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Publish Date: 9/6/2006

Consider your options in public-interest law


Dear Kate & Dale: I think I want to go to law school, but Iím not interested in corporate law. However, Iíll run up a lot of bills in law school, and public-interest law pays less than half of what I could earn in corporate law. I have excellent sales, public speaking and writing skills, and I now work for a great law firm. Is law for me? Ė Paul

Dale: I once interviewed Gerry Spence Ė one of the lawyers often seen on TV Ė who insisted with passion, "There are not too many lawyers; there are too few people working for justice."

Kate: Law schools have recognized the problem, and many of them are finding ways to help those who want to get into public-interest law. There are programs where student loans are gradually forgiven if the graduate remains in public-interest employment.

Dale: And there are nonprofits with related plans, such as one where annual bonuses go to paying off student loans. That program was started by an attorney who left a great job as corporate counsel to represent abused children. She told me her starting annual salary in the nonprofit sector was $20,000 less than her first corporate job out of law school. But her comment on that sacrifice might inspire you, Paul. She said she leaves work every day "feeling clean."

Kate: You also might be inspired to know that doing good and doing well need not be mutually exclusive. One client started a not-for-profit school in an inner city and raised money from many foundations.

Sheís a single mom, making more than $200,000 and living well. Like you, she had sales and leadership skills, and used them to raise money for a cause she cared about.

Dale: Which makes you wonder if you really need law school. If you have the skills and the heart, maybe you donít need the legalistic mindset, and you certainly donít need the debt.

Dear Kate & Dale: Iíve been in the workforce for 11 years. I worked for a company for five years, then my wife and I moved across the state to be closer to family. Since then, I have not been able to settle myself into a position for more than eight months.

Iíve been a firefighter, an insurance adjuster, a service manager in an equipment dealership and a service technician in a poultry company. Iíve increased my salary with each job and left on my own terms; however, my wife said job-hopping is not the answer. I try to explain that I know the job for me is out there; I just have to keep searching.

I have a degree in animal science and would love to work in agricultural sales, but with my work history and no experience in sales, the chances of getting hired are limited. How can I settle down? Ė Cornell

Kate: Your wife is right. You donít need a job; you need a career. You already have a dream, but youíre just hoping to luck into something you love. Chances are, it isnít going to happen. The job with a poultry company was on the right track Ė on paper, at least. If you are still with that company, you could move into sales.

Dale: On the other hand, you have been gathering experience and making contacts. Take your experience and let it propel you forward. Iím guessing thereís a company that sells to poultry farms that would give you a shot at sales. Or try a farm equipment company. If you canít get a break into sales, take it in two steps, as Kate suggests Ė service manager with an agricultural firm, then sales. Take that restless energy and bounce it forward into a career. Hopping is bad, but bouncing is one of lifeís great skills.

Kate Wendleton is the founder of The Five OíClock Club, a national career-counseling network (www.fiveoclockclub.com). Her newest book is "Mastering the Job Interview and Winning the Money Game" (Thomson Delmar Learning). Dale Dauten is the founder of The Innovatorsí Lab. His latest book is "Better Than Perfect: How Gifted Bosses and Great Employees Lift the Performance of Those Around Them" (Career Press). Please write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail dale@dauten.com.

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