An Alternative Career Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Call Yourself A Lawyer

If you are anything like me, you have spent that last few years distancing yourself from focusing on law and instead focusing on some other alternative career ambitions. I have spent the better part of the last few years focusing on my career as a comedian/writer/actor.

When people in that world ask me what I do, that is the order of my answer. Once we get into the conversation, I usually drop it on them that I also am an attorney.

Those of you pursuing alternative careers have probably had similar experience. Sometimes your friends may say “he or she used to be a lawyer too.” You should immediately correct them. I’ve recently realized there isn’t much benefit to hiding the fact that you still are an attorney with a valuable skill set, even if you are not living in the legal world on a day to day basis. Trust me, no one is ever gonna say “if only you weren’t a lawyer, too.”

Having a Law Degree Should Be a Source of Pride

Many people now use their law skills to supplement their true passion/career. So naturally, they want people to know first and foremost that they are a musician, comedian, wine expert, horticulturist, or whatever it is that you chose to leave the law for. The naturally tendencies is to try to validate your alternative career by not admitting that you still need to do contract work or freelance as a lawyer to pay your bills.

Working part-time as an attorney is nothing to be embarrassed about. In fact, we should all take pride in the decision to follow our passions AND the ability to support it with our legal skills! So by all means, point out that you are a lawyer whenever possible. Remember, people know how much work gets put into being a lawyer and therefore, you will automatically get credited for having a strong work ethic. There are also quite a few other advantages that you may not have recognized in always letting people know you are an attorney.

Carve out a niche in your new field that combines your legal background with your alternative career

If you have a new job/business that you are trying to promote, you can distinguish yourself from the pack by using the law angle. For example, if you are pursuing entertainment, create your own niche perhaps you can be the legal commentator or talking head on a news show. There are plenty of media outlets seeking sound bites from smart funny types. Why not be that person? Or if you are pursuing a career as a restauranteur or winemaker, why not become the go to person for legal questions about the food and beverage industry.

You can barter your legal skills

Your legal skills might be a valuable commodity to barter with. When money is in short supply, you can always leverage your legal skills for something you might want. Perhaps you need tools for your new construction business, perhaps you can offer free legal work in exchange for office space for a new venture. Remember, an hour of legal work can earn you billing dollars but it can also build up credit and goodwill. You can think of it like a miles card. Obviously, we all wanna be paid for our work, but try to see payment as bigger than dollars, see it as the advancement of your pursuits. One quick personal example, I reviewed a contract for a fellow comedian who is more successful than I am at this point in our careers. I didn’t ask for payment, partly because I consider him a friend, but also somewhat selfishly because I knew he would now owe me a favor. A few months later he returned it by taking me with him for a road gig that paid me considerably more than that hour or two of legal work. Further, that gig opened the door for me with that club owner and I have since been back to that club without my friend. Even if payment for legal services is an option, see if there is a way that bartering legal help can get you closer to achieving your dreams.

Your law degree may be the plus factor

The world is very competitive and whatever your new pursuit may be, you’re going to encounter stiff competition. Think of your legal degree as the ace in the hole that nobody else in your new chosen field can offer. For example (sorry to use a personal one again), when I want to produce a show at a major club, they wanna know that I can sell it out. If they don’t know my background, so they assume I should be able to draw the same amount of comedy fans as any other comedian on my level. When I reveal that I also work as a lawyer, write for legal blogs and have an extensive corporate network to draw from, that tips the scales in my favor.

Think about the field you are now in, and make a list of ways that having a law degree can be a benefit, you will surprise yourself. So remember, don’t be shy in sharing the information that yes, you also spend 3 years working your tail off in law and yes you passed one of the most difficult tests around to become a licensed attorney.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/julia_manzerova/4161681195/)

Legal Careers

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  • Susan Gainen

    Great post, Matt…Being a law-trained person in an alternative career is almost always a benefit, and you remain a lawyer until you put your license on inactive status or until you are disbarred.

  • Sergio Camacho

    I’m not convinced. I believe that the legal profession is very demanding and therefore requires full and absolute dedication. I know there are areas of law that may you allow to work on something else, such as making labor contracts or be a business advisor, but one as a trial lawyer I see it very complicated, Appointments or schedules for example…

  • http://questionoflaw.net Lisa Solomon

    Remember, regardless of whether you get paid for work, you can still be on the hook for malpractice.

    You do have malpractice insurance, right Matt?

  • http://mattrittercomedy.com/ Matt Ritter

    Yes Lisa, I probably should have included that in the piece. Perhaps I’ll do an article about freelance risks in the future.

  • http://www.constitutionaldaily.com BL1Y

    The number one thing that being a lawyer working in another field (humor writing, what a coincidence) is a bunch of people telling me I should go back to practicing law because being a lawyer is so prestigious, dignified, and lucrative. Last year my legal practice was well in the red, and this year is looking no different.

    It’s also incredibly frustrating to have people always asking me for help with their legal problems. No, I do not know what you need to do to sell a license for a program you wrote while a software engineer for a military contractor. No, I do not know if your landlord can evict you because you brought in a pet that violated the lease. They don’t exactly teach these things in law school, and unless you want to hide money in the British Virgin Islands, I can’t really help you.

    The legal knowledge that I actually do use in writing deals mostly with copyright and fair use, such as the difference between satire (not fair use) and parody (is fair use). But, that wasn’t anything I learned in law school, I learn that stuff in an undergrad philosophy of civil law class.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/mattritter/ Matt Ritter

    Agreed, BL1Y, it can’t be incredibly frustrating when people ask bizarre and obscure legal questions that you think they should know you obviously do not have the answers too, yet the lay person assume law school training covers every subject. You could always do what I see somewhat obnoxious doctors do at dinner parties when asked questions, respond with “make an appointment.”

    • http://www.constitutionaldaily.com BL1Y

      I typically tell them I expect in-kind services from them. So far no one has agreed, but that might be because I live in a aerospace engineering city. How many hours of legal practice are equivalent to a vertical launch heavy space craft?