Transitioning to a Writing Career

So you’re convinced you would rather write for a living, even if it means working for relative peanuts, than practice law another day. But while you like writing, you never went to journalism school, and you’ve never been published. Don’t fret. You can still make your way into writing for a living.

If you want a job in publishing, you will have to have some writing samples that aren’t legal briefs or memos. These samples are known as clips. Clips are your proof that someone besides your parents think your writing doesn’t stink. Clips count whether or not you got paid for the work.

So, step 1 is: get some stuff published. But how? The easiest way for most practicing lawyers to accomplish this is to write an article for a legal publication. Client alerts written for your firm can count, if they haven’t been too overedited and generally adulterated by partners. By that, I mean that the partners haven’t made them worse, not that you have to draft every last word.

No editor expects that your work will be published without some editing; it’s OK if only 50% of your article was written by you, as long as you are up front about that. I got my first job in publishing on the strength of my only real clip, an article I wrote with a partner for the local legal rag. I hated, hated, hated the way the partner had changed my gorgeous lede into complete crap, so when I sent in the clip I went through and marked which paragraphs were mine. Hey, it worked.

Along with client alerts, other potential sources of easy clips are

  • articles for your local legal rag,
  • articles for bar journals, and
  • articles for specialty publications in your practice area

You do NOT need to be a partner to get an article published in your practice area. The less legal experience you have, though, the better your writing will need to be.

You can also get published on web sites and in local publications dedicated to topics that interest you. Most of those places expect to pay their writers nothing, or so little it’s insulting to professional writers trying to pay the mortgage or buy groceries. Since you don’t need to do either of those things by writing an article, you will have less competition getting published and can gain a clip.

I’ll do a brain dump soon on how to write these articles, and another one on how to find editors and get them interested in your article.