January 2018

Transferable Skills — The Key to Changing Areas of Practice

By Cory Schaller

Career Advisor and Adjunct Professor, California Western School of Law

Have you ever felt stuck in your current job or area of practice? Do you believe that you are only qualified to practice (insert area of law here) and nothing else? Is all of your law school experience in transactional law, but you realized you’d rather spend all day in court? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then keep on reading.

Because the practice of law is so vast, attorneys often become specialized in one area of law. In fact, clients often prefer their practitioner to be an expert. While your goal may be to become a specialist, this can in turn make you feel stuck and unable to move into a different job that better serves your other interests. Instead of feeling trapped, this is where you must tap into your greatest asset: transferable skills. Each of us learned many skills in law school that apply to all areas of practice. Client relationships, legal research and writing, attention to detail, and problem solving are all valuable skills that you can take with you to any area of law you choose. To illustrate this point, we interviewed two attorneys who are California Western alumni and who used their transferable skills to land new jobs of their dreams.

Writing

In law school we are taught to write concisely, clearly, and persuasively. These writing attributes are universally appealing and one of your most valuable transferable skills. The topic is not as important as one’s ability to write in a manner that is easily understood and stays clearly focused on a topic. Being able to write explanatory emails, issue spot, and stay focused on the relevant issue is of key importance.  

“I worked in transactional intellectual property law for myself for two years before jumping into employment litigation. I never did anything related to litigation in law school, in fact I actively avoided it. After a while, however, I decided I needed a new skill set, and employment litigation seemed to be a field that would later transfer very well into any position. Although I only had one simple copyright complaint under my belt from working at a law clinic, I relied on my background in drafting contracts, issue spotting for IP risk assessments, and drafting explanatory emails to clients as being transferable skills for writing motions. With that in mind, I strongly marketed my writing experience — including that I wrote fiction — to show that because writing was not just a profession to me, it was also a hobby, and a future employer might be willing to take my raw skills and hone them for their own purposes. It worked.”

– Lauren Brady, Esq.

Attention to Detail

In the practice of law, it is necessary to monitor many things at once and pay close attention to the details. We must adhere to strict court deadlines, client expectations, and small details in the facts that can make or break our case. Attention to detail is a highly marketable skill that employers in all areas desire. With attention to detail comes a better work product and a happier client.

“To make the move from legal practice to the non-profit sector, I focused on an organization that was meaningful to me and submitted a polished and concise cover letter and resume showcasing the writing skills I refined in law school. When I interviewed, I discussed my ability to work with sensitive information and respond timely to clients, while remaining transparent with my interviewer about how my expectations, interests, and goals would make me an asset to the organization I now proudly serve. Finally, because showing is always better than telling, I demonstrated reliability and keen respect for deadlines by promptly honoring interview follow-up requests.”

– Heather S. Ray, Esq.

One last thing to keep in mind is that the best source of information about the job of your dreams is someone who is working at the job of your dreams! This is where the SDCBA is an invaluable resource. Attend one of their many events or join a committee in your desired area of practice. Strike up a conversation with someone who is working where you want to be. Find out what skills are most marketable for your desired position and start cultivating your transferable skill set accordingly. Remember, there is no better time to seek the change you desire than in the New Year!