The brave new (legal) world: Tips for alternative legal careers

  • February 02, 2018
  • Candice Ashley Pollack

As a student who decided to pursue a legal education as a course for obtaining a career in human rights advocacy, I left law school feeling convinced that I did not want to be a lawyer. My law school did a great job of opening doors for students at small, medium, and large law firms, but it had a minimal focus on identifying employment opportunities for students seeking alternative legal careers. I was left with the impression that being a lawyer meant either working in a law firm or working in the Attorney General’s office, and I know many others graduated law school feeling the same way. 

Fast forward three years and I have had some incredible opportunities to craft meaningful work experiences for myself outside of the law firm paradigm. From drafting provincial strategies for the implementation of children’s rights, to building operational policies and practices for non-profit organizations, my career has been anything but traditional. I have learned that being a lawyer does not have to mean being an employee of a law firm. Alternative opportunities are out there but I’ll warn you – you have to be willing to look really hard for them.

Here are a few tips on pursuing non-traditional legal jobs based on the lessons I’ve learned so far:

TIP 1: Get involved in the things you care about

I know that almost all law students and young lawyers are engaged in some form of volunteerism (I could go on and on about the personal and professional benefits of community engagement), but my first tip for finding alternative legal careers is to volunteer in initiatives that are (a) related to an issue you are passionate about, and (b) outside of your law faculty or current firm.

We often volunteer for things that are easily accessible to us instead of the things that we are really passionate about. Law schools have myriad clubs and societies to join, and some law firms have a form of corporate social responsibility strategy that their associates can contribute to. However, seeking out volunteer positions with organizations or initiatives that you are passionate about and that are external to your existing network can open doors you did not know were there.

TIP 2: Diversify your professional network

Set yourself up with a large and diverse professional network. As young lawyers, we tend to stick to our own crowd; we take part in mostly law-related activities, attend social events designed for lawyers to network amongst themselves, and limit our opportunities to give back to those which include an element of legal skills development. Keep doing these things (they’re good for you!), but don’t draw the line there. 

You probably won’t find an alternative legal career if you are looking for it in traditional legal circles. Try to think outside of the proverbial box and build meaningful relationships with people in other fields that you are interested in. Diversifying your network to include non-legal professionals will give you insights and connections that can lead to new and exciting employment prospects.

TIP 3: Be open-minded

Apply for non-legal jobs. This may seem counter-intuitive to the purpose of this article, but the point I am trying to make is that your legal skills are an asset to any organization. Remember, the law underpins, informs, shapes, and influences every field of work in some way or another. Keeping an open mind in your job search and building the case for hiring a lawyer during your interview is a good way to design your alternative legal career. While it may not be seeking a lawyer, the organization you have applied to might be interested in re-crafting their job description to bring you on board and take advantage of all that you have to offer.

These are tips, not foolproof methods of starting an alternative legal career. They are meant to get you to start thinking about ways to generate new and exciting opportunities. The legal profession is changing; as young lawyers, we have to adapt to our evolving field and change the way we seek employment from going out and getting what we want, to going out and creating it.

Candice Ashley Pollack is the KASE Manager for AGE-WELL’s APPTA National Innovation Hub in Fredericton.