From the Multnomah Lawyer: Working In and Transitioning From a JD-Advantage Position

One of the toughest parts of starting a legal career is finding your first job. And for people without lawyers in their family or those who have never worked in the legal field, finding a job that fits can be very challenging. While there are many great options out there, one option that I feel is not discussed as often as others, is entering into a JD-advantage position. Typically, a JD-advantage position is a job where an employee with a JD is preferred, but where the job itself does not require bar admission. As a person who went the JD-advantage route, I asked if I could write an article directed towards others who might be taking or considering that path, where I could discuss some of the lessons I picked up as I transitioned from law school.

For background, like many new lawyers, I graduated law school and passed the bar exam without a job lined up. Eventually, I was lucky enough to have a company offer me a temporary position, with the caveat that it would be a JD-advantage position, not as an attorney, but as a contracts specialist. That presented me with a tough choice. After all, many (if not most) of us, had gone to law school with the idea that we wanted to be lawyers. But at the end of the day, I needed a job, and I liked the company and the people that I would work with, so I accepted. This was hands-down one of the best decisions I have ever made. Over the next two years I received what amounted to a crash-course in an industry that I had never worked in before. And when I decided to try and find a position in the legal world, it was that exact experience that brought me to, and got me accepted into, my current job at a law firm. During my time at the company, and in my past year at a law firm, I learned quite a bit, and hopefully some of the below will be helpful to those in a similar position.

First off, do not fear JD-advantage positions! I know first-hand how difficult it can be to go from being in law school, with a focus on becoming a lawyer, to making the decision to not immediately work in the legal field. But in general, JD-advantage positions can be great for training and learning an industry, and with your JD, you are able to immediately add real value to the business. Further, simply accepting and working as a non-lawyer does not mean that you cannot ever move to become a lawyer later. JD-advantage positions can be a springboard to give you the industry experience that law firms want. And they can also give you direct experience working alongside in-house counsel, many of whom likely have years of experience and who can be great resources, both as mentors and connections.

Then, if you decide to make a move to a position as an attorney, transitioning to a law firm can be a stressful time. There is always some stress in starting a new job, which is amplified by the fact that law firms are very different animals from most non-professional companies. You will need to deal with the ever-present and delightful concept of “billable hours,” where you need to track your work multiple times an hour. And you will need to learn all the lingo and tribal knowledge that every law firm has. For all of these things, the best way to learn, as is the case for most things in life, is to communicate and ask questions. Other associates, paralegals, and legal assistants are all great resources to go to with your questions, and the chances are pretty good that they have either dealt with what you are wondering about or have helped someone else with it.

Finally, and I cannot recommend this enough, it is a great idea to forge connections at the legal organizations in your geographical area or field of practice. The people I met through the Multnomah Bar Association were tremendous resources when I made the decision to move into the legal field, and I can honestly say that I would not have my current job without the assistance of those connections. There are many fantastic organizations within Multnomah County and the entire Portland metropolitan area; joining and being active within them can signal to the world at large that you are serious about working as a lawyer in your community.

There is no one correct path to becoming a lawyer. Although there are more traditional routes, it is becoming more and more common for young lawyers, looking for jobs in a competitive industry, to come to their jobs through non-traditional routes. It’s really just about finding the right fit and not being afraid to take a chance if the nontraditional route is the right route for you.

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