Private law practice can be intellectually stimulating and lucrative, but years of billing hours and working for clients you are not passionate about eventually leads many attorneys to consider a career change.
If you’re starting to wonder if you could ever escape the rat race and feel fulfilled at work for once, the answer is YES! You can use your skills to litigate against the ever-expanding government and maximize liberty by using your legal skills in the free-market nonprofit world. Sound like a dream come true?
It is, and we help attorneys do it every day. And making the transition might be easier than you think. Below are several things to keep in mind if you’re an attorney who wants to enter the free-market nonprofit universe.
1. Write a cover letter that clearly articulates your love of liberty.
When applying for a role in the free-market universe, take everything your former HR manager told you and throw it out the window. In other words, you want to be very clear about where you are coming from philosophically!
And even if you clerked for Justice Thomas and then sued the IRS while riding a bald eagle and holding an American flag, your cover letter still needs to articulate your passion for the principles of liberty. In addition to discussing your general philosophical beliefs, be sure to address why the organization’s mission resonates with you.
2. Get involved in the liberty world and include your involvement on your resume.
Ideally, your resume will demonstrate your passion for liberty. For instance:
- Become active in the Federalist Society.
Most large cities have a lawyer’s chapter. Get involved!
- Do liberty-oriented pro-bono work.
If your firm offers opportunities for pro bono work, how about teaming up with a free-market nonprofit to write an amicus brief?
- Participate in free-market oriented CLEs and conferences.
In addition to looking good on your resume, these are great opportunities for networking and learning more about the free-market nonprofit landscape. The biggest of these is the Federalist Society Lawyers Convention. You can’t find a better networking opportunity in the liberty world and there are 20 hours of CLE credit! Also, check out Institute for Justice’s conferences and events and Pacific Legal Foundation events.
- Don’t forget about your past!
Include past liberty-oriented activities on your resume as well. For instance: Federalist Society membership in law school, free-market nonprofit internships/seminars, and participation in liberty-minded clinics.
3. Get familiar with liberty-oriented public interest law firms and litigation centers.
There are many public interest law firms and litigation centers in the liberty movement, and the more familiar you become with them and their hiring needs, the better off you’ll be.
Here are some of the liberty-oriented public interest law firms and organizations with legal centers Talent Market has assisted over the years:
- Pacific Legal Foundation
- Institute for Justice
- Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression
- Center for American Liberty
- National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation
- Upper Midwest Law Center
- New Civil Liberties Alliance
- Parents Defending Education
- Center for Individual Rights
- Kansas Justice Institute
- Beacon Center Legal Foundation
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty
- Mississippi Justice Center
- Texas Public Policy Foundation – Center for the American Future
- Mackinac Center Legal Foundation
- Landmark Legal Foundation
- Freedom Foundation
- Public Interest Legal Foundation
- Fairness Center
- Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute
- Mountain States Legal Foundation
- 1851 Center for Constitutional Law
- America First Legal Foundation
- National Taxpayers Union Foundation – Taxpayer Defense Center
- Washington Legal Foundation
- National Federation of Independent Business, Small Business Legal Center
4. Consider non-litigation opportunities that will allow you to use your legal background.
In addition to litigation, there are many other ways to use your legal background in the liberty movement! (Yours truly is the perfect example of this. I litigated for liberty for four years before moving on to law school career services and now I am back to working for liberty but not as a lawyer. It can be done!)
Here are some common ways to put your legal background to good use in the free-market world:
- Policy: Policy roles are a potential fit for people with a legal background, especially since policy roles (like legal roles) are research and writing intensive. One natural path is to find a policy role that aligns with your subject matter expertise. For instance, if you have spent years litigating energy issues, you might want to consider an energy policy opening. That said, since this would be new territory for you, be sure to use your cover letter to explain how your legal experience translates to a policy role.
- Writing: Litigators are writers. And Talent Market regularly manages writing searches in communications and development, so you might want to explore those openings if you enjoy writing. That said, remember that legal writing is a different beast than many other writing roles, so you might want to include other writing samples that prove your versatility. For football fans, think of Jim Nance and Tony Romo calling games. Jim is the straightforward facts guy (legal writing) and Tony adds the color. For non-legal writing roles, especially those in communications and development, you’ll need to embrace both Jim and Tony’s style to be successful.
- Development: Fundraising is our biggest talent need, hands down. One option for attorneys interested in fundraising is to move into a development role for a free-market litigation center or group specializing in legal issues. Your ability to talk to donors and potential supporters about legal issues will be a tremendous asset. But make sure you explain in your cover letter why you are interested in making the transition to fundraising.
- Other opportunities: The skillsets attorneys develop in their practice can be vast and varied. Attorneys can succeed in leadership, project management, operations, compliance, human resources, or any number of other areas! If you see a job opening that appeals to you and aligns with your skills, throw your hat in the ring and make your best case for why you are looking to make the transition in your cover letter.
5. Be ready for a better work/life balance but a lower salary.
When you make the jump to a free-market nonprofit, you can kiss goodbye billing in six minute increments! Make no mistake, liberty-minded lawyers still work hard, but work/life balance undoubtedly improves.
But let me guess… you want to keep your 400K big law salary while litigating for liberty at a free-market nonprofit? Well, I want to date Jon Hamm, but we can’t have everything. You can make a good living with excellent benefits at a nonprofit, but you will almost certainly not make big law money. So, unshackle yourself from those golden handcuffs and start your job search with realistic expectations.
Starting salary ranges for an experienced attorney in the free-market nonprofit world run from around 125-200K, depending on the organization and the seniority of the position. (Entry and junior level salaries are usually less.) Salaries for experienced attorneys can be 200K+, though that isn’t common. It’s still a good living and I pinky swear you’ll find the work both enjoyable and fulfilling.
6. Adopt a startup mentality.
Most large private sector law firms have ample support staff, including paralegal, secretarial, and tech support. And while many bigger nonprofits in the liberty movement do have administrative staff, most of the smaller nonprofits have little or no support services.
That means you might need to format your own tables of authorities, file briefs, and fix your computer problems. But on the upside, you won’t have to work 100-hour work weeks!
7. You can make the jump, but it may not be easy.
Some free-market organizations have a preference for candidates with experience in this sector, or at least, experience working on Constitutional issues. But even without that experience, you can still make the transition. You might have to apply for multiple jobs, but don’t get frustrated!
If you have been daydreaming about litigating for liberty, stop dreaming and take action! These opportunities are plentiful and organizations are always on the lookout for great talent, even if you haven’t worked in the public interest legal world before. If you want Talent Market to keep you on our radar for these opportunities, send in your resume form and check out our current legal openings here.