I am a middle aged woman who recently acquired a law degree (and bar admission) and wish to pursue a career in HR. So far, I’m told that my law degree is worthless in HR! I’m a bit surprised by this because my 30+ years of corporate experience (in administrative positions) tells me otherwise. HR as a function includes employee relations, which is a goldmine for plaintiff’s attorneys. Let’s face it – management and employees sometimes do not share an amicable relationship.
I assume that I will need to start in an entry level position and work my way up. Is it a good idea to “minimize” my legal education on my resume?
Any advise would be appreciated.
Surprisingly enough, I dealt with an extremely similar question back in July. Click over and read it and all the comments. There are comments from actual labor and employment lawyers!
Here’s where your law degree is a liability for you. If I’m hiring an employee relations person, I want an employee relations person, not a lawyer. If I wanted a lawyer, I would hire a lawyer.
Richard Bales at Workplace Prof Blog reported a study that indicated that humans are disposed towards optimism–except for lawyers.
I found this highly amusing as my most enthusiastic, optimistic sibling is a lawyer. So I asked him. He said, “I can see why that is. All day long you deal with people who make bad choices and are arguing with other people making bad choices.” Or anyway, he said something similar, as I didn’t actually write it down because I didn’t plan on regurgitating it until this very moment. (He can correct himself in the comments, if he so desires.)
My point with all this? Lawyers are adversarial. They are used to arguing a case. (Note that when you go to court, it’s for “oral arguments” not for “a meeting with some nice donuts and maybe some fresh fruit for those who are watching their weight.”)
Not saying this is bad or good, just saying that it is. Now, you may or may not be adversarial. You may have just gone to law school to learn the law and now you want to apply it to HR. Great. But, I see lawyer on your resume and I think, “adversarial.” I do not want someone with that mindset in an employee relations role.
Yes, you must know the law to be a good HR person. However, the law you must know is limited and we have lawyers who we rely on if things get complicated. But, HR isn’t so much of a “negotiating” with employees kind of a role as it is a “coaching” role.
We try to develop. We try to resolve. We don’t try to argue. (Although, sometimes we do and sometimes we silently bang our heads repeatedly against our desks, but usually with our office doors closed–that is if we haven’t been stuck in a cube. I currently have a head banging causing situation that I can’t write about. All I can say is it’s good that the employee in question is actually located several hundred miles from me because I might become a little more “adversarial” than I should and start banging his head against the wall.)
If you want to be in HR, you need to convince potential employers that, while lawyers are trained to be adversarial, you are not that type of person. You just have a firm understanding of the law. You want to develop people. You want to “resolve” conflicts, not win cases.
As with my other person with a similar predicament, I would recommend labor & employment law. Work for a law firm. Get an in-house position.
Now, that the advice is over, I have some questions for you. I’m curious as to why a “middle aged” woman would spend the time and money to go to law school when the end goal wasn’t to practice law? That’s something I would expect a 22 year old to do–I don’t know how to get a job, so I’ll just go get another degree! But, you’ve been in the work force for a long time and know the ropes. Ask yourself, why did you really get a law degree?
Prestige? It was close to your house? Big salary dreams? If you knew you wanted to do HR, why not get a master’s in Human Resources or Organizational Development? Why did you choose law school?
If you wanted to be a lawyer, but haven’t been able to secure a job and figured that HR was a good second choice where you could at least use some of your knowledge, well that I understand. I have a master’s degree in political science, and we all know how useful that can be. (But it works–politicians are corrupt and self centered, some management is corrupt and self centered. It’s all the same, really, except a distinct lack of bribery goes on in my current work.)
For those of you who have managed to wade through this long answer, (what can I say? It’s Thanksgiving morning and Grandma is fixing the Offspring’s hair, and everyone else is sleeping, so I have time), and who are not done with school, or are thinking about going back, I have some thoughts for you.
Why are you going into this particular program?
What do you think this degree will do for you?
What doors will open with this degree?
What doors will close with this degree?
Have you talked to alumni (notice, I used the plural) about how their degrees have helped them?
Is this the school you really want to be at? Why? Why didn’t you pick a different school? If you could easily move, would you attend a different school? Why?
Will this degree raise my earning potential? Are you sure? What makes you think that?
I hate to see people finish school and go, “now what?” Or, “But I thought I could do X, but no one will hire me now!” Or, “I really wanted to work for company X, but they don’t recruit candidates from this school.”
Think before you jump into graduate school. Think, think, think. Then do it. Or not.