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Non-firm job options: Recent law grads share advice

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When considering law school, students may have the idea that getting a law degree will equal a large salary or a lifestyle similar to television shows that portray lawyers in spacious apartments, wearing designer clothes, and hosting large events.

The reality is that may be true for some. For those who would rather work in politics, as in-house counsel, or start their own business, the salary may be smaller, but depending on one's interests and career goals, it could be more rewarding.

Liane Groth,  who graduated from Indiana University School of Law - Bloomington in May 2005, said while in law school the job search wasn't a priority.

She knew a law degree would help her in so many different jobs that she wasn't quite sure what would be her best fit.

She accepted a job at Bingham McHale because as a summer associate, she was able to work in different practice areas.

While at the firm, Groth accepted an offer to be assistant majority counsel the Indiana House of Representatives for the 2007 and 2008 legislative sessions, which took her out of the office much of that time and made it more difficult for her to keep up with the firm demands.

She worked in the firm's litigation department until earlier this year, leaving to pursue a career with more emphasis on government work. As an employee of the Indiana House Democratic Caucus, she is the campaign manager for attorney Ed DeLaney, the Democratic candidate for District 86 in the Indiana House of Representatives.

Sometimes, she said, "I joke with Ed that I made more at the firm in a week than I do in a month working for the campaign."

She said the job has led to other opportunities, such as work with Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign and the opportunity to network with attorneys and people in the community.

While "it's a lot of phone calls and knocking on doors," she said, she has seen the impact her law degree has in terms of the respect she receives.

Groth hasn't yet thought about what she'll do after the Nov. 4 election because she's been focusing on her work for the campaign. She does miss some aspects of firm work and stays in touch with her friends and mentors at the firm.

Another attorney who started at a firm and later left for another job is Scott Dillon, in-house counsel to Indiana Live! Casino, in Shelbyville.

Dillon graduated from IU School of Law - Bloomington and the Kelly School of Business MBA Program with a JD/MBA in 2003. While in law school, he wanted to be a prosecutor. Instead, his first year out of law school, he worked for Threlkeld-Reynolds doing insurance defense work. After that, he started his own practice representing plaintiffs in employment matters.

He started at Indiana Live! Casino in March 2008. The work is "invigorating and inspiring," he wrote via e-mail.

"My position implicates a broad swath of legal disciplines including gaming law, employment law, contract law, sales law, alcohol and tobacco law, and administrative law," he said.

A lawyer who finished IU School of Law - Indianapolis this year who decided not to consider a firm job is Jennifer Wagner. Formerly a journalist, she decided to go to law school because she wanted another degree.

While she has an interest in criminal law and may some day try for a job as a prosecutor or public defender, she has since helped with political campaigns. She is also a contributor to Capitol WatchBlog.

She took the suggestion from her husband, Gordon Hendry, to start a media and communications consulting business for clients in politics and in the private sector.

Hendry, who previously worked for Ice Miller and the office of former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, and is now in real estate, has encouraged her to consider working for a firm. But due to the time commitment, Wagner said that isn't likely until her daughter, and any other children she may have are much older.

As for other young attorneys looking for work, Groth suggested young attorneys consider government work. She added jobs are more satisfying when they fit one's interests more than when it's just working for a paycheck.

Dillon advises people to remember to make a good impression on coworkers, opposing counsel, and the judges they appear before in case an opportunity presents itself.

Wagner suggested attorneys volunteer for political offices, even if it's in addition to a full-time job. She also suggested attorneys keep in touch with their law school classmates, because "you never know where they'll end up." •
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