When Deborah Aaron wrote Running From the Law (Decision Books, 1989), alternative careers were exit strategies. As the recently-named Assistant Dean for Career Services at DePaul University College of Law William Chamberlain reminded us so eloquently in the National Law Journal, in these turbulent economic times, an alternative career is becoming a primary goal. Both career services professionals and law students need to be ready to look at a new range of options.
This is the first in a series of blog posts which will shed light on alternative career paths carved out by graduates since 2007, including the strategies and tactics that they have used successfully, and the advice they offer to prospective and current law students.
Hamline University School of Law
JD 2012 Computer Security
After completing undergraduate studies at Iowa State which included a concentration in Information Assurance, Michael went to work in information technology, ultimately becoming a project manager and systems administrator. Time passed, and he knew that he needed a change.
Why law school?
He decided to go to law school because he “felt stuck in my career path, and wanted to move deeper into the business side of technology, rather than continuing to specialize in the nuts and bolts.”
He considered, but ruled out an MBA “because I thought they were ubiquitous, and probably would not provide the spark I wanted for my career. People with both technology and legal skills are rare, so I chose law school.”
He saw “law school as a means to learn more about business strategy, and to move away from the execution-level roles” that he had served in since graduation. He knew that he wanted to leverage his education and experience, but had no clear idea of how he might do it or where he might work.
Law firms not an option
He learned quickly that law firms were behind the times in terms of computer security, and he was told that it was unlikely that he would find a satisfying role as a pioneer in persuading partners to get on board. He then targeted non-traditional careers, in-house counsel, and patent law as possible career paths.
Finding his people
Diligently following a path to create connections, he went to a computer security conference when he was 2L. There were no lawyers at the conference, and he was the only law student. It was a strange experience, and he said that it “felt like a waste.” Many of the people he met had trouble understanding why he was there. A few took his card, promised to call, and never did. He did meet one person from Deloitte, and that meeting later made all the difference.
In the real world, a first meeting is never a “you’ve got a job” meeting. It took time, and Michael spent many months meeting and having coffee with two new lawyers each week, networking with Twin Cities’ professionals, and learning about the intersection of law, business, and computer security. No job offers were forthcoming.
Running toward something
At an early meeting with a Deloitte professional, he asked whether the firm hired lawyers. “Yes,” was the reply, but because his contact wasn’t in the legal department, the discussion turned to paths that were more related to Michael’s skills and interests. Instead of running from the law, Michael found that Deloitte’s Professional Services Section was something that he could run toward. He was offered a full time job shortly after graduating from Hamline Law School in May 2012.
He will be working on privacy and data security projects with high profile clients, relying on legal and technical skills to assess technology risks, and to design strategies to solve for those risks.
What is the future for his combined disciplines?
The technology is the cutting edge, and “the law either doesn’t keep up or reacts slowly.” This is an open field, with governments and companies unsure of what to do, and “[untrained] lawyers getting it wrong.” Coming to this work with his IT background and legal education, Michael offers a set of unique skills in his industry.
His advice to current and prospective law students:
1. Do some work before going to law school. Get a skill that will differentiate you from all other law students. “Have a job that brands you. There is a difference between a computer user and an IT expert.”
2. After getting an interview, “You really have to make the case for why a JD is valuable.” To an untutored interviewer, your JD “…means you want more money than an undergraduate.” While you may be smart and work hard, without clearly explaining the JD’s added value for a particular employer, an interviewer will always think that an undergraduate can be paid less for the same work.
3. The key to this process, he says, is “Networking, finding an ‘in,’ and then finding someone to advocate for you.” Going to the computer security conference was the first step on his path.
Related job titles and functions
Chief privacy officer, chief information officer, computer forensics specialist; cryptography, intrusion detection and prevention, database application security, security policy implementation, and risk management.
Some other schools offering “Information Assurance” programs