You know what feels like a crazy idea? Moving into a non-legal career after spending five years as a lawyer and almost $200,000 on law school. But I did just that. It was scary, exciting, and filled with the thing I hate the most–the unknown–but I came out the other side with a job I love and a new career track that felt right for me. 30 might seem young to some, but after seven years in higher education, it felt like a huge step backward in my career. In hindsight, it was more of a side step, but it was the best move I could have made. Below is a rundown of the dirty details of my career change.
I had a stable job practicing corporate and securities law. It was exactly what I had set out to do when I started down the legal path. In a time where attorney employment rates were the lowest they had been since the mid-1980s, why wouldn’t I just thank my lucky stars that I had a good(ish) job and keep chugging along? A lot of reasons. But here are a few:
- The Billable Hour. This was the thing I hated most about my job. As a child of entrepreneurs, I couldn’t understand how billable hours were still a thing. They basically reward inefficiency, and they tortured me daily. I wanted to be productive, to provide quality content for my clients and excellent customer service. But billable hours sucked the life out of me, and I just couldn’t keep going with the hope that I’d eventually land in house or otherwise in a non-billable environment.
- A Young Family. Managing a full-time work schedule is tough as is, but after coming back from maternity leave and feeling the pressure of needing to bill more hours to get on the partner track while functioning on little sleep and trying to pump four times a day, it just became unmanageable.
- A Fundamental Unhappiness. I don’t know if it was the firm, the work, or the lifestyle. Maybe it was a little bit of everything. But as early as six months into law school(!!) I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this wasn’t for me. The longer I stayed, the more excuses I made–I have a rapport here, I invested so much time and money, this is part of the “hazing” until I can get into a more comfortable position. But ultimately, I wasn’t happy.
There was a lot of soul-searching. And a lot of research. At the outset, I randomly applied to any job that seemed interesting. I tailored every resume and cover letter to the job, but as you might guess, it’s hard to convince someone blindly that a corporate lawyer wants to take an entry-level job in another industry. Out of about 150 jobs I applied to, I got three interviews and one job offer, which I didn’t take. I knew I had to narrow my plan if I wanted to make a move.
- Choosing an Industry. I had worked with a lot of different industries during my time as an attorney, and I also had my real estate license, so I mulled around the different experiences I had and landed on real estate as my industry of choice. It married a lot of my strengths and interests. At the suggestion of my brother, who worked in the industry, I met with a property manager, and found that this was the perfect job for my skills and interests.
- Priorities. I chose five things that were most important to me at the time. I still keep this method now when evaluating potential career moves. At the time, the things that were most important to me, in order of importance, were as follows:
- A positive work environment.
- An intellectually challenging job.
- Career growth opportunities.
- A good salary.
- A reputable company.
- Reaching Out to Contacts. My story is truly one of serendipity. When I first left law school, I met with a family friend who worked in leasing for a large commercial real estate brokerage. We talked about joining the leasing team, but they were paid commission only and I just couldn’t risk the ramp up time with my student loan obligations. When I had landed on a particular company I wanted to work for, I searched LinkedIn to see if I knew anyone there. Turns out, the year prior, my family friend had moved to the company I wanted in with. I emailed him asking for a meeting to hear about his experience and whether we could talk about where I might fit within the company. As luck would have it, the operations team was mid-restructure, and he forwarded my resume to the VP of Operations. Within a month, I interviewed and landed a position. It absolutely made a difference that a VP was referring me for the job. I don’t know that I would have been considered if I had simply submitted my resume. I needed the contact to get my foot in the door.
The Where to From Here
The story doesn’t end with my acceptance of that offer. It has been three years now, and I’ve recently moved into a different division of the company. I was very happy where I was in the company, but an exciting promotion became available that could offer even greater growth opportunities and a chance to learn a whole new asset type, so I jumped on it.
I am constantly evaluating where I am and where I want to be. My law license remains active and I stay updated on corporate law topics. A career move is an expansion of skills and experience, rather than a closing of one set and opening of another. I still get weekly emails from LinkedIn about job opportunities, and despite not being interested in making a move, it’s important to know what’s out there. After all, you never know when the next exciting opportunity can come up.