Alternative careers have always existed in the legal profession. It’s just that lawyers have a lot more freedom these days to do what they want.
Randi Bean knew from the start that she needed to find an alternative career. After being called to the Bar in 1996, he started working at a small criminal law firm. It’s not for him. The problem is that he can’t find the resources to help him find his next job.
“Back then, it was a new concept,” Bean said. “Alternative careers are always there, but they are not the common next step after practice. I want to help people pursue other careers.”
His curiosity and enthusiasm to discover where else a law degree might take him led him to the position of contract manager at a large manufacturing company. He then moved on to become a recruiter at an HR consulting firm before starting his own recruiting firm in 2003 at Life After Law.
What was once considered an “alternative” — working within a company or doing something outside the law — is no stranger. Lawyers now have more freedom to pursue various career paths, even in private practice by taking on different roles.
“A potential employer sees the value of an attorney,” says Bean. “It’s more accepted now for lawyers to be in a different role than it was a year ago.”
People decide to take different paths for different reasons. Some decide early in their careers that the traditional practice of law is not for them. Others go to law school hoping to venture into other fields without any real design for a career as a private practitioner. Then there are those who set out to pursue a “traditional” career and work for a large law firm, only to find later that they needed a change that fit their lifestyle. Some companies have tried to accommodate these people by offering something different from the traditional partnership path. There are practitioners who yearn for an advisory role without any hope of bringing in business.
“Several large companies have accommodated lifestyles, for example reducing working hours,” said Bean. “However, this may not be enough for everyone.”
Then there are lawyers who have been practicing law for 15 to 20 years and are looking to transition into something completely different. For them, the first step is often taking the position of internal advisor, but there are other ways to turn around. “For patent attorneys, you can move into IP management in pharmaceutical companies,” said Bean. “For an employment attorney, moving into an HR management position can be a natural advancement in the business world. There are several options.”
Mante Molepo never imagined he would take such a detour in his legal career. Growing up, he knew what he wanted: a human rights lawyer. His father spoke of Nelson Mandela at their family home in South Africa. After his father was exiled for opposing apartheid, the Molepo family settled in Canada.
“I am involved in human rights and advocacy,” said Molepo. “I was inspired by my father, who has dedicated his life to advocating injustice and committed to women’s rights. My father was the first feminist I knew.”
So when it came time to enter law school, Molepo decided to think outside the box and focused on getting articles with the federal government instead of private practice. Part of his 2007 article year was spent as a stint with the Competition Bureau and working for the World Trade Organization.
Eventually, Molepo went to Global Affairs Canada, where he practiced international trade law. But in 2014, Molepo felt the job was starting to conflict with his family life.
“I have a young family, and there are little incidents where you apply for a promotion, but you don’t get there and there is conflict between having a family and a job,” said Molepo.
At the same time, his children experienced anti-black racism at their school. Molepo confided in his former law school friend Julia Nicol about this matter. As the two walk away after work, they both decide it’s time to take action. In 2016, along with other parents, they started Parents for Diversity in 2016, a non-profit organization committed to making education fair and inclusive for all students.
“My daughter doesn’t see herself represented at school, and that has an impact,” said Molepo. “Parents don’t know how to run the education system. Through Parents for Diversity, we are working with parents and school boards to address the systemic barriers students face.”
In 2019, Molepo took time off to work as an equality and diversity advocate for the Ottawa Catholic Schools Board. She moved into full-time consulting and, in January 2020, launched Mante Molepo Consulting, where she works with the board and senior management on diversity and inclusion initiatives. He was recently named the Ontario Bar Association Innovator-in-Residence 2022-2023, where he will lead the association’s new career accelerator program for Indigenous and radicalized lawyers.
“Since I just want to practice international trade law, I think I will spend my entire career in public service,” said Molepo. “But my work with Parents for Diversity led to new professional opportunities, which changed the trajectory of my career.”
It’s no secret that the great pandemic disruption of recent years has made many people reconsider their way of life at work. This has driven major changes in the job market. In the United States, the Great Resignation saw millions of Americans quit their jobs.
“In my 23 years of experience working in recruiting, this is the strongest candidate market I’ve ever seen,” said Bean, adding that the pendulum will eventually swing back to the employer.
But if you’re looking to find a new position, now is a great time to start.
“Know your worth and know what you need and want,” says Bean. “I highly recommend working with recruiters. It’s complicated. The nature of roles and compensation can be very different. Candidates need to decide what is important and how it affects their career development.”
Be on the lookout for quick turnaround times. In this competitive job market, both candidates and employers are finding the recruitment cycle running at a faster pace than usual. Usually three rounds of interviews can be replaced by one meeting with several senior managers. “Sometimes the process goes faster for candidates than they expect,” says Bean.
The most important thing you need in your quest is knowing who you are and being open to trying something new. Molepo knew he wanted to be involved in human rights issues in his career regardless of whether he practiced law.
“The decision to stop practicing law was a challenge for many people, including myself,” said Molepo. “However, the skills I developed as a lawyer continue to serve me today.”
Julie Sobowale is a journalist covering law and technology.