From Traditional Practice to Contract Attorney


If you want to leave the traditional practice of law, you are not alone. The problem is that it often feels like it is impossible to get hired in a non-law job once you have that law degree.  We are stereotyped into the roles that we carve out through education or profession. The types of jobs often suggested--compliance, contract administration, and regulation--sound good, but my experience is that it isn't easy to land those jobs. But you have skills that are marketable and you can leave law sooner than later by working as an independent contractor. Contract work may be your way out of law! It could lead to the start of your own business, the pathway to full-time employment and a means of making a fairly decent full-time income (especially if you can land the right gig).  

There are several elements that you must put into place to find contract work. You must identify your skills and identify what each skill means, functionally. The idea is to determine how to best market yourself. That involves two layers of analysis to break those skills we commonly identify on our resumes, down into descriptive phrases to pull out the discrete skills you don't initially think of.  

Here is a breakdown of those steps you’ll need to take when deciding to transition out of the traditional practice of law:

1) Specifically Identify Your Skills:

Make a list of all the skills you have:  Start broadly and then articulate what each skill actually involves.

List everything you know how to do: Were you a secretary, an engineer, or a waitress before law school? Do not neglect to list skills in any area, even those that are not law related or seem menial. You never know what skills might prove lucrative.

Define your skills: Look for adjectives to describe the actual work involved with each skill. For example: legal research and writing requires skills in investigation, issue spotting, and rule application. In breaking those down even further, you’re able to get at the heart of what you really know: it requires technical, persuasive, and creative writing skills.

The more you articulate your skills into precise definitions of your capabilities, the better you will be able to market yourself and find contract work.

2) Be Open To A Variety of Contract Opportunities:

Keep an open mind when searching for contract opportunities: Search for positions that can best use the skills you have. I was not ashamed to take on a role focused on legal transcription contracts because it allowed me to make good money while seeking research and writing contracts.  

Don't get stuck looking for jobs in predefined areas. Be open to contract opportunities that you might not have initially considered.

Don't discount document review: There is nothing wrong with doing a little document review here and there. You may find it a completely satisfying and a reasonable choice with better work-life balance.

Don't assume that document review is the only option for contract work. There are tons of options for contract work. If you have a particular practice area or skill, chances are someone will pay you for you for your knowledge and time.

3) Market Yourself:

Reach out to colleagues and others that you trust when you are planning to make the leap away from law. Let them know what you are planning to do and what kind of contract work you would like to dive into. Those people are going to be valuable resources who can give you leads on open positions.  

Join a network such as Hire an Esquire. Hire an Esquire is designed for legal professionals like us who are seeking opportunities outside of the traditional practice of law. They thoroughly vet candidates and provide you with meaningful contract opportunities that use the exact skills you have as a legal professional.  

Paid sites like curate flexible positions including many contract positions. There is a legal section for those that want to look for positions that use specifically legal skills.

Attend networking events: Continue to attend bar association committee meetings if your target client is other attorneys. There’s no harm in introducing yourself and collecting a few business cards.

Start a blog: It's inexpensive to buy a domain name and get hosting for a WordPress site through a shared hosting company like I'm not suggesting that you advertise your services necessarily (although you can). Write articles and let people know who you are to create an opportunity to demonstrate how knowledgeable you are. This is a good way to gain recognition as a subject expert and helps earn credibility when you are seeking contracts.

Overall, if you are truly unhappy practicing law, you must let go of fear, ego, and the perceived expectations that hold you back from leaving. There is an untapped industry of contract work out there.  

You’re a lawyer, so you already know how to do the research. Now it’s time to make the effort to find contract opportunities. If you had the ability to get through law school, pass a bar exam, and work as a lawyer to any extent, you definitely have the skills to find meaningful contract work that suits you better.  

You should view contract work as a way to make an immediate transition out of traditional law, that can result in building your own business or connecting with future full-time employment. Contract work can sometimes be done out of your own home, which is attractive to many of us who are trying to achieve work-life balance.

Step outside the rigid structure of the traditional practice of law and look to the world of contract work. You may find a very satisfying way to carve out a new career path for yourself.

Jessica Lynch Mackner was a legal secretary and paralegal prior to law school. She studied law at Rutgers University School of Law in Camden, New Jersey and graduated in 2011. She is licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Jessica recently transitioned out of the full-time practice of law and is now working as a contractor transcribing digital audio of court proceedings while seeking brief writing and other writing contracts.