Alternative Careers for Attorneys

alternatives-to-attorneyBy Emily Wood Smith, J.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies at American Public University

When I began law school, I didn’t know the precise area of law I would eventually work in, but I planned to have what I considered to be a typical attorney career: working as an associate at a law firm before slowly moving up and eventually becoming a partner.

As we all know, life does not always work out the way we think it will, and I am no exception! After law school, I moved across the country from Alabama to California with my new Navy husband to his new station at China Lake, Calif. With debt from law school hanging over my head, I searched for jobs on base. The town where we lived was rather small and I thought it very unlikely that I could find full-time work as an attorney, especially since I was so new to the area.

During my job search, I learned that the Navy base had a civilian legal department, but they had not hired a attorney in about six years. There were no new upcoming legal job openings either. This information was discouraging, but I was determined to find a job before my loan deferment period of six months passed. I continued looking for any other type of position for which I was qualified.

Eventually, I learned that the contracts department needed contract specialists. I had never heard of a contract specialist, but I sent in my resume anyway and was eventually hired. One does not need a law degree to work as a contact specialist with the federal government. At the time I was hired, potential employees had to show they had completed 20 hours in business or legal courses. As a law school graduate, I met these criteria. I was even able to negotiate for a higher salary because of my law degree.

My husband and I have now moved back to Alabama and I opened my own law practice with my father, who is a retired judge. Our law firm is Web-based, which reduces our overhead, and we are able to pass our reduced costs on to our clients. We serve clients throughout the state of Alabama. Our primary practice area is estate planning. Even though I now practice law in the traditional sense, we use what many lawyers consider alternative methods (the Internet) to deliver our services.

If you pursue a career as a lawyer or a paralegal, keep in mind that the legal field is changing greatly due to the economy and technology. Keeping an open mind about employment opportunities and being willing to pursue alternative career paths may lead to a more fulfilling professional life than you imagined. I have been very happy with the twists and turns in my professional life, but I would have never predicted in law school that I would be where I am today.

About the Author:

Emily Smith, J.D., is a member of Wood & Smith Legal Services, LLC, a web-based law firm offering online unbundled legal services in Alabama.  In additional to practicing law, Emily teaches legal studies as an adjunct instructor.  She is particularly interested in technology’s impact on the legal field.

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