Restarting your legal career after taking time off for any reason can be difficult. You may have left the workforce to raise a family or care for an ailing loved one. Maybe you were downsized during the recession and struggled to find work. Or you may have simply decided that you want to return to law after years of working in another field.
Whatever your reason, some challenges come with making the transition back into law. In this article, I will explore some of the most common challenges faced by attorneys who are starting over and strategies for overcoming these obstacles.
1. Challenge: Outdated Skills
Suppose you have been out of the legal field for a significant time. In that case, your skills may be outdated — a significant obstacle when most employers look for candidates experienced with contemporary tools and strategies.
How to Overcome It
Consider taking continuing legal education (CLE) courses to improve your knowledge and skills. Many bar associations offer CLEs, and many states even require attorneys to take these classes to stay current.
Volunteering or interning at law firms or Legal Aid organizations is another way to gain valuable up-to-date experience. Finding such a role allows you to update your skills and make sure you want to restart your legal career before making a major commitment.
And, yes, you can always freshen up your skills (or at least learn where to start learning) by reading books, watching online videos, interviewing your peers, or pursuing plenty of other avenues of learning.
2. Challenge: Networking In A New Field
After time away from the highly interconnected legal field, it can be difficult to reconnect with old contacts and make new ones. This is especially true if you are looking to enter a different practice area than the one you were in before.
How to Overcome It
Consider attending legal industry events, bar association meetings, or conferences; taking CLEs classes (mentioned above) is another perfect venue for meeting like-minded lawyers. You can also join a legal networking group in person or online. LinkedIn is an excellent resource for this, as there are many groups specifically for attorneys. Social media networks allow you to connect with people outside your zip code. They were a lifesaver for me during the pandemic when my human-to-human interactions were limited.
This issue can be addressed by volunteering with a legal organization, such as a bar association or Legal Aid. This will not only help you make new contacts, but it will allow you to also serve the community and give back to those who are less fortunate.
3. Challenge: Being Underqualified Or Overqualified
If you have been out of the legal field for a significant amount of time, you may feel like you are either underqualified or overqualified for the positions to which you are applying. This can be difficult to remedy, but it’s essential to address it, as you don’t want to appear overconfident or underprepared.
How To Overcome It
Take an inventory of your skills and experience. Make a list of the things you are good at and the accomplishments you are proud of. Then, look at the job descriptions of positions that interest you and see how your skills and experience match their expectations. If you feel qualified for the position, go ahead and apply.
4. Challenge: Gaps In Your Resume
It is not uncommon — especially if you’re trying to transition careers — to have gaps in your resume regarding relevant experience. This can be off-putting to potential employers, who may wonder what you have been doing during that time.
How To Overcome It
If there are times in your career when you’ve stepped away from the law, be prepared to explain what you were doing during those times in your cover letter or during an interview. To show that your time was still spent productively, I recommend explaining how this time away impacted your life. Did you take time off to travel around the world? Did you choose to take care of a loved one? These are all important life stories that give context to gaps in legal experience. If framed from the point of view of learning, development, and personal growth, you may have a compelling reason to join the team.
Another option is to include a “Professional Experience” section on your resume, in which you list your professional accomplishments, even if they are not law related. This will show employers that you have been busy and have a lot to offer, even if you haven’t been directly practicing law.
Restarting your legal career can be challenging, but it is not impossible. With hard work and dedication, you can overcome any obstacle that stands in your way. And once you get your foot back in the door, you will be on your way to a successful and fulfilling career in no time.
If you are looking to restart your legal career, check out the “Notes to My (Legal) Self” podcast episode “Season 4, Episode 17: Season 4, Episode 17: Relaunching Legal Career (featuring Mindy S. Berkower).” This episode features Mindy S. Berkower, a lawyer and career coach, who offers advice and tips on how to make the transition back into the legal field.
Olga V. Mack is the VP at LexisNexis and CEO of Parley Pro, a next-generation contract management company that has pioneered online negotiation technology. Olga embraces legal innovation and had dedicated her career to improving and shaping the future of law. She is convinced that the legal profession will emerge even stronger, more resilient, and more inclusive than before by embracing technology. Olga is also an award-winning general counsel, operations professional, startup advisor, public speaker, adjunct professor, and entrepreneur. She founded the Women Serve on Boards movement that advocates for women to participate on corporate boards of Fortune 500 companies. She authored Get on Board: Earning Your Ticket to a Corporate Board Seat, Fundamentals of Smart Contract Security, and Blockchain Value: Transforming Business Models, Society, and Communities. She is working on Visual IQ for Lawyers, her next book (ABA 2023). You can follow Olga on Twitter @olgavmack.