Because life does not come with GPS, research is a critical component of an alternative career search because it helps create your roadmap.
There are three key research tasks: (1) define your terms; (2) learn about other jobs; and (3) explore the information you have gathered.
Research Task 1: Define traditional, non-traditional, and true alternative legal careers.
Traditional Legal Career
Traditional legal careers require a JD and bar membership, and are often titled lawyer,attorney or counsel. Post-JD judicial clerks are in this category.
Non-traditional Legal Career
In a non-traditional career, a JD may be desired but not required. Often careful reading of a job description appears to require legal training or years of experience in the job as a substitute.
For example, a posting for an HR Director made no mention of JD, but it included this: Specialized training in employment law, compensation, organizational planning, organization development, employee relations, safety, training, and preventive labor relations, preferred. While these requirements sound legal, candidates with degrees in human resources development, personnel, industrial relations and labor relations can have this experience.
Some non-traditional career paths for lawyers are:
Bar Association management
Board of Education staff
Court TV or on-air reporter
Dependent care consultant
Headhunter for lawyers
Health care administration
Jury selection consultant
Law firm marketing
Litigation support manager
Non-profit executive director
Risk management administrator
True Alternative Career
I distinguish non-traditional and true alternative careers because a true alternative career is intensely personal and tailored by chance or by design for a specific individual. Never be surprised to hear that vision, commitment, sacrifice, and luck brought a law-trained person into a job that was (a) not posted, (b) had no JD in the requirements, and (c) was a fulfillment of a life-long dream.
Research Task 2: Learn about other jobs.
If the last time you thought critically about a career path was in high school and you are unsure where to begin, go back to your undergraduate career services office. One of your key questions is what do people do all day? Those professionals are used to working with candidates whose eyes are wide open and who are eager for information.
As you begin to process this information, combining your legal work experience and answers to some of the self-assessment questions (Step 1), should help you eliminate a lot of paths out of hand.
Research Task 3: What kind of research?
Google is your friend. Follow relevant news. Find websites for professional organizations. Follow relevant topics on linkedin. Join LinkedIn groups. Every professional and business imaginable has a cadre of bloggers and twitterers. Find them. Follow them. Learn from them. Check for professionals in the news. Read carefully and critically.
Tomorrow: Purposeful and serendipitous networking for alternative careers (Step 3)