The Reverse Look-up Approach to Alternative Legal Careers

Lawyers (like most people), approach their search for a new career like this: Here are my skills. What jobs do they match that I might find interesting/ tolerable/ better than this stinking job I have now? In other words, they try to find a way to fit themselves into an existing job box.

couple with brown boxes on heads
Fitting yourself into the job box first might lead to painted-on smiles.

And that approach can definitely get you a job. It might even be a half-way decent fit. But it also might not be the right job for you, and sooner rather than later you’re doing the same dance again.

Trying to fit into an existing box first, before figuring out what’s important to you in your work, is a bass-ackwards approach to finding an alternative legal career if you don’t like what you’re doing now and don’t want to do more of the same.

By looking first at the existing boxes, and only after that at what you’ve done that can help you fit in that box, you’ve already given away the biggest key to job happiness: focusing on what you actually need and want from a job. (Let’s just assume that all jobs pay something, and not worry about how much for now, OK?)

What’s in That Ideal Job?

Instead, make a list of the things that are important in your ideal job.

  • Maybe it’s an opportunity to teach in some way. Teaching can be creating training materials, or educating people about your organization’s work, or lots of other things. Think broadly.
  • Maybe it’s collaboration, working to make a cool new product that is truly useful to people, or working to solve an important problem.
  • Maybe it’s exploration, or adventure, or being curious about new things.
  • Maybe it’s writing something that tells a story. The story of struggle behind an issue, the story of triumph against the odds, the story of news and events. There are lots of places where stories need telling, not just in jobs with the title of writer or reporter.
  • Maybe it’s interacting with people directly, rather than chiefly via email or phone.
  • Maybe it’s being outside, or in the field or factory.

Be honest with yourself about your likes and dislikes about work. That is one way you can embrace who you really are. It’s OK that you don’t want to work even 50 hours a week. Really, it is. It’s OK if you don’t especially like theoretical thinking, and long for more hands-on work.

Think about what would intrigue you. Maybe it’s social justice. Or food. Or some kind of healing or medicine. Empowering others. Helping people live a more spiritual life. Don’t judge it, just embrace it.

Then, and only then, go look at job ads. And look for the ones that offer—in sizeable amounts—the things that are important to you.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches unhappy attorneys on finding work that they actually enjoy most of the time. Schedule a discounted sample coaching session to find out what would make you truly happy in your work. Email today to set up your session.


  1. And I took that test.

    And I’m “IAS” – Investigative/Artistic/Social.

    Which means that I’m not Enterprising/Conventional/Realistic.

    So, if you need people to be persuaded to actually do something in a conventional way, I’m not the person who you want to call.

  2. I am NOT conventional – yet another reason why law and I are not getting along. As I said recently to a Facebook lawyer friend – “law is a jealous mistress, and I’m getting a restraining order and a .45.”

  3. Spot on – it’s understandable but not life-giving, to move in a way that perpetuates the unhappiness. If we were happy using the skills we use everyday… we’d not want to leave, right?

    Thanks for this – I find your list very hopeful and will try to dwell upon it!

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