What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You (and your job search)

I remember when I was figurin’ on how to leave law. I made a ton of assumptions about what different jobs would be like. In my defense, blogs were gleam in only a very few lawyers’ eyes at the time, and it was hard to get the kind of gossipy inside dirt you can now. But still.

Let’s take looking for a job as in-house counsel. Before the job search that ultimately took me out of law, I was a miserable 3rd-year BigLaw associate, and so of course I talked to a headhunter. She informed me that there weren’t many in-house counsel jobs at all in the DC area. This conversation was in the mid-1990s.

So four years later when I was exploring options, did I seriously consider in-house counsel? Hell no. Partly, for the very good reason that I really did not want to practice law any longer. But also, because I believed that silly headhunter, and furthermore did not bother to try to update her mistaken info. (There are TONS of in-house jobs in DC, btw: check out the 1,500-member Washington Metropolitan Area Corporate Counsel Association, or other chapter pages on ACC’s website.)

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot out of ignorance. Check out blogs by lawyers (they’re more fun than billable work anyway), and better yet, get yourself out of the office once or twice a month for a professional activity. Not a client development thing, but somewhere you can meet people who are either doing something you are considering, or where people know people who are doing that thing.

But how? You ask. I don’t know anyone who is [whatever].

Oh come now. Don’t forget Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Plus year-end alumni activities (I don’t care if you hated law school, go anyway). Scour your local business journal — not the legal rag, but say Crain’s Chicago Business or Washington Business Journal or whatever is the big one for your area. Check out their calendar of events. Pick out one per month that looks at least mildly interesting. Then, take the plunge and go.

If you are really and truly determined to get out of practicing law, you’ll need to be more creative. Pursue the things that truly interest you. I met one of my best professional acquaintances through a tassel-making class. We met up again serendipitously at a sort of trade show/cocktail hour a year later, and eventually I got several writing assignments from her. (Talk about a coincidence that paid off!)

Bottom line: Take off your blinders. Don’t assume you know all about an option you’re ready to write off. Make sure you’ve done your homework and actually spoken with a few people. Remember the silly headhunter who didn’t know about the 1,000+ in-house jobs in DC.

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