking at my materials are just thinking, “she doesn’t know WHAT she wants to do.” I have had to be very careful with my phrasing on cover letters because although it is somewhat true that I would like a “less serious” career, I don’t want to convey that I would be any less professional or dedicated to my job.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        From what others have told me, law is not a career rather it’s more like a lifestyle. That is, it consumes your life. You end up with having nothing else going on.

        An 80-90 hour week is not one job, it’s two full time jobs. Think about what a saner work week looks like to you. This will help you describe to a potential employer why you are interested. (One talking point, though, and not a substantial one at that. But if you can say “I don’t mind 50-60 hour work weeks, I cannot do the 80-90 hour work weeks”, this really describes what you want better than saying “I can’t do the long hours”.)

    2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      I want to add to that that I’ve hired a few people who were taking steps down the career ladder (looking for less consuming/easier jobs) and found that they did not excel. For some of them, they wanted and easier and less demanding job. I hired them for jobs that paid less, because they required less expertise and experience than the had. What happened in two cases was the the person was a low-performer. They were doing a job that paid less because it required a less expensive skill set, but the job was still busy and I needed a high performer. Their resumes showed lots of evidence that they had been motivated high performers, and they were able to cite many examples of above-and-beyond performance in their interviews, so I was convinced.

      In the end, however, I learned that they wanted to work at a leisurely pace, be satisfied with mediocre work, and just do the basics – AND – they weren’t all that good at the entry-level tasks they were supposed to be doing – their minds just didn’t work that way. I will be careful not to make this mistake again – but frankly, I’m not sure how except to not hire people who are taking a step down. Just because a job pays less doesn’t mean it’s not stressful or demanding.

    3. College Career Counselor*

      A couple of years ago, I got a fair number of resumes from lawyers for a position in career services working with prospective employers. The biggest issues I saw were:

      a) Failure to demonstrate an understanding of the position in the cover letter
      b) Failure to make a case for why the candidate’s skills and experience would be effective in the role

      It’s not just about appearing “serious” (although that can be part of it), it’s about presenting a good argument that you’re both interested in and appropriate for the position, particularly if you’re “applying against type” where there are likely to be other candidates with more relevant experience. Otherwise, your application is likely to be read as “I’m (unhappy as) a lawyer, but I’m smart and hard-working, so hire me.”

  6. Cat*

    You don’t say if you’re applying to HR positions in law firms but, if so, one thing to think about is how you characterize why you don’t want to be a lawyer – in that case, I might steer away from “I want a less adversarial job” because it might read as “I am going to think you’re all jerks” (and there’s a lot of paper pushing administrative lawyers and the like that don’t like to think of themselves as that adversarial, even if they may be deluding themselves).

  7. Karyn*

    Hi, OP. I’m sort of in your position – I have a JD, and never took the bar exam for a number of reasons, preferring instead to stay in legal assistant or human resources/admin roles. I had a hard time getting interviews as well for a while, primarily for the reason Alison said – people see “JD” and they assume you will eventually want a lawyer job, whether or not you say otherwise. What changed the game for me is when I started explaining in my cover letter what skills my legal education and/or other legal jobs brought to the table when applying for the instant job, and how they would translate over. This is basically what Alison suggested – play to your strengths and how they will make you excel at the job you want. Now is not the time to be humble. :)

    Also, I used to directly address not wanting to be a lawyer in my cover letter, but I never once got a call back when I did that. So, I changed the game up a bit. Once I started doing everything I could NOT to mention the word “lawyer” at all in my cover letter, I started getting interviews. Don’t even bring up the fact that you don’t want to be a lawyer, and it might not even plant the idea in their heads! My own boss didn’t even realize I had a JD until I pointed it out to him!

    Of course, I can’t directly address your second concern, which is switching career fields (mainly because I was applying for legal jobs, just not lawyer ones), but I just thought I’d throw out there what helped me when I faced a similar situation to yours in terms of having the JD. I hope any of this is even remotely useful!

    1. KB*

      This is a really good point – don’t use your cover letters to be negative, or point out what you can’t do, or don’t want to do. Good advice for all!

    2. Sue*

      Hi OP, I also went to law school and now I’m looking for work in legal marketing. I got my foot in the door by getting temporary assignments though networking. Now I am looking for a permanent job, and it’s tough! I agree with Karyn in that I tried not mention “lawyer” at all, just went to meetings of the legal marketing association, tried my best to network and showcase experiences connected to the field I was applying to. It helps to have a specific direction, so maybe pick one field and purposely direct yourself towards that?

    3. LAI*

      I think this is great advice. Personally, if I were reviewing your application, I wouldn’t care so much about all the reasons why you don’t want to be a lawyer. I would mostly care about why you DO want to do whatever job I’m applying for.

    4. Original Poster*

      This is a great point. I have had a bit more success recently, and it was because I took something AAM said about thank-you notes into consideration, which was that the thank you note should really just convey that you understand the job and you are still very enthusiastic about it.
      So, since applying that to my cover letters, just an affirmative sentence of my excitement about the specific job opening, things have gotten a bit better.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I am laughing. A simpler example but first hand. Years ago, I had an associates degree. I mentioned it on my resume and no where else. It never came up in the interview and I got the job. I worked for a decade at that job and NONE of my bosses realized I had a degree. I mentioned it when I wrapped up and they were shocked. I still find that amusing.

        Apparently resumes fall into a black hole never to be seen again.

        1. Karyn*

          HA! That’s amazing.

          Related, I once had someone think I had a science degree, when my major is in POLITICAL SCIENCE. Sounds the same… little bit different. ;)

  8. Ashley*

    At my last job (in Human Resources) my boss was a former attorney. I worked at a large local nonprofit and his title was Director of Human Resources, and it was his first job not in the legal field. He got his position simply through networking – our SVP had retirement on his horizon and had a friend who spoke highly of my boss. He got in touch, thought he had the right skills, and there you go. He had zero training/experience in HR, and was absolutely PHENOMENAL at his job. Not only was/is he an incredible supervisor/mentor, he was great at reading personalities and naviagating all the tricky laws our nonprofit had to handle. He also did all the contract reviews for anything – sponsorships, construction, etc, etc. So…no real advice but it does (and can!) happen – but maybe look for a not entery level position.

    1. djx*

      I work at a nonprofit organization whose CEO has a law degree but I don’ think he ever practiced. He was chief of staff of a member of congrees in the past.

      And we had a long-term “super-admin” temp with a law degree doing admin stuff that involved some independence – like figuring out how to clean up files, research, but some general stuff. He was super precise in writing and editing due to his legal training. His pay wasn’t great considering his degree – I think low $20s per hour, but he was with us almost a year and used that experience to help get another permanent nonprofit job.

      In my experience lawyers (and paralegals) are often very precise and can digest and process huge amounts of written information well. That’s important in today’s world.

  9. Dawn*

    As an attorney in HR, I think the issue is just as Alison stated. You are applying for entry level jobs. I am not sure what field of law you practiced in, but if you have any employment law experience, you should be applying to higher level HR jobs (Director level or just below). That is how I made the switch from law to HR.

    1. KJR*

      I was also going to suggest this. So much of HR is law, so I would think a law degree would be a helpful plus for a higher level HR position.

    2. JB*

      I agree with this, but I do wonder what happens if you have a professional degree but *want* an entry level job. Like the OP, before law school I had a series of admin jobs, and I loved them. I went to law school because I had a particular interest I wanted to pursue. I really like my job, but if I left the legal field, it wouldn’t be so I could some other high-level, high-responsibility job. I really liked excelling in my admin jobs, I really liked doing admin-type work, and I really liked that I could leave the job at 5 and rarely had to work weekends. So if I left the legal world and (big if) if I could afford to go back to the kinds of jobs I had before, that’s what I’d want.

      1. Original Poster*

        Thank you, JB! I am being totally honest when I tell employers that I want the job they’re offering. I haven’t applied for a bunch of positions that I wouldn’t be happy to work in. I think everybody likes doing something that they are good at, and I have been really good at my lower-level admin jobs.

    1. LawBee*

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. One if my paralegals is a former attorney, and she’s fantastic. She also leaves at 4:30 on the nose, doesn’t travel, doesn’t have to deal with jerks, and sometimes I envy her.

      Pick your practice area well, and paralegal is an awesome job.

    2. Elysian*

      Most people hiring paralegals don’t find a law degree to be a plus because they assume that the person just wants to be a lawyer but can’t get a job as one, and is trying to use being a paralegal as a stepping stone. So in that sense, OP might run into a lot of the same problems.

      1. jwlynn, esq.*

        This, almost entirely.

        Plus, no one wants to hire a lawyer to do a paralegal’s job because the two are not the same. The natural inclination for a lawyer will be to try to be a lawyer, not to be a paralegal. It is hard to just turn the lawyer switch to the off position.

        1. Portia de Belmont*

          I must disagree that no one wants to hire a lawyer to do a paralegal’s job. That’s exactly what the senior partners in my firm wanted, and exactly what they got. I was on the hiring committee and we were, as the British say, spoiled for choice. Well over 2/3 of our applicants were newly sworn-in lawyers who needed to get into the workforce as soon as possible. As for me, I’m looking to get out of the law entirely because the market is so glutted that upward or lateral movement is impossible.

          1. Melissa*

            Yeah, when I was looking for paralegal work tons of ads said they would prefer someone with a JD.

    3. PFL*

      Also depending on the practice you pick, the paralegal won’t be left out of the adversarial crap that goes on. She mentioned that in particular as something she didn’t like about being a lawyer.

    4. Stephanie*

      Aside from the assumption that she’d just be marking time until an attorney job opened up, paralegals can also work crappy hours and deal with adversarial work as well.

    5. LillianMcGee*

      I am a paralegal hiring manager and I hired a former-lawyer once. He quit after a month for a better job. Never again. I also am somewhat resentful of lawyers poaching paralegal jobs from would-be paralegals. A lot of hiring managers probably think they are getting more for less, and maybe they are in some cases, but I’d personally never hire a lawyer over an experienced paralegal (again). Then again I’ve been burned once and am extremely biased from working for a bunch of bone-headed lawyers in my day! I honestly believe law school brainwashes the common sense out of them…

      OP should try for an admin or development position in a legal aid non-profit. They love former-lawyers!

    6. Not So NewReader*

      Ditto on my own ignorance but I was thinking of court clerk for a larger court such as county level. They make okay money in some places. Some DAs offices have victims advocates now, too.

      My other suggestion was to look at your writing skills that you have developed, OP. Maybe writing is your next direction.

    7. jag*

      A law firm would be worried a paralegal with a law degree might start trying to practice law. It would seem very risky to them.

  10. Jake*

    I’m hiring right now for an administrative assistant, and the most puzzling candidates are the ones with masters degrees in psychology with 15 years experience in not being an administrative assistant. While I may consider them for the role, it is very tough to beat out somebody that was an administrative assistant in their previous role. The person with the masters degree may be plenty qualified, but it is really tough for them to beat out the 10+ candidates that I know can be satisfied being an administrative assistant and have a resume demonstrating that they have the necessary skills.

    I don’t have any good advice other than what Alison said to combat this, and I don’t mean to be discouraging. However, it is definitely not just lawyers that struggle with this, it is anybody that has qualifications and work experience that don’t demonstrate previous success in that specific role.

    1. Canadamber*

      Ouch. This is actually my mom’s exact situation, only she was a stay at home mom for many years and now works at a library in information services. Any ideas on how she can make the transition to admin assistant type jobs? Sorry to hijack the thread. :)

      1. Jake*

        The only way to get consideration from me would be to write a killer cover letter explaining how her skill set transfers over. That would at least get my attention well enough for me to consider her, but she’d still be at a disadvantage, and I’m not sure how she could avoid that.

      2. AdminAnon*

        I’m sure there are plenty of transferable skills that she can highlight. After all, being an admin is very similar to a customer service position (the main difference being that the “customers” are the other people in the office). The organizational and data management skills from information services will be relevant, as well as the ability to find vital information quickly and juggle multiple requests at once. That’s just off the top of my head and I don’t have any library experience (other than hanging out in them), but I’m sure there is quite a bit of overlap that she can draw attention to both on her resume and/or in her cover letter.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Is the library job part time?

        If yes, maybe she could use the library job as a base to get a part time AA job. Then patiently and carefully work her way over to a full time job as an AA.

  11. Dawn*

    I will add if you have not had any experience as an attorney and are fresh out of law school, then obviously you’ll still want to shoot higher than entry level but you probably won’t be getting Director level jobs. You’ll want to look at HR analyst type jobs in government or education or HR rep jobs in larger companies.

  12. HR Manager*

    I know a few former lawyers who went into HR, so it’s not a crazy jump at all, but I agree that you may be going about the transition the wrong way. Your experience as an attorney probably gave you a load of good skills – and this is what you need to think about and highlight. Do you know what you want to do in HR (comp, benefits, employee relations, etc.) – all of these areas may require more skill in one area vs another such as analytics, service orientation, detail orientation, facilitation. If your legal work required you to deal with tough customers and have great diplomacy, that’s what you need to highlight and match to a potential job out there. Yes, throw in the line that you are not planning to pursue a career in law, but highlight those relevant job skills first.

  13. Tiffany In Houston*

    Have you thought about careers in compliance or risk? Contracts administration/purchasing? Have you considered going in-house as counsel?

    1. Nanc*

      Or Procurement or Project Management. Positions where attention to detail and working to deadline are vital.

      1. Jaimie*

        Yes, agree. I was non-practicing for years– contract management or procurement are good fits for attorneys who want the sort of lifestyle that OP is describing.

    2. JB*

      In-house counsel jobs are not easy to get, actually, and they often involve some of the same stuff the OP is trying to avoid.

  14. Gwen Soul*

    No advice but I feel your pain. After 3 years of practice I was laid off in 2009 and couldn’t find a legal job, and realized I really didn’t want one. I am now a very happy project manager but it took a lot of trying. I did temp for awhile which helped since I had non legal experience on my resume then.

  15. Revanche*

    I’ve been hiring lately and have a lot of applications from people in similar positions but none of them even bothered to acknowledge that there may be a mismatch between their level of education/experience and the entry level positions they’re applying to. If there was any explanation, like yours, it would go a long way to help me decide to give their resume consideration.
    As Alison says, I don’t assume that the lawyers or the doctors or the whatever-else have any kind of attitude problems that are most associated to their fields, rather, I assume that they aren’t going to be serious or good long term candidates because I don’t see why someone with an advanced degree is going to be a good fit in an entry level position for longer than it takes for them to find something more in line with their experience.

    1. HR Manager*

      I think the reason for this is that most job-seekers (not just highly educated professionals) seem to have the misconception that a job marked as “entry-level” is equivalent to ‘we’ll hire anyone”. Nope, no, not even close. “Entry-level” may mean no prior experience in this industry or profession required, but nearly all recruiters and hiring managers will have a list of skills or competencies they’d like to see.

  16. wonkette*

    I’m a lawyer as well. I work in a nonprofit on health policy issues and I love it because I get to work on bettering the world and surround myself with public policy nerds. I hated be a practicing lawyer like the OP because the adversarial nature of going to court me feel ill. I wonder if the OP is selling herself short by seeking entry level jobs. There’re fields that are law-related but do not involve going to court everyday (public policy, state bar associations, law firm office manager, law school career counselor, etc). In any case, I wish the OP luck!

    1. Frances*

      Heh, if it wasn’t that you said you were surrounded by public policy nerds, I’d think you were my coworker, who is also a lawyer and also heads up the public policy department at our nonprofit (she’s the only one at the moment). She has young kids, and our employer is great with flex hours (she works 8:00-4:00, and we’re also well set up for people to work from home as necessary). Lots of nonprofits like to hire lawyers in their policy/advocacy programs (and the biggest ones have in house counsel as well for help with contracts and other legal issues).

    2. littlemoose*

      That would be my recommendation too, if the OP thinks she might be interested. In-house counsel can still be time-consuming and demanding – it completely depends on the business. A relative of mine was general counsel for a university and kept awesome hours. I’m in administrative law and have great work-life balance in a largely non-adversarial role. When I was in the job market, I also looked for a lot of regulatory and corporate compliance jobs for which a JD was not required but obviously would have been useful. Those types of positions might make your JD an asset while avoiding a lot of what you didn’t like about practicing law as a solo. USAJOBS is one place to start, although I found my federal government job on my law school’s job board.

      When I was looking for a job a few years ago, my situation was somewhat similar. I was looking for legal assistant/paralegal jobs – but out of desperation, not because I didn’t want to practice law. I did not get calls or interviews for any such positions, despite having experience as a legal secretary, for exactly the reasons Alison laid out above. I think her suggestions for addressing it and maybe shifting your job search will likely yield more success for you. Good luck!!

    3. Jaimie*

      I agree with this– I don’t know that it’s necessary to drop down so far in order to be non-adversarial and have regular hours. I work in a corporate legal department, and I wouldn’t really consider my role to be “adversarial”, though I suppose people can define that word differently. There are lots and lots of legal and quasi-legal jobs out there which are interesting and might be a fit. It might be worth it to just keep an open mind and apply to a broader range of positions.

  17. Naija*

    I am a lawyer working in a non-legal field and if i received a resume for an entry level admin role from an attorney with a few years experience as an attorney, i would feel bad for the applicant and them promptly delete the application. The truth is despite your best intentions, if you got such a job, you could end up feeling bitter in an entry level role. In addition, your colleagues and superiors would be confused with regards to how to relate to you- can they tell you what to do? How long will you hang around? Will they respect you? My suggestion is if you like writing, consider looking for grant writing jobs, it is easier to connect to your legal (writing) experience. You should also look at HR roles (take a couple of labor law classes, find mentors and join HR networks). You could also consider recruitment. There are many options, but applying for entry level admin roles is simply not a realistic one.

  18. zillinith*

    Sounds like a situation where networking like crazy could really help. If your resume is getting passed to the hiring manager by someone who knows you and says “I know plenty of people with a JD are just killing time in non-attorney positions until something better comes along, but I know [OP] and I know they’re really looking to move into this field for reasons [x], [y], [z]” that may be the thing that helps you stand out.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Yes, yes, yes. If you have a friend of business contact who can tell the hiring manager, “this is what OP looks like on paper, but for XYZ reasons she’s looking for this role now,” that carries a lot more weight than the same reasons in your cover letter.

  19. Traveler*

    OP, I don’t have any advice that AAM hasn’t already given – but you have my sympathy. It is so difficult to get work outside of your field. I found that it honestly just comes down to doing the best you can with the materials you have, the most convincing cover letter – and then the thing you can’t control – someone willing to take a chance on you.

  20. Mary in Texas*

    Don’t give up. I’m a lawyer and recently made the transition to an HR position in the corporate world. It has not been easy!! Honestly, what it took was a friend who was already there to recommend me to the hiring manager, and explain why I would be a good fit. After she did that, I got the interiew, the offer and I’ve never looked back. I’m sure you’ve heard this a thousand times….it’s not what you know, but who you know. Good luck!!

  21. KB*

    I can’t speak to HR, but I spent many years in higher education student services and we had many, many administrative staff members across the school with various higher degrees (including JDs, but it was a law school, so that’s not so unusual). I assume you are already looking at law schools? Where I worked, a JD with a few years of experience would come in at the assistant director level. We do have staff assistants with graduate degrees, but those tended to be in other fields. And many folks (myself included) came in from other fields outside education. Things we had in common were a commitment to the mission of the office, really strong organizational skills, and nonprofit experience and/or experience with students. Someone upthread mentioned volunteering, which can be helpful. I don’t think you need to volunteer in higher ed (or that there are even that many chances to do so) but some public service volunteering in a high-volume, customer-focused setting would be relevant.

    I don’t see any reason universities would reject you out of hand because of a JD, particularly if you’re looking at place with professional graduate schools and/or universities that are particularly well regarded. Have you worked with students or mentored young attorneys? Does your background / practice area align with a department or institution at a school? Have you done anything that transfers well to event or conference planning?

    All of Alison’s advice applies but I did want to chime in and say not to give up on higher ed!

    1. Original Poster*

      Thanks for the encouragement. I have not given up on higher ed. Things are looking up as I take more and more of AAM’s advice, really. I was pretty surprised at the beginning at the lack of interest my applications were getting, though, because I actually DO have a lot of the strengths that you mention (experience in education and with students, mentoring experience, etc.), but I think I really do have to just chalk it all up to a slow market and lots of even more qualified candidates applying for those same few positions.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        Another point to emphasize is that even though you are applying to jobs that don’t require experience in that field, the market is such that they are probably still hiring people with experience. Many universities use a scoring system that will take experience into account and it might be that you’re just not getting the points. While they don’t require experience, it probably makes more sense for them in many cases to hire an applicant with direct experience. The only thing you can do here is emphasize the skills you do have – like filing, delegating, whatever – that are relevant to the work, and de-emphasize the more lawyer-specific skills and accomplishments.

      2. Stephanie*

        OP, not sure what kind of law you were practicing, but if you have any experience with IP or contracts or licensing, look into university tech transfer offices. Some, but not all, positions might require a science background.

  22. Anonie*

    I would suggest looking at nonprofits that provide free legal services or do policy or advocacy type work. There may be roles for you there. There also seems to be a lot of lawyers who work for private foundations as well.

  23. Snarkus Ariellius*

    When I hire for entry-level positions, I do not hire people with graduate degrees, regardless of the degree.  The economy being what it is, I’m inundated with people who have 15+ years experience in my field, yet they’re willing to make $30K/year on the east coast.  I don’t do this for all the reasons others have stated: you’ll get bored too fast, it doesn’t pay enough, you can’t find a job at your own level, etc.

    For example, in 2008 (right at the height of the recession), I was hiring a Communications Assistant.  I got resumes from people who had worked at Newsweek, the Washington Post, TIME, the BBC, etc.  (One woman had even been a Bureau Chief in Moscow!)  None of these candidates would have been a good fit because they were grossly overqualified.  (It also gives good insight into how awful the job market was at that time too.)

    With a JD on your resume, it’s even worse because even though you claim you really don’t want to be a lawyer, that’s not the case for the overwhelming majority of JD holders who cannot find jobs.  You have to admit that it’s kind of weird for someone to take three years of her life, invest thousands of dollars into a graduate education, take the bar exam, and then…revert back to an entry-level job that requires exactly NONE of these things?  That’s the image you have and what you have to work against.

    If I were you, I’d leave off anything related to your law degree, in your cover letter.  I’d say leave it off your resume too, but it sounds like you’ve got lawyerly positions you can’t hide.  Then I’d do everything else AAM said.

    1. Traveler*

      Is it really that weird? I am not the same person I was when I got my bachelor’s degree, or the same person I was when I finished grad school. My life circumstances aren’t the same, my responsibilities aren’t the same – due to factors both in and out of my control. IT might have been the right path for OP then, and isn’t anymore (which it sounds like). I don’t think we should discount people as weird. I agree its a challenge they need to overcome, but I don’t think it should be a stigma that automatically discounts them.

      1. HR Manager*

        Agreed. Of the friends I know who have a law degree, a good half are not practicing attorneys. It’s an extremely versatile degree, so there’s no shame in not pursuing a career as an attorney. Some really like the study of ethics, morality and history and have gained great skills in analysis and logic, debate, and persuasive writing/argument. It’s expensive, so I understand the shock at not wanting a high-paying law firm job to pay off the debt, but I’ve seen many with law degrees flourish in other fields. I even know of a few MDs, who no longer have interest in practicing medicine (Ouch! Talk about debt!).

        1. Renee*

          There really aren’t many high-paying law firm jobs anymore, at least not in my community. That was a big contributor to my decision. If I’m already struggling to make my loan payments, I might as well do it with a lot less stress in my life. Law is a thankless profession in my community. There are so many lawyers competing for jobs that the pay is pathetic and the workloads are overwhelming.

        2. Senor Poncho*

          Not to be rude, but the versatile JD is a myth, partially for all the reasons set forth in this thread about why people would not want to hire JDs. I’m also of an opinion that it is a myth that is particularly harmful because it allows law schools to lie to their prospective students about the value of the degree.

          This has been documented to some degree elsewhere, but here are two of my favorite articles on the issue (couldn’t find the best one via quick google search but these aren’t bad):

          1. HR Manager*

            I’m sorry, but these articles make way too broad of an overstatement. I don’t think you can do anything with a law degree – who does (and what degree does)? At the end of the day, you still have to match your core set of skills to certain jobs. Some of the skills I mentioned above are only a set of what can be honed in law school (communications, writing, logic, etc). Of course these can be applied to other jobs — will they all be as high-paying as an attorney? Not likely, and that might be the lie you think law schools are perpetuating. But the fact is that I have seen people with legal degrees excel in many areas (a few of my JD friends are in marketing, ADR, and recruiting), and not just in attorney or in-house counsel positions.

            1. JB*

              The problem, though, as Senor Poncho was alluding to, is that law schools promote the idea of a law degree being very versatile so that they can charge an astronomical amount of money for the degree. But those jobs for which a JD could be helpful don’t usually pay enough to pay off student loans and require skills that could be obtained elsewhere without the accompanying debt. I think that’s the point Senor Poncho was making, and that most of the law school scam crowd makes. It’s not that the JD doesn’t give you transferable skills, it’s that those skills can be learned elsewhere at much less cost and that employers aren’t lining up to hire JDs.

              1. Fabulously Anonymous*

                Library science schools say the same thing – “the MLIS is so versatile!” Yeah, until you have to explain that to a potential employer.

                1. JB*

                  I had a friend who had that problem. I had always thought it would be so cool to be a librarian, but seeing her struggle to get a job made my change my mind.

                2. JayDee*

                  It does seem very similar. You have a field that exclusively requires a very specific graduate degree to enter. Of course you’re going to get the “it’s a versatile degree!” line when you ask what else you can do with it. I don’t hear much about doctors, dentists, and veterinarians trying to find other work that they can do with their degree. I also don’t hear anyone saying an MD, DDS, or DVM are “versatile” degrees. Is it because of the science? Or do we just have a better sense of those things as being careers that, once you make the commitment to them, you’re in for life with few exceptions?

                3. Zillah*

                  As someone who just got an MLS – yeah, that’s definitely a huge problem. There are other things you can do with it, particularly if you spend time on the tech-ier aspects, but at least in my program, that wasn’t really emphasized… and if you’re going to sell adaptability as a bonus, you need to actually help students figure out how to be adaptable (and sell it!).

            2. Senor Poncho*

              Yes, as JB pointed out, the biggest problem with the “versatile JD” myth is that it is used by law schools to market themselves in a misleading (read: utterly dishonest, morally bankrupt, and arguably fraudulent) way in order to entice wide-eyed 22 year olds to take out a mortgage’s worth of nondischargeable debt. It’s not that people with JD’s can’t succeed in other jobs, it’s that they don’t need the JD to do so, and that the JD often makes it more difficult to get those jobs. Whether or not they got any transferable skills out of getting the JD isn’t really the point.

              The lie, then, is that the JD credential itself makes you a more marketable candidate in a wide variety of fields. That lie wouldn’t be nearly as bad were it not for the costs — in time, debt, substance abuse, mental health issues, etc — involved in the whole exercise. Even to the extent a JD might be somewhat helpful in a few fields/functions (compliance, real estate, whatever), the fact of the matter is that far more often than not, the JD is not an asset, but a burden that one has to overcome to get paid work. Again, just quickly scan through the comments in this thread for reasons why.

              Likewise, in the vast majority of cases, JD’s doing non-legal work could have attained their jobs without ever going to law school, taking on the debt load, and spending three years functionally out of the workforce. In those cases, there is just no economic value added from the JD — only massive, massive costs.

              As to salary issues, well, yes, law schools are pretty dishonest about those too. But I have to point out that the fact that you mentioned that non-legal jobs might not be “as high paying” as legal jobs tells me that you might not be familiar with the current state of the entry level legal job market. Something like half of graduating JDs don’t get legitimate lawyer jobs, and only about half of those, at best, earn salaries that come close to supporting the debt loads involved (e.g. (note this is probably skewed upwards due to sampling issues, e.g., there’s no unpaid work on there despite all the unpaid work new JDs tend to do)).

              For anyone in this thread thinking about law school, I offer these links:
     (harsh but fair)

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                It’s not that people with JD’s can’t succeed in other jobs, it’s that they don’t need the JD to do so, and that the JD often makes it more difficult to get those jobs.

                Exactly this.

              2. Jaimie*

                There’s an article in last month’s issue of the Atlantic that you might find interesting, if you haven’t seen it. It pretty much backs up what you are saying, at least for law schools which accept applicants who are less qualified.

              3. JayDee*

                Yup. The days of the $160,000 starting salary are over. And really, for most legal jobs they never began. Whenever people are impressed that I’m a lawyer (which is rare) and think all lawyers make a lot of money, I want to show them the NALP data on public interest law salaries, then tell them to look at the bottom of that for the civil legal aid salaries, and then tell them that my employer is slightly below the average for all but the starting salaries. The sad truth is that with 5+ years of practice under my belt, I’m making less than entry-level government lawyers (who still are making about 1/3 of that mythical $160,000 big firm salary). Teachers are the perennially underpaid professionals, but my teacher husband has left me in the dust salary-wise.

                If you want to be a lawyer, go to law school. If you aren’t sure what you want to do, or if you want to get rich, find something else.

                1. College Career Counselor*

                  As someone who has done pre-law advising for the starry-eyed undergraduate set, I wish I could have JayDee and Senor Poncho on hand to talk to them about the realities of the profession.

              4. Renee*

                I make similar to what I made as an attorney ten years in, and I was just happy to have a regular job instead of contract work. My stress level is nil compared to what it was. I went to law school after being a secretary and I left full time law after doing a divorce for a secretary the same age as me, making twice as much.

          2. Zillah*

            And, a huge part of why there are a lot of people with JDs who don’t practice law is that there just aren’t anywhere near enough jobs in the field (let alone jobs that pay well) for all the people getting JDs in the first place.

          3. Stephanie*

            I’d guess, too, that law school and the legal field teach you writing in a manner that many other fields would find abhorrent. Most non-legal positions don’t want instances of “hereinafter” or “said” in written product. I definitely had to break myself of writing in a passive, formal tone once I left the field.

      2. Snarkus Ariellius*

        Undergraduate is different as the programs offered are a wide variety.  Law school is trained for one specific vocation.  An undergraduate degree doesn’t demand the same money, time, expectations and effort as a JD.  It’s an entirely different and more intense ballgame so when someone goes to law school, it’s logical to assume it was a calculated and precise decision based on relevant professional goals. i.e. becoming a prosecutor, politician or judge.

        Sure, I know plenty of JD holders who are not practicing attorneys, but that isn’t the LW’s situation.  She’s going from being a practicing attorney to something that’s utterly unrelated to that.  She’s also doing that in a market where an overwhelming amount of JD holders are already doing that because they’re forced to, unlike the LW, except hiring managers don’t know that.

        I’m not saying HR is completely out of bounds for her; I’m saying she already has a negative perception she’s going to have to fight before people even meet her.

        And I was going to post a Slate article that debunks the myth that a law degree is versatile, but it looks like someone else already did.

        1. Traveler*

          I said bachelors degree and grad school, but to counter your points – an undergraduate degree can be absolutely as expensive and time consuming as a grad degree. It’s just spread over more years. Anecdotal – but I came out of my bachelor’s trying to apply to admin work and customer service roles, and was turned down repeatedly even though it was all work I’d done before and during college, on the basis of my undergrad degree making me “overqualified”.

          “it’s logical to assume…” My point is that I don’t think it is a logical thing to assume anymore. We just came out of a nasty recession that changed a lot of career paths – I’m sure we all know someone who has changed fields at least once or twice in that time. Lots of people went back to grad school for professional and academic degrees because of the belief that doing something was better than being unemployed, and in some cases provided a meager income. This on top of the fact that our working lifespans are something like 50 years now, it’s hard to believe that all people would want to do the same thing with increasing degrees of responsibility for that entire time. I don’t think that’s in line with our culture anymore.

          Now that we’re seemingly out of the darkest days of that recession, a lot of people are ready to reinvent themselves and start thinking about what kind of careers they actually want, and what fits their life now versus what they had to do because they didn’t have another choice.

          “I’m saying she already has a negative perception she’s going to have to fight before people even meet her.”
          Which is understandable…but I hope its a challenge she can overcome with the right explanation and cover letter, and not a stigma that she can’t shake that will automatically result in the kind of universal circular filing of resumes it sounded like you were describing up thread: “I do not hire people with graduate degrees, regardless of the degree.”

          1. Snarkus Ariellius*

            For entry level positions.

            And I never will either.

            (I just helped hire two people with graduate degrees, but that’s because those positions were senior level.)

            1. Traveler*

              So if someone’s trying to make a move from one industry to a completely different industry, you believe they should not try to start at entry level, but instead try to make a lateral move?

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Not necessarily lateral — in a lot of cases, they might not be qualified for lateral — but definitely not entry-level. Entry-level is for candidates with little to no work experience.

                1. Traveler*

                  This makes slightly more sense to me. However, there were times in my life where I wanted to dial back my responsibilities and just file paperwork and make phone calls. I would have hated having someone else decide what would make me happy, but then I’m sure it would be better for everyone involved that I didn’t work somewhere where they were unhappy with that arrangement.

      3. Mimmy*

        It’s not just JDs; I have an MSW but haven’t practiced social work in ages because my interests and confidence level changed since graduating in 2007. Many people pursue graduate / professional degrees thinking that this is the career path for them, but then circumstances change. My husband tells me that people change careers all the time.

    2. CheeryO*

      Maybe I’m misinterpreting your comment, but it seems unfair to automatically discount someone with a graduate degree based on the assumption that they won’t be satisfied in an entry-level role. People go to grad school for a lot of different reasons. What if they had the money to burn and did the degree out of love for the subject/learning? What if they had it paid for through a fellowship or assistantship? I know we’re talking about lawyers here and that probably isn’t too likely, but it seems like an awfully broad generalization to make.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Hiring managers always have to make guesses about people’s motivations and what’s likely to satisfy them. There’s a lot of guesswork when you have to screen out large numbers of candidates without talking to them, and you go with what your experience tells you is most likely; there’s no way around that.

        1. Ali*

          As someone who just finished graduate school directly after undergrad in a field that doesn’t require either degree – Film and Television – it’s very difficult for people to find jobs when they are being overlooked for being “overqualified”. Being overqualified for the entry level positions and underqualified for the higher level positions because they can’t get hired for the entry level experiences means that very many people don’t get jobs. And I think this applies to the kind of example Snarkus Ariellius was giving. I was fortunate in that I worked as an Executive Assistant at a studio for two years during grad school and got a coordinator position shortly after I graduated because I had built the relationships and experience. But I’m seeing many of my former classmates struggle with the conundrum of being “overqualified” for entry level positions because of the degree.

          1. Mimmy*

            ^^ This, so much this!!! It’s why I’ve greatly scaled back my job search–I was just getting frustrated with that overqualified label.

          2. Snarkus Ariellius*

            I did go into detail below, but I did want to add one thing. The entry level jobs I hire for simply do not require graduate degrees. Yes, I understand a bulk of job candidates don’t care, but I staunchly believe that the level of qualifications should be proportionate to the job. Otherwise I feel like I’m taking advantage.

          3. C3PO*

            “Overqualified” is sometimes the polite version of “underqualified”. That a nuclear physicist is grossly unqualified to be a cook because they know nothing about food preparation and can’t keep up with the speed of orders may be true, but it’s a bit too much of a ego blow to just say that; “overqualified for this position” seems much kinder, so that is what they go with.

            1. Ali*

              But a person with a MFA is often qualified to be an executive assistant or whathaveyou and is eager to get their foot in the door, and willing to start from the bottom like everyone else. I totally understand where you both are coming from, but I think what sort of sparked reaction is the idea that one would discount a candidate simply because they have a graduate degree not taking into consideration those other factors. Someone with my experience and degree could do the job described in the detail you provided below, but how long are you typically expecting people to stay in that entry level position? When I saw you had over 400 applications, narrowing it that way did make sense.

              1. abby*

                I think part of the problem may be the applicant relying on the fact of the MFA, rather than showing potential employers why he or she is qualified to do the job. In most cases, except for some highly specialized fields that require certain degrees and certifications, the existence of a graduate degree like an MFA is not, on its own, going to qualify or disqualify someone. Rather, the applicant needs to show how his or her knowledge and skills would prepare him or her to do the job.

          4. abby*

            Agree with C3PO. The degree does not over-qualify your classmates for a job they’ve never done. If a job announcement asks for experience they do not have, they are not qualified.

            As an example, we are recruiting for an administrator/assistant position. We’re getting resumes from people with fantastic work experience and multiple degrees. I do not consider a single one of them to be over-qualified. Because they do not have the work experience I am seeking, they are not qualified, period.

        2. College Career Counselor*

          Put another way: hiring managers are using their knowledge and intuition to reduce the number of applications they pursue, not looking for ways to add to the list. Which is why networking/recommendations from people working in the organization are incredibly helpful if you don’t have the modal experience.

      2. Zillah*

        I think that the key is that when we’re making decisions, we tend not to make them based on every possible scenario – we make them based on what we think the most likely scenario is. That’s not true for everything, of course, but it’s a good rule of thumb, and IMO, it’s pretty reasonable.

        For example: say I have an appointment with a new doctor. When I get there, I have to wait for over an hour, and when I finally see the doctor, they’re distracted, cut me off, send me for a lot of tests without explaining why, and forget to give me the prescription I need.

        Maybe that doctor is having a really bad day. Maybe they didn’t sleep the night before. Maybe there’s been a death in their family. There are a lot of potential reasons for their behavior. At the end of the day, though, unless I have some reason to believe that this isn’t typical, I’m probably not going to be seeing them again.

        I agree that discounting everyone with a graduate degree might mean missing out on good candidates, but I can understand prioritizing relevant experience over an irrelevant degree, and I can also understand not wanting to hire someone who’s overqualified.

      3. Snarkus Ariellius*

        Although AAM is right, I’d like to expand a bit because this is the case even when we’re not in a recession.

        This entry level job was a lot of data entry, collating, tracking news clips, taking notes at meetings, some social media, and some writing.  There is no crisis communications or high level strategy involved.  When I see someone has a graduate degree, I already know that such tasks are way beneath their skill level.  Love of learning they may have, but there will be opportunities few and far between for them to apply that knowledge.  There’s literally no way I can keep that position interesting enough for someone who already has experience and education.  

        Plus the salary isn’t designed for someone with a graduate degree.  Even though I know someone with that kind of experience and/or education is desperate enough to take it, I cannot in good conscience take advantage of someone like that.  Hiring someone who is grossly overqualified because s/he is desperate IS taking advantage.

        That and we had over four hundred resumes.  The “no graduate degree” screening narrowed down the resume pile significantly.

    3. Mr. Pink*

      If the general population knew how horrible being a lawyer in private practice really is, and that it’s NOTHING like it is on television, it would be much easier to understand why so many people with JDs are looking for non-lawyer jobs.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Actually, it’s not that weird. In talking with lawyers I keep hearing the same types of things over and over.
      It’s not what they thought it would be.
      There’s no money and very long hours.
      You cannot have a life outside of work.
      There is a weirdness about arguing in front of a judge and then going for drinks like great pals.
      Law work is incredibly encumbered, the simplest things take days. It taxes the best of people.
      Women are especially apt to get a law degree and never use it.

      The list goes on from there. You get the idea. So no, once you see the specifics of the setting it might not be so weird to have a JD and not use it.

  24. littlemoose*

    I also wanted to say generally that the number of people with law degrees who aren’t practicing law is really high – the statistic I heard years ago was 40%. I’ve only been out of law school for six years and already know a few people who have left the practice of law, mostly due to dissatisfaction with the work and the hours. One went back to his pre-law school career in an unrelated field, one is working in a non-legal writing position (has an undergrad English degree), and one is working for the government in a non-legal capacity. I also know a law librarian and a legal research & writing professor who used to actively practice law. Both seem happier with what they do now. Just wanted to let the OP know that she is far from alone among lawyers desiring this kind of career change.

    1. Original Poster*

      Yep, it is funny how many of my peers seem a little envious when I tell them I am leaving the legal field.

  25. Various Assumed Names*

    I had the same problem (though different circumstances) of being overeducated, over-experienced, and trying to switch fields. Not after applying for two months but for two years. I finally gave up and took a higher paying job in my field where I’m happier. I wish you well and hope to give it another try myself once I’m ready to move again.

  26. Renee*

    I was a 10 year post bar attorney when I largely hung it up. I got physically sick from years of toxic firms and toxic clients (family law). I was on disability and then when I got well, I started by taking a temporary contract administration job. They weren’t going to care if I moved on after the assignment, and it gave me valuable corporate experience that I was able to present as a positive on later applications. It also helped that I relocated geographically, so I could explain that I moved, took an in-house job, and then found that I much preferred high level administration to litigation. I ended up networking my way into an Office Manager position that is the sole administrative support for a small manufacturer. I do a lot of compliance and contract review work, as well as HR, and my boss pays my bar fees so he has the option of asking me for advice. I think the key is getting something on your resume that allows you to say: “I really like this,” as opposed to: “I really hate this” and then play up the ways your legal background can help (i.e., litigation = risk management skills).

    I did not find it that terribly difficult to transition and after three years in-house with contract and office management behind me, I get an interview nearly every time I apply for something. However, I always present a positive face. “Law practice was not for me, but I acquired a lot of great skills so it was a valuable experience. I’m resilient, and able to deliver high quality work under pressure.” Deflect the focus on the lawyer part with the skills you do have. If you’re serious, keep at it. I’m much happier and my salary is consistent with what I made as a lawyer. I was daunted at first, but happy I made the change.

    1. Renee*

      Oh, and what I think helped with getting the contract administration job is that the hiring manager was an attorney. I think it’s much easier explaining to attorneys why you don’t want to be one anymore. It’s been my experience that most are pretty sympathetic to the idea of getting out.

      1. Original Poster*

        Haha! They really are. Fingers crossed I run across a few hiring managers that were once attorneys.

  27. Stephanie*

    I don’t have a JD, OP, but I’m in sort of a similar position. I have an engineering degree and went to work in IP for a couple years (I originally thought I wanted to be a patent attorney until I realized I found the work dull and hated working under quotas/billables and dealing with screamy managers and clients). I originally was trying to apply to entry-level engineering roles, which didn’t work out (too far out of school). I’d say you’re going to have a tough time going into entry-level work since you’re not really entry-level. If you’re going to aim for entry-level roles, you’d probably need to network your way into those (so you can have someone vouch for why you’d want a demotion and that you wouldn’t be bored). For HR, I’d try the Society of Human Resources (SHRM).

    What I found helped was to talk about my transferable skills, versus completely dismissing the work experience (and to aim for early career roles versus entry-level). Unfortunately, I think there’s still some perception that law is much more glamorous and lucrative than it actually is, so it’ll be a bit tough to convince people you really want to leave law.

  28. JMegan*

    I just want to add some perspective on the length of your job hunt. I know two months can feel like forever, but most job searches I’ve seen lately have been in the area of a year or more. My most recent search, for a mid-level professional position, took eleven months; my boyfriend just finished a search for a retail management position that took seven months.

    Obviously these things vary wildly by geography, industry, profession, career level, and a dozen other things. And I certainly don’t mean to discourage you any further! But I do want to point out that that part, at least, is very normal, and in fact it would be pretty unusual to find the “right” job after only two months of searching.

  29. Joey*

    I’m assuming you didn’t practice labor law?
    You might try non attorney roles the legal offices of places that have in house labor lawyers. Large companies and local or state government come to mind. That will give you some hands on HR experience if you don’t otherwise have it.

  30. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Ah, the old “you’re overqualifed” mantra may be in play here.

    Everyone knows that things aren’t going well in the employment market for lawyers right now. One of the reasons the “you’re overqualified” card gets played by hiring managers is that they fear you’re just going to bide time until something better comes along – and since you have that J.D., you might take that admin job until you find a lawyer’s desk.

    Taking other work after law school is one thing – – but working as an attorney and doing something else may be viewed by a hiring entity – that you’re taking a hiatus from law for awhile.

      1. abby*

        Thank you so much for this. I get so tired of hearing people complain they did not get the job because they are “overqualified”, despite no previous experience doing the job. I heard that frequently from a co-worker at my present place of employment. As a former project manager, she used to complain about being overqualified as an administrative assistant. I was also an administrative assistant, with a lot of professional experience but none as an administrative assistant, so I would have to remind her that we were not over- qualified, but differently-qualified. Not sure she got that.

        By the way, I thought being an administrative assistant was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had to do. I took it thinking it would be easy and a foot in the door to my current organization. The foot in the door strategy worked, as I’ve since moved up, but it was hard work and mentally exhausting.

        1. JMegan*

          Yes. It also speaks really poorly to the work of admin assistants, which requires a lot of skills that a lot of people just don’t have. I think probably all of us have worked with both really fantastic admins and really terrible ones – which means that obviously there is a certain amount of skill involved. How many of us could organize a three-day meeting, with travel, for a hundred people? Many of us could learn to do it given enough time and practice, but how many of us could start organizing that meeting right now, today? If you can, great, then you have some of the skills needed to be an admin assistant. If you can’t, you probably have other skills, which is great. But it doesn’t make you *overqualified* for this position, regardless of where it sits on the org chart.

  31. LAI*

    I work in college student services and I’ve had a few colleagues who had law degrees. But I’ve also been on lots of hiring committees and I can tell you that Alison is right – you are not going to be as good a candidate as someone else who actually has work experience in college student services. I think your best option is to look specifically at job openings at law schools, or at closely related colleges/departments/programs like public policy, maybe political science or public relations, etc. Then you can sell your JD as a bonus, and not a detracting factor.

  32. Janis*

    I work with many “recovering attorneys” here. That’s their term, not mine, but it might apply to the OP since they all said more or less what she said. They wanted to have a life, not wear uncomfortable clothes, and not be stuck at the office waiting for some partner to sign one sheet of paper at 3:30 AM — only to find out he left at 10 PM and never told them. We hired many new-ish attorneys in the depth of the recession (2008-2010) and gave them work doing some legal processing. Yes, we got them cheap (but this is the DC area so nothing is really cheap here), but we offer them a steady job, benefits and a pretty flexible workplace. We’ve lost a couple to better opportunities that opened up for them, but most are still here. (And none of them are remotely materialistic — their school loan payments preclude anything like that, I’m afraid.)

    So people are hiring attorneys, but you may have to rethink the HR position … at least to start with. I don’t know where you live, but if in the DC area or any largeisg city, look into government contracting (not the federal government, where it is virtually impossible to get a job).

  33. I prefer to be anonymous*

    OP – I don’t have a JD, but I was in a similar situation and I actually succeeded at convincing an employer I wanted an entry level admin job. And I really believe I did. I left after four months. There were many reasons, unique to me, just as I realize your reasons are unique to you. But if I may offer unsolicited advice (and you certainly don’t have to even read it), I realized that my previous work experience in advertising was unique to the agency I was at and my managers. Not all advertising jobs are like that. I don’t know about law as I’m not trained in it, but I do like the suggestions of other posters to look at other higher-level positions that would still give you the work-life balance/work culture you’re looking for.

    Good luck. Please give us an update.

  34. EmR*

    Have you considered moving into a legal recruiting role – either at a law firm or a recruiting agency? It is very, very common for lawyers to make that kind of move, and while it requires a different skill set than an admin or HR person, it is still more collaborative and doesn’t have the same kind of hours as being a lawyer.

  35. Anon for this*

    I used to be an editor at a legal news website, and about half our staff was journalists, and the other half were former lawyers. There are legal publications based out of most large and midsize cities. A couple of major conglomerates to check out are and The Dolan Company — look at their extended network of sites, and see who has a publication in your city.

  36. Masters Degree Searcher*

    As someone with a JD too, I had the same challenges you did (and even more after I got my additional masters). But what helped me snag jobs at top-level policy institutions and otherwise was:
    -bachelor’s degree major (did you major in a high-demand field–ie) finance, health?)
    -internships (did you have past government/compelling internships/internship topics?)
    -interests (photography, toastmasters, editing, freelance writing?)

    I was able to tell prospective employers I was a highly-adept ‘jack of all trades’ with high-demand expertise (from my bachelor’s), internship experience (policy/government), and interests (advertisement, freelance photography, toastmasters, editing/writing).

    Jobs that might be good–editor roles, technical writer roles, contracts (with insurance provided), coordinator/program assistant roles in non-profit or for-profit policy institutions, and mid-GS roles in the government with many benefits and such.

    Hope this helps!

  37. Dawn88*

    What about a General Counsel job at a larger company? In real estate development, we always had one on board. Large insurance companies would be a possibility. Any type of investment industry always has General Counsels on the payroll. That way you get a 40 hour week.

    I started out years ago with a young lawyer my age (who hated to “practice law”), who went into commercial real estate development and acquisition, brought in his CPA pal, and the three of us put together 9 multi million office building acquisition deals. We got the deposit money by doing Partnership Agreements (using investor funding), and once we closed on the building, he’d be the Building Manager for a set monthly fee. He basically signed checks and did what he wanted, and I did the actual management and accounting, reporting to the CPA. After the 3rd building he opened 2 other on-site small offices and we hired more people.

    Huge money for much less work….provided you find a top notch Admin to run the show while you play golf. You get a chunk of the leasing commissions too….no small potatoes!

    1. Corporate Attorney*

      It is…extremely hard to get a role as a GC. Even small companies generally hire law firm partners (not ex-solo practitioners) for GC roles. Lower-level in-house counsel might be an option.

  38. Rocky*

    I don’t think anyone’s mentioned going into regulatory policy or government relations for a private company. Some good contenders would be pharmaceutical companies, energy or telco providers, or financial institutions, all of which have to deal with a fair amount of policy change in response to changing government regulations. This is one field I’d pursue if I had a law degree (I’m currently a government policy analyst). Would that interest you, OP?

  39. C3PO*

    Court administration seems like it would be a good fit — the person (say) helping to design state legal forms during court office hours is not exactly participating in the hectic lawyer lifestyle, but a law degree is necessary.

    On an unrelated note, I had not realized how many lawyers are entering HR. This really makes me hopeful about the field — HR has been suffering from brain drain for many years, since it is not considered part of the “management track”, and very little good academic research is being done in the field… to be frank, many businesses don’t even consider HR qualified to do the job of hiring managers, and half the time they are right. Anything that encourages talented people to invest in rehabilitating the HR skillset can only be a positive.

  40. Christy*

    I WAS YOU!

    I was a lawyer for five years, hated it, quit and raised children for ten years, then tried to find a job doing … I didn’t really know, other than not-a-lawyer.

    I was lucky to stumble into an internship program in a large corporation designed specifically to pull in people who had long career breaks. It let them take a chance on me, who didn’t fit in ANY standard hiring boxes.

    Look for similar programs if you can. I know has some resources. Search high and low for companies trying to boost diversity who might be open to nonstandard career histories.

    I agree that you may be aiming too low. I wound up making almost twice the salary I expected, and my position is not entry level.

    For what it’s worth you could seek out new fields where no one has education or much well defined experience. I wound up in IT security, where my skills are put to good use and no one has a degree in the subject anyway. My boss is also an ex-lawyer!

  41. voluptuousfire*

    Why not look into contract administrator or similar roles? I’ve seen those roles call for someone with a JD and having admin experience. That could be ideal: less stress, better hours and your JD isn’t in vain.

  42. Just Visiting*

    Coming from a similar-but-not-the-same situation (no JD, but I have an MA) all I can say is: don’t be afraid to come off a little weird. I recently landed my desired part-time job, and I got it by telling the truth at all levels. My resume is full of long stints at entry-level jobs (nothing less than two years), and I’m a published writer under my real name, so when you add this all together (and mix in some amazing references), it becomes clear that I’m not slumming or taking a desperation job, but doing the Harvey Pekar thing. Which is weird for sure, but isn’t a red flag in the way that having a lot of short stints at entry-level jobs would be, or if I didn’t have the Googleable “artist” cred to validate my story. I don’t ever pretend that I’m something I’m not and I am open about the fact that I only want a dayjob, not a career. Of course, there are managers who can’t imagine why anyone would want this kind of life path, so this is less about what you should do than searching for a kindred soul. It might be easier in certain parts of the country than others (I live in one of the best cities for people who want to live this way). Like, God help you if you live on the East Coast, but there are places more open to people with career tracks off the beaten path.

    I’m not sure if any of this is helpful in your situation, since you DID have a higher-level position (I have always refused promotion). But I also think that just like hiring managers can smell BS coming from a mile away, they can also tell brutal honesty when it walks in the door. Don’t shy away from it, embrace the weirdness of being a lawyer taking an entry-level job. Spin it to your advantage.

    1. De Minimis*

      But Harvey worked the same “flunky file clerk gig” for most of his working life!

      Love Pekar….

      I had to make a career transition too, from dead-end postal work to accounting, and I think it’s only now gotten to where I can say I’ve more or less succeeded. It took about six years, though a lot of that was due to the recession and also circumstance [location is a huge factor.]

      One of my problems was I had a higher level job to start out [Big 4 tax] but that wasn’t for me and I was let go after the first year. The problem was trying to find a lower level job after having what seemed like a fairly high level job on paper, and it was hard to convince employers for smaller companies that I wasn’t going to leave a staff accountant job to go back to public accounting. I ended up out of work for years, and was able to land a part-time bookkeeping job and ended up having to relocate to work at my current job [government accountant.] So it can be a hard transition, even in “marketable” fields like mine.

      My undergrad was in English so that too was a little odd, people tend to think that humanities people can’t do accounting.

  43. Marge*

    I know I’m late to the thread, but I recently made a big career switch, from a highly specialized analytical chemist to an entry-level accountant/auditor. I’ve been working in my entry-level position for about a year now, after almost 10 years as a chemist.

    Here’s how I did it:
    – I networked a lot. I started by contacting my family and friends. I put the word out about what I wanted to do, asked my contacts if they knew anyone in my desired field, and asked if they would be willing to set me up with an informational interview (coffee or by phone). I made a goal of one informational interview per week for one summer, and I met that goal. I made it clear that I wasn’t looking for a job at that point, just information (even though a job was the end goal several months down the road). This helped me learn how to talk to accountants/auditors, narrow down what I wanted to do, and to understand the skills would help me succeed in my new career. As an aside, you wouldn’t believe how many chemists I talked to who have switched to accounting. I’m sure you can find a lot of ‘recovering attorneys’ in administrative positions.
    – My cover letter had a whole paragraph addressing the switch head-on. “I most recently worked as [position] where I did x, y, z [tasks related to new job]. While at first, you might think that a move from chemistry to accounting is a big switch, I believe that my a, b, c skills will be highly transferable to a career in [new position/field].”
    – I downplayed my chemical background as much as possible on my resume, and used very generic language to describe my accomplishments in previous roles. I also did volunteer work that reinforced my stated interest in the new field (tax clinics etc.)
    – I did not get into my reasons for the switch in my application/resume/cover letter. The focus was always on what I was bringing to them, not why I was switching. This might be more difficult if your titles at previous positions are too specific (e.g. Attorney vs. legal analyst or legal specialist)
    – I had a 60 second ‘elevator pitch’ on my logic/reasons for the switch to use in interviews or when meeting new people. I kept it upbeat and positive. Still, of the people that I interviewed with, about 50% were suspicious of my motives for switching. This is just to be expected with a drastic move. The informational interviewing also helped me get the wording of my explanation down pat.

  44. Cheesecake*

    I have a colleague, who is actually a head of an HR dept. And i was quite shocked to find out she has a law degree. But she got a corporate layer job, worked there some time and transitioned to HR later. It was not easy and took time, but worked out at the end.

    So there is no easy solutions for your case, where you just get into admin tomorrow and settle. It is also because admin in your case is just a wrong path to choose. It was mentioned above that there are many other jobs where law would be a real asset. I myself once applied for a compliance job with experience in financial compliance, but they rather chosen a person without experience, but a law degree.

    And you seem so demotivated that you will just settle “with an admin role”.it sounds wrong on so many levels, also because looking at some our admins – it is darn stressful dead-end job that i with my degree and experience will suck at; organizing stuff all day will kill me. So don’t get fixed on admin. I think contracts mgmt will be so much better for you.

  45. Larisa*

    I’m not a lawyer, but I am desperately unhappy in my career path and am finding it very difficult to change. Once you have experience in something, that’s your ‘box’ and employers like to take people from the box. I hate hate hate insurance, yet I’m ‘Larisa the insurance girl’. It’s depressing.

  46. Yuu*

    OP, I think you should look at types of jobs within your field. There are plenty of jobs for attorneys that fit the bill. For instance, look for work with a government office and you are more likely to get regular hours, or look into working at an eDiscovery vendor.

    1. Fred*

      I absolutely agree with this comment. I’m a lawyer who works for the state and most of the time, our hours are 8 am to 5 pm. However, there are other state departments where the hours are always 8 am to 5 pm. Also, there are some agencies that will allow you to work less than full-time once you’re off probation.

      In my office, it’s easy to accommodate schedules for people who have young children. Also, because we’re not in litigation, we don’t have an adversarial role with other lawyers and clients. In my office we have 80 lawyers and about 60 support staff, so there are coworkers everywhere.

      I’m not sure why the OP didn’t look for a different type of legal job rather than pass on a career as a lawyer altogether.

  47. Stephen*

    Government is riddled with ex-lawyers and law school drop outs– enough of them that no one will wonder why you don’t want to practice (we know: the work is too boring to endure, you want to go home at the end of the day, and you’re sick of working with goddamn lawyers all day) . You certainly don’t need a law degree to be a policy analyst or program manager in the public service, but hiring managers do associate them with the skills you mention and the ability to, for example, read a statute is always relevant.

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