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Non-Traditional Career Options for Lawyers

A non-traditional career may be the best option for those looking to leave the legal field. How do you get started on this endeavor, and what are examples of this kind of job?

What Are Some Career Options for Lawyers Thinking About Leaving Law?

Q: Could you suggest some non-traditional careers/professions/jobs for a lawyer who is thinking about leaving law?

A: In general, the three books mentioned in the article below would be good resources for identifying alternative careers for lawyers. I'm not really sure what you mean by non-traditional careers, but I'm certain you'll find many choices to consider in these publications.

In determining your next career move it's important to look at your preferences in at least 4 key areas; interests, skills, personality, and values (what contribution would you like to make to society through your work? Or, what purpose would you like your work to serve?). Once this personal data is generated, then one can brainstorm related career options. This process can be facilitated by a career counselor and as I mentioned above, perhaps one that specializes in working with lawyers.

Think of your career decision as being like any other decision. It's only going to be as good as the information you have to base it upon. In career decision-making, that information falls into two categories, information about yourself (the 4 key areas) and related career information. Do the research and you'll enhance the possibility of making an appropriate choice for yourself no matter how traditional or non-traditional it may seem.

Pursuing a Higher Education Teaching Career

Q: I am a mid-level associate at a major Chicago law firm and I am considering whether to pursue a different career path. For instance, I have thought about teaching at the college or law school level. My primary problem is that I do not know how to start pursuing such opportunities. Do you have any thoughts?

A: One way to break into the higher education teaching area is to start off teaching part-time. Many community colleges, colleges and universities look to their part-timers when a full-time opening becomes available. The reason is that these are known vs. unknown quantities - so to speak. The city of Chicago and the surrounding area has many community colleges where part-time opportunities may exist and they often pay better than their four year counterparts.

You might want to review catalogs of related colleges and law schools to see which courses you have an expertise in, thus making you a viable candidate. I would then suggest approaching department heads directly (whether it's political science, criminal justice, sociology, related areas of law schools or others) and inquiring about the possibility of part-time instructor positions. Since schools handle this differently you may also want to send a resume to their Personnel Office which often sends them on to related departments. Don't be surprised to learn that even these part-time positions can be highly competitive.

The advantage of starting out as a part-timer is you get a chance to test out your interest without leaving your current position, rather than making a big plunge into somewhat unchartered territory. Sources for available jobs include the Chronicle of Higher Education, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC),, and once you identify subject areas of interest there are specific journals and additional web sites you'll be able to identify tailored to those areas.

Personally I find college level instruction very rewarding and satisfying - best of luck in possibly experiencing similar results.

How to Find the Path to Becoming a Criminal Investigator

Q: I am currently a paralegal at a small firm. I have an associate's degree in Business Science concentrating in paralegal studies. My career goal is to become a criminal investigator eventually. I've been trying to find sort of a path that I can follow to get where I want to be. My question: Is there any tips or specific routes that you can tell me to get to where I would like to be?

A: One can do criminal investigations as a private investigator, detective with municipal or state police or working for one of the numerous federal agencies.

Most private investigators have previous experience that can range from insurance or collection companies to private security industry to law enforcement, military, government agency and related investigative positions. The majority of States require private detectives and investigators to be licensed and additional requirements vary widely. No formal education is required for most private detective and investigative jobs although a college degree is becoming more common. The primary traits employers are looking for are experience in related fields and an appropriate temperament. Most private investigators are employed by small, local firms look in your area for agencies to contact to gather further information. Additional resources are the World Association of Detectives and the National Association of Investigative Specialists.

Civil service regulations govern the appointment of police and detectives in almost all States and large cities. To reach the level of detective/criminal investigator one must work up through the ranks. Probationary periods can range from 6 months to 3 years before one is eligible for promotion. Contact your local agencies for further information.

For federal government positions one must be at least 21-37 years of age, take physical and written exams and typically have a college degree. Contact the following federal agencies for their specific requirements with regard to criminal investigative positions.


M.P. Lee's book, 100 Best Careers in Crime Fighting, Law Enforcement, Criminal Justice, Private Security and Cyberspace Crime Detection (IDG Book Worldwide), seems comprehensive and thus worth taking a look at for further information.

Starting a Public Speaking Career

Q: I am a lawyer in solo practice with a business and commercial litigation focus. I also author a monthly column on law and the Internet. I am interested in developing a new or parallel career in public speaking to business groups. What are the hazards of starting this kind of venture? Is there serious money to be made?

A: Public speaking has become big business in the United States. Good (but not famous) convention speakers earn between $1,500 and $5,000 for a keynote address or workshop. It's a very competitive field, though, as more and more professionals reach the point in their careers where they yearn both for the spotlight and to pass their knowledge on to others.

As a practicing lawyer, you'll face some special challenges in developing a lucrative speaking practice. First, many of your colleagues are willing to offer their speaking services without a fee as a marketing tool or bonus to loyal clients. Second, businesses that do pay for presentations on legal topics generally turn to the law firms that represent them for speakers.

Your law and the Internet expertise, though, combined with a good speaking style, may be your ticket into national conventions as a plenary or breakout speaker. But you'll need to create a track record first by speaking at least a dozen times without compensation and receiving glowing endorsements from your sponsors. For more tips about developing a speaking practice, look at the National Speakers Association website, and their excellent monthly magazine, Professional Speaker.

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