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The Silver Lining Behind Attorney Layoffs

On Thursday, The National Law Journal published a piece by Ari Kaplan about three lawyers pursuing unusual career paths. His message to the huddled masses of displaced and would-be attorneys? When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Among the former lawyers mentioned in Kaplan's article are a stand-up comedian and professional speaker, a television producer and novelist, and a Lego sculptor. Of course, non-law careers are no longer simply for the aspiring thespians and novelists who, having built a satisfactory nest egg with their private practice salaries, are now free to tread the boards or write the great American novel. Legal blogs and news outlets have reported at length on the career "alternative" becoming mandatory for an unprecedented number of unwilling lawyers.

Kaplan's article could not have been more timely, then, to remind those JDs being compelled to pursue unexpected careers that the story is not all bad. In good economic times, many law students "default" into big firm jobs that they are desperate to leave within a handful of years. Since that default route is temporarily closed off, many recent law school grads and laid-off associates find themselves having to draft new life plans. With the promise of job security and a flush paycheck off the table for the time being, the notion of asking yourself , “What would I do with my life if money were no object?” suddenly bears real-world relevance. For some, the answer to that question would be to work in a large law firm, and for them, Kaplan's article will provide little comfort. But many others will find themselves encouraged to pursue their true interests.

For Ft. Meyers, FL mayoral candidate Jenna Persons, that true interest was a career in politics, which she began after being laid off from Roetzel & Andress in February. For me, having no job to stick around for meant being free to move from L.A. to London. Under ordinary conditions, it would have felt foolish to reject a job offer and $160K starting salary to pursue such a flight of fancy. But when the bottom line is a meager salary or unemployment no matter how you slice it, it becomes easier to slice it the way that will make you happiest.

Nathan Sawaya, the lawyer-turned-Lego-architect of Kaplan's story, reflects, "You have to feel it a little bit in your gut, and just know now is the time. For me it just made sense that I had a shot and I took it." Yes, taking a less-traveled path requires some risk-taking from notoriously risk-averse people. But if you haven’t got anything to lose, what’s the risk?

Guest blogger Karen Sosa is a recent graduate of UCLA Law and will be an LLM candidate at the London School of Economics in the fall. She is also an editorial intern at Above the Law.

Posted by Karen Sosa on September 4, 2009 at 01:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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