A few years ago I wrote a piece for Law Practice Today about some of the things I did to land my gig as Director of Industry Relations at Avvo a definite non-traditional legal tech job. Fast-forward three years and while the ideas in that piece are still valid today, they’re a bit high-level and not particularly actionable. Since then I’ve also seen a few law students and transitioning attorneys find their way into either a legal tech gig like mine or cool technology-facing legal practice, in-house, or other similar gigs. With this post I want to share a few specific things that lawyers or law students who are interested these types of jobs (which, for short, I’m calling “legal tech jobs”) can do to move their careers in that direction.
- Pick the Right Law School: Getting your career started in legal tech/tech law is going to be seriously helped by starting in the right place. Three years ago (hell, a year ago) there wasn’t any meaningful way to identify the cream-of-the-crop legal technology programs in law schools. But last year Dan Linna and his team at Michigan State University Law School did the legal world a huge favor by creating the Law School Innovation Index. Now, there’s a visually-appealing helpful resource that separates those schools with bumper-sticker innovation from those actually investing in technology training. Of course, the index highlights legal tech stalwarts like MSU, Stanford, and Chicago-Kent, but I’m also excited by newcomers like BYU (full disclosure, my undergrad alma-mater), Miami (8 classes, nice!) and the University of Washington, in my neck of the woods. Also, picking the right school isn’t just for law students. I’d point you to Suffolk University Law School’s Legal Innovation & Technology Certificate (of which, full disclosure, I am a board member but for which I receive no compensation) or many of the LLM programs cropping up, including at my law school alma mater, Seattle University. LLMs are not cheap, mind you, but I know of at least one example of a lawyer transitioning from a traditional practice to a sweet in-house tech gig after an LLM program.
- Embrace or Build Community: A big part of my landing my gig at Avvo was thanks to the legal tech community that was coalescing in Seattle around the time that I found my way to Avvo. I was fortunate enough to help found the local legal tech meetup, now with 500+ members, and to have Avvo reach out and offer to host our first few meetups but I also capitalized on a simultaneous wave of interest legal tech. To those looking to make a similar jump, building or finding and embracing a relevant community is crucial. I found the confidence to start the Legal Tech MeetUp in Seattle because I had found a national and, even, international legal tech community that was rallying behind the ideas of innovation and disruption in legal. It felt like a relatively minimal step to bring those same conversations to in-person events in Seattle. I’ve seen others in Boston, Washington DC, and Los Angeles (to name a few) find community and, often with it, economic opportunity.
- Learn a New Skill: Finally, learn a new skill. It seems silly now but I waded into Twitter with great trepidation in 2013. A few years before that, it took me nearly 3 years of ideating my blog to get a first post out. At the time, doing both of those things seemed incredibly daunting. But they got easier and have been incredibly powerful tools. Learning something new, particularly something unconventional for lawyer, can feel daunting but that’s exactly why you should try. Maybe it’s a coding language, maybe it’s building a blog, maybe it’s throwing yourself into heavy networking or building a simple website with WordPress. I can personally attest to the power of learning something new but I’ve also seen it radically change friends’ and colleagues’ lives. As they pushed themselves out of their comfort zones to try and do something new, they found new opportunities right over the horizon.
I talk to people all the time who are looking to transition into legal tech. It can be hard to get into the sector because the paths aren’t as clear or established. Want a BigLaw job on Wall Street? Go to a Top 10 school, get good grades, and do well in OCI. Similar paths exist for prosecutor jobs, or those in government or insurance defense. The path into legal tech isn’t as clear. But, because the path isn’t as clear, there’s also more room for creativity. For those willing to seek out the right educational opportunity, embrace community and try something new, the jobs are there.
And, speaking from experience, they’re not too bad.*
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*I appreciate that this recipe doesn’t work for everybody. Despite working really hard sometimes opportunities just don’t emerge. For still others, they don’t want to work for someone – like I do – they want to work for themselves. The next post will talk about not how to find a legal tech job but how to make one. More later.
Image credit: Dean Meyers