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 a sick loved one. Maybe you were downsized during the recession and had trouble finding work. Or you may simply have decided that you want to return to law after years of working in another field.
Whatever your reason, some challenges come with the transition to law. In this article, I will explore some of the most common challenges facing lawyers starting out and strategies for overcoming these obstacles.
1. Challenge: Outdated skills
Suppose you have been out of the legal field for a significant amount of time. In that case, your skills may be outdated—a significant obstacle when most employers are looking for candidates experienced with contemporary tools and strategies.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 big commitment.
And, yes, you can always refresh your skills (or at least learn where to start learning) by reading books, watching online videos, interviewing your peers or following many other ways 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 want to enter a different training area than the one you were in before.
How to overcome it
Consider attending legitimate industry events, bar meetings or conferences; taking CLEs classes (mentioned above) is another perfect place to meet like-minded lawyers. You can also join a legitimate networking group in person or online. LinkedIn is an excellent resource for this, as there are many groups specifically for lawyers. Social media networks allow you to connect with people outside of 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. Not only will this help you make new contacts, but it will also allow you to serve the community and give back to those 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 that you are either underqualified or overqualified for the positions you are applying for. This can be difficult to correct, but it is essential to address it, as you do not want to appear overconfident or underprepared.
How to overcome it
Take inventory of your skills and experience. Make a list of the things you are good at and the achievements you are proud of. Then look at the job descriptions of jobs 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’s not uncommon—especially if you’re trying to switch careers—to have gaps in your resume regarding relevant experience. This can be off-putting to potential employers, who may wonder what you did during that time.
How to overcome it
If there are times in your career when you have stepped away from the law, be prepared to explain in your cover letter or during an interview what you did during those times. To show that your time is still being spent productively, I recommend explaining how this time away has affected your life. Have you taken time off to travel the world? Have you chosen to care for a loved one? These are all important life stories that give context to gaps in legal experience. If you are 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’ve been busy and have a lot to offer, even if you haven’t directly practiced 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’ll be on your way to a successful and fulfilling career in no time.
If you want 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 (with Mindy S. Berkower).” This episode features Mindy S. Berkower, an attorney 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 pioneered online negotiation technology. Olga embraces legal innovation and has dedicated her career to improving and shaping the future of law. She is convinced that by embracing technology, the legal profession will emerge even stronger, more resilient and more inclusive than before. Olga is also an award-winning general counsel, industry professional, startup advisor, public speaker, adjunct professor and entrepreneur. She has the Women serve on boards movement advocating for women to participate on corporate boards of Fortune 500 companies. She wrote Get on board: Earn your ticket to a corporate board seat, Fundamentals of smart contract securityand 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.