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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

October 3, 2019
Question

I’m a lawyer, but want to move into Business Development. Will this hurt my legal career if I ever wanted to go back to practicing law?

answer
Julie Q. Brush

For many lawyers seeking to move to a pure business role, Business Development seems to be a common path taken to achieve this objective. But once a lawyer has crossed over and moved away from the law, how deep is the abyss?

Generally speaking, this kind of move will have an impact on your legal career – and returning to the profession will have its challenges. But just how difficult these challenges will be will depend on several factors:

How Long You’ve Practiced Law.

Having several years under your belt as a lawyer will help your case should you decide to return to the law. Employers will be more likely to cut you some slack because of the legal chops you’ve developed through years of practice. They will also assume that a seasoned lawyer will have an easier time transitioning back to law and ramp up time will be less. In addition, if you can make the case as to why a biz dev role has made you a better lawyer, you can turn this move into a compelling legal career asset.

Your Length of Time Away From Law.

The longer you’re in a Biz Dev position and out of legal practice, the harder it will be for you re-enter the profession. Not because you lack the capability, but rather employers will be skeptical of your reasons and desire to return to law after a long period of time. And you’ll be seen as a flight risk. In addition, you will be at a competitive disadvantage compared to the other strong candidates who are sporting careers with pure legal experience.

The Quality of Your Academic Credentials.

While great creds do not have the clout they used to, on average those who attended the highest ranked schools still get cut more professional breaks throughout their careers. This is one such situation where great schools can make the transition back to law easier.

The Quality of Your Employer.

The better the brand, the more helpful it will be for you to transition back. Employers generally believe that great companies hire great people. So coming from a well branded, highly respected company will work in your favor and give you more credibility to make your case.

Your Reasons For Returning To Law.

Every employer on the planet will want to know why you left the law in the first place…and why you want to return. They’ll already look at you with a skeptical eye, so your reasons for returning need to be thoughtful, logical and persuasive. If they are not, your chances of acing your legal interview will be close to zilch.

How Effectively You Communicate Your Reasons For Returning.

The actual reasons for returning to law are only half of the equation. The other half is how effectively you articulate them. If you can pass the resume screen and land the interview, a lot will ride on how articulate and persuasive you are regarding your reasons for transitioning back to law.

The modern day lawyer is not a paper pusher, or a path to no. S/he does not deal with legal issues in a bubble isolated from the rest of civilization. The modern day lawyer is a business partner, advisor and strategic thinker who possesses business acumen in order to add maximum value and push business forward. Consequently, many lawyers find themselves drawn to pure business roles within organizations. If this is where you find your professional interests, I recommend that you follow the path that will allow you the greatest fulfillment. But before crossing over, I encourage you to understand the career impact so you know what to expect and can prepare accordingly to preserve your future career options…legal and non legal alike.

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Comments

Brian Heller, Partner, Outside GC

Agreed - for the most part. But you left out one important factor. With the right communication, having done biz dev can be an ASSET, not a liability, to a corporate lawyer. It can help you understand your clients better, understand their business needs, help creatively structure deals in different ways, make them better business negotiators, etc. I was a lawyer, then in biz dev, and now a lawyer again, and I know first hand both that I personally am a better lawyer because of it, and that my clients appreciate and respect me more for it, because they know I have walked in their shoes and I can understand them better than the average lawyer because of it.

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