Q: I am a junior associate (about 2 years) at a large, or rather midsized New York firm (over 150 lawyers). I am an excellent creative writer, having published opinion pieces etc. and I am looking to make a career change - to a more "creative" career. Some initial thoughts have tended towards marketing or public relations. How feasible is this, what kind of time frame (I'd like to do it within 4-6 weeks) and what kind of salary cut am I looking at (I still have student loans)?
A: Many big firm lawyers are in search of an alternative legal career that allows them to use their creativity. Many lawyers, like you, are good writers and would like to use their writing skills in a creative arena. The good news is that those skills are very transferable to non-legal careers. I have known many, many lawyers to successfully make that transition. The bad news is that you will most likely be taking a major salary cut of up to fifty percent, or more. So the choice comes down to figuring out how to make ends meet, or paying off your loans while practicing; always keeping your long-term goal in sight.
You should also have a clear sense of your priorities and motivations. If you haven't thought your transition through you could derail your legal career and find yourself unhappy in a new one. This might not seem like a serious problem, but given the financial difference in the fields can mean that you have fewer resources to explore creative solutions to an employment conundrum.
Although you may take a large salary cut initially, as you move up in your new profession you can make more quickly. One lawyer I know who switched from law to legal advertising started as a copywriter and is now an associate creative director. While you are making the transition and doing your research, you should get involved in the association that people in your new industry join-whatever the equivalent of the American Bar Association is in that field. Associations are a wealth of information, networking opportunities, and often actual job listings.
Finally, your time frame of 4-6 weeks may be a little bit too hasty. Most job transitions of this type take a couple of months, depending on your transferable skills. But it will probably be worth the wait! In any event, even if you could locate a position in a new career within such a short time span you could miss the opportunity to get a better understanding of the career you are entering, the different roles you might play within that career, and where you can get the best start to ensure that you are doing something you truly enjoy. Haste makes waste, as they say, and you should view the time it takes to locate and secure a job as an opportunity to gather as much information as you can. This will help ensure that your transition is successful and puts you on the right path for job satisfaction and financial stability.