Photo by Nathan Dumlao
Looking to shift the direction of your career? Taking a fresh look at your skills can be a great first step.
We put a lot of effort into becoming lawyers. From the time spent studying to the financial investment, the process requires diligence, sacrifice, and a lot of good, old-fashioned grunt work. So, it’s no wonder we may be attached to those three little letters - ‘Esq.’ But while they say you can do just about anything with a law school education, you may be overlooking another important career-building asset—your transferrable skills.
Whether you’ve been at it for a while and have realized that it’s time to make a career pivot, or you’re simply seeking opportunities while navigating an uncertain economy, taking that next step may require you think more flexibly about what’s out there, and what you’ve already done.
Looking at your experiences in a new way
If you’re following the advice from most law school career services offices, you’ve already crafted individual cover letters for each position to which you apply. You’re also taking care to follow industry-wide standards on formatting.
But are you customizing each resume to highlight your transferrable skills?
Transferrable skills comprise any kind of knowledge or aptitude that adds value to your employer, regardless of the practice area or setting. As the name implies, they aren’t specific to a particular industry or type of legal job, and so can serve as an important selling point if you’re thinking of broadening your job search or changing directions.
Transferable skills may look different depending on where you are in your career or the road you pursued prior to law school, but literally everyone has them. The trick is looking at your work history with a wide-angle lens to capture more than just your legal aptitude. In other words, viewing yourself as more than a lawyer.
For example, what if you’re wrapping up law school and are looking for a junior associate position at a law firm? At first glance, you may feel like you don’t have much experience to share. However, prior to attending law school you spent three years as a leading sales team member for a regional insurance company.
Right now, this role occupies two lines on your resume - far less than your summer associate gig and moot court activities. This probably means prospective employers don’t know that you were the youngest team leader in company history and can easily explain complex concepts to a lay audience. You’re also a whiz with Excel - a surprisingly important skill for a junior associate.
Wondering where to start?
Try re-working your resume with an emphasis on:
- Team building. Just because you weren’t the captain doesn’t mean you didn’t learn valuable lessons about working in groups. From delegating responsibility to managing up, the skills you learn when part of a team (as opposed to in charge), matter a great deal in law practice, where no one works in isolation.
- Writing. Lawyers tend to focus on legal drafting skills for good reason, but you’ll spend just as much time writing to your clients. Clients who wouldn’t know a ‘herewith’ from a ‘therefor’ if their lives depended on it. Understanding how to communicate complex concepts to non-specialists has immense value in all practice areas.
- Commercial awareness. If you’ve spent time working in the private sector, you’ve likely developed a sense of the concerns at the top of clients’ minds. Things like earnings reports, interest rates, and market upswings. This matters if you intend to work for a firm serving primarily corporations and companies.
- Technology. As more and more legal employers transition to remote work, technical prowess has become an essential skill - not just a ‘nice to have’. Are you a PowerPoint wizard or a spreadsheet master? Employers care that you can prepare exhibits and analyze complex financial data without much handholding.
You can also take a look at Thine's Professional Skills Quick Assessment to explore a little further.
These are just a few examples, but almost anything can become a transferable skill if you think of how you might use it to better serve and understand your clients. Just remember, whatever you’re bringing to the table can count as a valuable skill.