Identifying your transferable skills, and how to use them as a lawyer
Switching career? Here's how to utilise the skills you've acquired so far in your law career.
Don’t assume you’re at a disadvantage transitioning into a legal career from some other career After all, previous work experience allowed you to develop broad work skills that are common to all areas of endeavour. The general skills you picked up might include, for example:
- communication skills
- negotiation skills
- time-management skills
- problem-solving skills
In addition to these broad-based skills, if your previous career bears some relationship to a popular area of legal practice such as business, intellectual property or clinical negligence, you may have some specific skills to offer that none of your legal colleagues can match.
Business to law
Many of the most lucrative areas of legal specialisation lie in the realm of business law, and the demand for business lawyers fuels much of the job growth in the legal profession as a whole. As a lawyer with a prior business background, you will enjoy several advantages that your more traditional peers are likely to lack, including:
A network of business contacts: it might be more appropriate to re-christen your network of business contacts as your “network of potential future clients for the firm”. Few junior lawyers can offer this benefit to their employer. Of course, simply “having a network of contacts” hardly qualifies as a skill. Skill at making and cultivating contacts, however, will benefit you throughout your career, especially if you aspire to make partner someday.
Commercial awareness: this is a general understanding of the business background of a case that transcends mere knowledge of the law. It gives you the ability to reach a practical business solution to a client’s problem, rather than a textbook “lawyer’s solution” that works on paper but ignores the client’s broader concerns.
Transactional experience: if you have transactional experience and you transition to some form of transactional business law such as mergers & acquisitions or corporate finance, the work may seem rather familiar to you right from the start. Although you may have never, for example, drafted an M&A agreement, you may be familiar with the issues and risks involved, which not only gives you a head start but also might endow you with an intuitive “business sense” that many of your colleagues may lack.
Suitability for an in-house counsel position: in-house counsel positions, in which you’re employed by the legal department of a company rather than by a law firm, are highly sought after, particularly by burned-out lawyers in mid-career. Many of these positions pay well yet routinely allow 40-hour work weeks. Some of the more senior positions with Fortune 500 companies pay extremely well.
Science/engineering/mathematics to law
A science, engineering or mathematics degree can help you prepare to become a patent lawyer. Patent lawyers are generally expected to possess a technical degree, and they must pass a series of exams. While technical knowledge alone will not be enough to allow you to pass these exams, they will give you an advantage. You will also enjoy an advantage in patent practice if you specialised in a particular field such as biotechnology or electrical engineering.
If your work involved software programming, you may be ideally suited to work with cases involving the copyrights that attach to computer-software code. Environmental law is another area of law that favours a scientific or engineering background, and some subfields of financial markets law are quite friendly to lawyers with mathematics backgrounds. An engineering background might also qualify you for work in the products liability section of a large personal-injury law firm.
Medicine to law
A medical background can help prepare you for a career as a clinical-negligence lawyer. Clinical-negligence lawsuits often involve large amounts of money, and plaintiff’s lawyers take home a set percentage of any recovery obtained. Clinical-negligence defence lawyers are also highly paid and well-respected. A medical background might also help you in products liability lawsuits involving defective drugs or medical devices.
Transitioning into law from other careers
While a career as a plumber might not provide you with any specific knowledge that will benefit you in any particular field of law, many careers other than the ones mentioned above do require general or specific skills that are potentially transferable to various areas of legal practice. A background in entertainment, real-estate construction, journalism, insurance or government, for example, can provide you with experience that a legal employer is likely to find useful.