Almost everyone knows an attorney who is unhappy practicing law. In fact, there is a whole industry dedicated to helping attorneys change careers. If you are an attorney contemplating a change, then consider public relations.
I am an attorney who started exploring public relations a few months ago. I practiced in big-law, in-house at investment banks and at legal aid. I can tell you that legal skills transfer well to public relations. Here’s how:
- Attorneys know a lot: Working on deals, advising on financial regulations or litigating, attorneys know a lot about how business works. Having broad experience is critical in PR because to promote clients you need to thoroughly understand what your clients do — whether it is creating financial compliance software using artificial intelligence, private equity, or management consulting. Your broad work experience helps create effective media campaigns. Being able to quickly become knowledgeable about things you know little about is another key transferable skill.
- Issue spotting: Attorneys are adept at quickly pinpointing factual and legal issues in a client’s dispute or deal. Similarly in PR, you must identify in a client’s “story” that which differentiates the client from competitors and how that appeals to the media. However in PR, you will have to stop thinking about what could go wrong and liability. You will activate your creative side developing a media “angle.”
- You write well: Attorneys write concisely and persuasively about complex matters — as do PR professionals. Whether writing a pitch to a reporter, drafting a press release, or preparing a proposal for a prospective client, you need to write impactfully. This is no time for long-winded prose or “legalese.” Writing a media “pitch,” you must succinctly persuade the reporter that the client’s story is important to his/her audience. Direct is best (and a bit more casual) — reporters receive many coverage requests each day and yours may only get a few seconds attention. Don’t worry, with practice you will enjoy writing in this “lighter” style.
- Problem Solving: Like law, PR requires problem solving — “how do I enhance my client’s brand and grow their business through media?” What timely issues and topics offer opportunities for my clients to be thought-leaders? For example, your management consulting client can provide expert commentary on a story about activist investors targeting Whole Foods. Your accounting client could be a great media source for the impact of healthcare turmoil on employers, insurance companies and providers. Before you know it, your attorney mindset will shift from what could go wrong to what is going on in the world and how to use the coverage of current events to promote clients. You will get there, and more importantly, you will enjoy the ride.
Be warned, your new colleagues, much like your relatives, assume you know every area of law and will ask you any legal question related to their clients. Just like with your relatives, do your best to answer them. Enjoy being part of a team.
If you are an attorney considering something different for your career — speak with a PR professional — after all, they are in the communications business. You may soon find yourself preparing your client for a CNBC interview, rather than a deposition.
By Mitchell Ash