Alternative careers for lawyers: Why you might be the perfect project manager

Looking for an alternative career option but not sure where to start? Might we suggest making the shift to a project manager role?

You may have seen these positions advertised while scrolling the internet after a particularly unfulfilling day/week/month looking for some other role your skill set might align with. Ah, yes, the mysterious project manager. What do they actually do? Well, they manage projects (funny that) in a variety of businesses and contexts. This kind of position requires strong organisational skills, high-level problem-solving ability, emotional intelligence and basic people management skills. You also need to have a keen intellect to be able to spot gaps, as well as to plan and execute against timelines and budgets. This is a great career option that can take you across a range of industries. Bye bye billable hours!

As a project manager, you can expect to earn on average about $100,000 per year, putting in about 47 hours per week. A typical day as project manager will likely see you managing project delivery and risk (legal, financial and quality), overseeing and ensuring the timely competition of all aspects of the project, communicating and negotiating with multiple stakeholders, and ultimately being the driving force of the team to ensure the successful completion of the project. In all likelihood you'll be posed with a problem and responsible for sourcing viable solutions for clients which fit within their budget (Sound familiar? Yeah, not such a stretch from the work that most lawyers do day in and day out. Piece of cake!).

If you’re keen to hear from someone that’s made the leap with huge success, we recently had a chat to Maddie Livesey – ex-ballerina, ex Gilbert & Tobin lawyer (mergers and acquisitions), entrepreneur and seasoned meditator - on the podcast. Check it out here. Maddie discusses the fear that can come from taking leaps into the unknown, as well as the emotional benefits that come from doing what you love.

After graduating from university with both a law degree and communications degree, becoming the first lawyer in her family, Maddie felt increasingly unhappy and unfulfilled as a lawyer. She decided to find her happiness by switching things up and changing her career pathway to become the Project Director and then General Manager of The General Store, a retail strategy and creative agency.

“I could never quite shake the feeling that the career path I was heading down wasn’t the right one for me,” says Maddie about her time in law. “I suffered quietly for a good few years, whinged to my husband and didn't really take any action.”

What began as a few coffees here and there with people to see what other options might be out there for her, she ended up landing what would later become her dream role.

At the time of exiting law, three years after graduating, Maddie took a bit of a gamble. The General Store were a start-up agency looking to hire their first employee. “That was a little bit scary,” says Maddie. But she says that leap of faith was a major turning point in her career, and her life. Joining a start-up agency meant that she had a pivotal role in building a business out of nothing. Pretty rewarding we reckon.

“When I started I had no idea about anything,” says Maddie. “There were a lot of people that put up with me learning at the beginning. But when you do love something you learn quickly and I think coming at it with fresh eyes was quite beneficial as well.”

Not one to do things by halves (are any of our lawyer friends?) within three years at The General Store Maddie became a prestigious B&T 30 under 30 award-winner for Advertising/Design. It was “pretty cool to be recognised in my new industry,” she says.

“There was a big part of me that questioned whether I should be giving it (law) away. I did struggle with that. We are risk adverse people as lawyers and I was leaving a comfortable position to go to a start up of two people in an industry I knew nothing about,” says Maddie.

“My husband saw more than anyone how unhappy I was and he was pivotal in pushing me to take the leap. Even until I started I was wondering whether it was the right decision, but I can safely say I haven’t looked back.”

So? Feeling inspired? Want to land a project manager role? Here are Maddie’s hot tips for making it happen:

  1. Take matters into your own hands - if you’re not happy doing what you’re doing don’t suffer quietly, make that known.

  2. Start with what you love - if you can demonstrate innate passion then that’s a great starting point. Lawyers, in particular, are intelligent people with massively diverse skill sets and if you’re channelling your discipline and intellect into something you really enjoy, that can be pretty formidable.

  3. Get out there - have the tenacity to put yourself out there, start networking, meet with people in person where you can and actively seek out opportunities outside of the industry. You have no idea where those chats are going to lead and you’ve got nothing to lose.

  4. Sell yourself - the discipline, the skill set, the work ethic, there’s so much that you can take from studying and practicing law. Draw on your previous experience and explain how your skills might be relevant and transferable. In my role so much of what I do is strategic work and research, that is, working out what the problem is that needs solving and then coming up with a solution. My analytical skills from my time in law really helped with the strategic aspect of the role. So to any future employer highlight your experience in: contract management; change management; risk management / risk control; strategic project management; managing a team; meeting deadlines and budgets and providing solutions to diverse and complex business problems.

  5. Trust yourself - if you’re feeling unfulfilled listen to that. Law was good to me in many ways, but it was the lack of creativity that really got to me. I channelled that creativity into a side project, Boutique HQ, an online retail platform, while I was still working in law, and it was being able to show that bit of entrepreneurship and ability to be proactive in creating my own opportunities, that helped to land me the role at The General Store. I had a passion for fashion and retail and I had these great skills as a lawyer. Now I’m in an environment that I feel is much more me.