Alternative Career Paths for Attorneys: 5 Lessons Learned in the Law - Priori

Alternative Career Paths for Attorneys: 5 Lessons Learned in the Law

By Jordan Gardner

 23-10-16 Priori Team Member - Jordan Gardner

Priori Senior Client Development Manager Jordan Gardner shares advice from his legal career

Jordan Gardner, Senior Client Development Manager at Priori, has seen the legal industry from almost every angle. He started in private practice, moved to an in-house role, founded a legal services startup that connected law students with law firms and now works in client development at Priori. Jordan’s perspective on the legal industry and alternative legal careers is unique. In this article, he shares some of the lessons he’s learned over the years and advice he has for those starting out or looking to find a new path in the profession.

I went to law school without knowing a lot about what I was signing up for. I’m a first-generation attorney and I didn’t know any other attorneys when I made my decision. After studying accounting in undergrad, I took a long, hard look in the mirror and thought: I just can’t see myself as an accountant for the rest of my life. And after receiving some advice from a mentor in my undergrad program, I decided to go to law school.

I learned a ton in law school and that didn’t stop when I graduated and started working for a law firm. Everywhere my career has taken me, from law school to law firm work to founding a legal services company to my current client development role at Priori, I built on my previous experiences. These are just a few things I’ve learned along the way that have helped me on my path.

Embrace Organic Ideas…

I started practicing in a small firm right after law school doing all sorts of things. I was a brand-new attorney and my compensation package was a bit unique: It was based entirely on what I collected—not billed, but collected. We would be wrapping up a case and I would be sitting across from one of the partners reviewing the client’s bill watching them redline my time entries that, ultimately, the client wasn’t going to pay for. That’s something familiar to a lot of new attorneys, but in this environment where my livelihood was tied to time that kept getting written off, it became very difficult, to say the least. 

But I didn’t let it get me down. I quickly realized that there were some inefficiencies in our processes that had some opportunity built into them. So I started dreaming of ideas to take advantage of those opportunities. I started asking, “How could I spend less time doing the sorts of things that clients aren’t willing to pay for while limiting my risk, and improving my ability to make money?” And that was where the idea for the startup I founded, Law Student Connect, came from. I knew there were students all across the country who would love to take on these research projects to make a little money and, more importantly, to gain practical, real-life experience. It wouldn’t be until years later that I would see the idea into fruition, but I started laying the groundwork within my first year of practice.

…But Don’t Forget to Nurture Them

My experience with Law Student Connect also taught me firsthand that Field of Dreams was wrong: If you build it, they won’t necessarily come. Even if you build something great that you know solves a problem that a lot of people have, that doesn’t mean those people are going to find it. You have to get out there and start preaching and evangelizing about what that value is that you’re bringing to the table. 

I think this is a case where a skill you learn in law school serves you well in all kinds of contexts. The grit and resilience, maybe even stubbornness, that is an important part of learning to defend your arguments and your thinking lends itself well to jumping into something new, whether that is stepping out on your own with a law firm or launching a startup. Others have pointed this out, but I think it is very true: The law is one of the only professions where, almost no matter what you’re doing, there is someone on the other side looking for ways to tell you how or why what you’re doing is wrong. Building up that kind of thick skin helps in a lot of different areas of life and getting out there and getting your message through to people is definitely one of those areas.

This is why starting at Priori in a business development role was the right next step for me. It gives me a chance to exercise those skills and build on the experience I had with Law Student Connect. I wanted to challenge myself to be a person who can help lead others to see the value in a great concept like Priori Marketplace.

Be Ready for Rejection

Continuing this thread—when you have someone working on the other side of whatever you’re trying to do, there are going to be times when it doesn’t work out in your favor. Law school helped me build that grit and thick skin and at every stage of my career I’ve used it (and improved it). As I’ve progressed in my career, being able to take rejection well is a skill that I’ve worked on and am still getting better at, but has always come in handy. 

For handling rejection, I have two pieces of advice: First, think about the data. It is tough to fail or to hear “no” all day, but success is the exception. No one wins every time and when you look at the grand scheme of things, the more you do something the more likely you will be to succeed. It’s all about putting in the reps. And, second, you need to have an outlet. It could be anything you’re passionate about. For me, it’s jujitsu—which is also, conveniently, a good way for me to learn how to lose gracefully as well as vent some frustration. But having some meditative time in whatever way speaks to you makes a big difference.

The Trap of Law School

One of the biggest issues I see with legal education and the legal career path is that in law school you’re shown a very defined path of where your career should go. You hopefully get a clerkship with a judge your first summer, you get on law review, ideally, you qualify for on-campus interviews and then become a summer associate, etc. It’s a very limiting path. And if you follow the path as outlined, you’ve ultimately only tested out two career opportunities at best.

My advice for law students (and people in general) is to use law school as a chance to try as many things as possible. There are so many alternative legal careers you can explore and things you can do with your law degree, even just using my own experience as an example. You can go in-house, you can start your own business or you can do client development for a legaltech company, among many other options. 

Who, Not What or Where

One of the most fulfilling lessons I’ve learned in my career journey is that what you do, at least for me, matters a lot less than who you do it with. Being in a collaborative environment with like-minded people all reaching for the same goal can make your job satisfaction so much greater. 

That is something I love about Priori and something I definitely missed being a startup founder—I was often working alone for days on end and I missed that community and that feeling of working with a team toward a shared goal. That’s been a big takeaway for me across my career: There are probably thousands of things I could do and be happy doing them, as long as I’m doing them with the right team. 

Find more insights and advice about alternative legal careers from Jordan Gardner on LinkedIn. And if you’re curious about Priori Marketplace and the opportunities it provides for people in the legal ecosystem, learn more here.

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