From Help Me Hillary: Alternative Career Advice from Hillary Mantis, author of Alternative Careers for Lawyers and Jobs for Lawyers.
I am a recent law graduate interested in getting into politics. How can a lawyer leverage his/her background and training to get into politics? What types of positions are available? What should I do to get started?
Stars and Stripes
Dear Stars and Stripes:
A lot of lawyers use their degrees in some way to develop a career in politics. I myself had a brief career in politics following law school that was incredibly exciting - until my candidate lost! There are a couple of different routes you can take. The first way is put in a substantial amount of work on a political campaign. If you are actively involved in a campaign, and your candidate wins, you have a good chance of being appointed to a position in his/her administration. This January a lot of the winning candidates will be in a position to appoint lawyers to positions on their staff or in government agencies.
One easy way to get into a campaign is to start as a volunteer - and make yourself noticed. Volunteers who work very hard and put in a lot of time are sometimes hired as paid campaign staffers. You can do anything on a campaign from researching legal issues, to fund raising, to speech writing, to grass roots organizing. You can work on anything from a presidential campaign to a local election. John Hart, whom I interviewed in Alternative Careers for Lawyers, was able to parlay a volunteer job on the Clinton campaign into a staff position on the campaign in Arkansas. "I worked very, very hard when I got down there," he explained. "I was the first one in and the last one out," he said. His risk paid off - Hart was appointed to the high-level position of Deputy Assistant to the President, Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs in the White House when President Clinton won the election and took office. For a complete list of political positions that lawyers can be appointed to in Washington, DC, take a look at a publication called the Lawyer's Plum Book, which is available on Lexis.
Another option is work in the federal government. There are many positions in government that lawyers have held that are not typical legal positions. To find ideas of alternative legal careers in government, a good source is the Federal Law Related Careers Directory, published by Federal Reports Inc. They list nontraditional attorney careers in federal government, where a law degree is not absolutely necessary but may be valuable. For more traditional attorney jobs in federal government, check out the job listings on the Office of Personnel Management web site (OPM is the human relations agency for the government). Government agency job listings are a lot easier to locate now that they are on the Internet. You could also consider working for a lobbyist, a political consultant, a think tank, or a nonprofit organization or association. Obviously, these jobs take a bit more research on your part and are located primarily in Washington, DC or in state capitals. A good way to start would be to find out if there are any graduates of your law school or undergrad working in these fields and contact them. Finally, you could run for office yourself! A classmate of mine did so after just a few years of practice and has been working as a state senator ever since.
If you have your own question for Hillary send her an email to Help me Hillary.
Hillary Mantis, Esq.,is a career counselor and author of career books. She is the author of Alternative Careers for Lawyers and Jobs for Lawyers: Effective Techniques for Getting Hired in Today's Legal Marketplace.
Ms. Mantis consults with individuals and corporations on issues including: career transition, career advancement and direction, interviewing skills, leadership development, women in the workplace, and professional growth. She has been affiliated with Fordham University School of Law Career Planning Center for the past six years, and has been a career counselor for over ten years. She is a graduate of Brown University and Boston College Law School.
For more information about private career counseling, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to www.mynewcareer.net.