Get involved and jumpstart your non-traditional legal career

So you decided that you’re going to make your own unique way in the legal world.  Maybe you’ve realized how tenuous the path to partner has become for most lawyers. Maybe circumstances (be they geographic, economic, familial or otherwise) have dictated that the career trajectory you were on, or thought you were on, is not materializing. Or maybe you’ve always aspired to do something different with your law degree, but law school didn’t exactly open your mind to possibilities. No matter the circumstances, the first step can be the hardest. 

Here are three no-nonsense suggestions to help you get started:

  1. Start a blog: I keep saying this (and, full transparency, it’s not because I have affiliate links to Kevin O’Keefe’s LexBlog; I don’t) but it’s never been easier or cheaper to get your ideas into the world. Whether it’s starting up on something like Medium, posting long form on LinkedIn, using a site like or Squarespace, or even using something like Blogspot where RightBrainLaw was born, it’s easy and extremely inexpensive (it can be free) to get your voice into the world. I can’t remember where I heard it but I think it’s definitely apt that for law students “blogging is the new law review.” In fact, in some ways I think blogging is more powerful and more valuable for law students, young lawyers, and really all lawyers, than being published in a law review. It’s far easier for a prospective employer or client to find and read your blog than it is for them to find a read the law review article you published. More than that, a blog enables you to write on a wide variety subjects, respond in real time to news and other events, fluidly link your ideas to those of others writing online, expand your reach beyond paper, along with countless other benefits. A prime exemplar of this and someone who’s been mentioned in other blogs is Michigan State Law grad Pat Ellis. While still a law student Pat started a blog that, through his effective work on Twitter, became quite widely read and admired among a large group of legal technology advocates and thought leaders. Pat landed a job as a legal project manager at Honigman and has gone on to be a bigwig at GM. Another good example is the now-defunct online student publication The Student Appeal. While The Student Appeal had a relatively short life and folded, ultimately, due to lack of energy to keep it alive I remember encountering it during my early days as a legal blogger and Twitter user. At the time I remember thinking it was a legitimate going concern. Not that it wasn’t but it turns out it was started by some enterprising law students who were eager to get their voices into the world. I never knew the difference. Quick shout out to now serial legal entrepreneur and Student Appeal founder Eli Mattern, whom I recently met. 
  2. Join or start your own community. This is another idea that I feel like I’ve talked about a bunch so apologies to those of you who have heard me spout it off before, but community can be a powerful way to find a unique direction. Speaking from personal experience, I drew heavy inspiration from the Legal Hackers movement and started a legal tech meetup group here in Seattle. My involvement in and association with the group has been tremendously valuable to me professionally. It’s probably one of the key things that led to my job at Avvo. But we weren’t 100% sure it would succeed. I’m not kidding when I say I clearly remember my group co-founder and I sitting across the table from each other in a coffee shop (because, Seattle, duh!) saying “Well, if we start this group and it’s just the two of us in a room talking legal tech, at least we can say we’ve started a group!” Our first meeting had 60+ people and we’re over 600 now. The amazing success of the legal hackers movement is another example. Started by a few law students at Brooklyn Law School back in 2012, the movement now boasts thousands of members around the world in chapters on nearly every continent. I’ve helped organize three of the legal hackers global annual summits and can attest to the power and passion of this group. The Legal Hackers movement is and will continue to be a central community force in the legal technology and innovation space.
  3. Collaborate online. Finally, the internet isn’t just useful for sharing your ideas or connecting with others (though it does that fantastically well) you can even use it to collaborate. One great example – which, admittedly, I haven’t used – is OpenIDEO. IDEO is a well-known design firm that has been a pioneer in bringing design practices more fully into the mainstream of business and other disciplines. OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. IDEO and sponsoring entities post challenges and encourage individuals and groups to submit ideas for solutions to those challenges. IDEO runs these ideas through its design thinking process, tests and iterates on them and then tries to find partners to bring the solutions to life. If you’re looking for a quick way to test your ideas, particularly if you have some passion around the challenges that IDEO has posted, submit an idea, provide feedback on the challenges, get involved somehow. Hackathons can be another way to collaborate online. A quick search of DevPost shows seven exclusively online hackathons. It may be that you’ll need harder core coding chops but you never know.

It can be hard for lawyers to get out into the broader world and experiment for a whole host of reasons. The list above is three of many possible ways to get out there. Whatever you do the most important thing is to just get started.

Are you trying to do something unique and amazing with your JD but not sure yet how or where to go? I’m building a community of legal professionals striving for more. Join the mailing list and get weekly tips, community connections, and inspiration.   

Image (c) Al Ibrahim  CC BY-SA 2.0