the lawyer writer

sometimes legal                     sometimes literary                     sometimes not

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Writing Jobs for Ex-Lawyers

Sorry about the false promise of the title--I'm looking for them myself. But I can offer some general advice if you're a lawyer, and you want to be a writer:

1. Have money saved. Period

2. Learn about the trade. Talk to a career counselor or coach and see what kind of writing you want to do. There's consumer and trade magazine journalism, copyediting, advertising and public relations copywriting, marketing, work-for-hire, ghostwriting, legal-test-related writing, career-related writing, consumer and trade book publishing, internal corporate writing, lawfirm writing...and I have done all of these. That might be the only way that you will figure out what kind of writer you will be. If you want to be all of the above, go for it. Just know what you're getting into.

3. Use the Law Degree. The newly learned lesson: do not try to run from being identified as a lawyer. It won't work. If you want to get away from your law degree, you are going to have to do it in stages. So, while you get your writing career going, stay as close to the law as you can stand. If this means practice, practice. If this means temping, fine. A year ago, I was determined to never write about law again. Now I'm almost looking forward to it. The time I spent as an agent's assistant or ghostwriter for cookbooks or doing study guides was fine, but I wasn't making as much money as my law degree could get me. And I have never gone through the phase of wanting to be starving writer living in a garret. I have cats to feed.

4. Network. This is something that you'll have to do the rest of your writing life. Allot some time and money to get to know people in the writing world, mostly for information rather than jobs. The simplest way to get started is this: make a list of everyone you know, everywhere. Go through the list and see who you can contact about your new career goal. Ask everyone if they know anyone who may work in writing/editing/publishing, and if you can use their name to make a connection to go for an informational interview. Do it in person; failing that, choose the phone, then email. You will meet some people who are not useful, but you will eventually meet people who will help you or at least remember your name when they do have work. Ask lots of questions, and at the end, ask if they can recommend more people for you to talk to.

5. Lose the Resume. Rework your resume to highlight any writing experience you have. Nonetheless, show your resume only as a last resort. Once people see the law degree, they won't see anything else. The resume actually limits you.

6. Give it time. I mean years. You will fail at least once. The important thing is to be persistent and pick yourself back up and plan for the long run.

7. Get used to explaining yourself. Everyone will want to know why you are not a lawyer. Many will be complimentary, but more will be incredulous. Don't take it personally. They just won't get it.

8. Downsize your life. You will have less money than you will budget for. People will not pay you on time. Sometimes not at all. Be prepared to go without on specific things.

9. Write and read frequently. Write about what you'd ideally like to write about. Read any publication you'd like to write for. Read books that will inspire your writing. Think about your writing ability like a muscle--it must be exercised regularly.

10. Don't burn any bridges. You may want to run from your fellow colleagues, your firm, your cases, etc. Don't. You may want to go back one day. Or, ask them for work. If you leave, leave on good terms, whenever possible.

So...this is just a preliminary list, based on my experience in the last three years. Any other lawyer-writers out there, feel free to add your thoughts...


Blogger legis said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:05 PM  
Anonymous qksail said...

Addition to Lawyerwriter's list:

11. Don't waste your time writing in a blog. C'mon, blogs don't pay a penny, expose you to comments of ridicule from complete strangers ("those Lizzie Borden posts really sucked!"), and lead to all sorts of unrelated distractions like unsolicited dating advances and long-winded law students seeking career advice. :-)

9:09 AM  
Blogger legis said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:30 AM  
Blogger legis said...

Actually, lawyerwriter blog writing can actually lead to great exposure for your writing projects, case in point Maud Newton's blog (which you have listed on your side bar) was noted in the New York Times (that's how I found about it).

There are some relevant links on the site:
There are also articles on that site about actual blogger jobs, if you'd be interested in that:

Thanks for the fantastic post. Thanks also qsail for your *previous* helpful comments.

It is never a waste of time to help others online or to write online. Therein you might find a pretty great niche which would be helpful to you.

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Anonymous Elfie said...

Gosh, perhaps mine is one of the only non solicitation/pimping comments.

Thanks for the post. I'm writing on the side of lawyering these days, trying to find a niche. My personal new interest is Elance. I have yet to end up with a job off of it, but it sure seems to involve a good exchange.

Getting paid is always a problem. Volume helps there. I had a background as a technical writer before I went to law school, so I do not shy away from instruction booklets for assembling and maintaining farm equipment. Not glamorous, but at least not the law. ;)

Very, very best of luck to you in writing your way into something more suitable for your heart than the law was.

3:57 PM  

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