Ever wanted to combine your interest in law with travel outside the traditional corporate law career path? Tatiana Stotz (Juris Doctor with Honours (ANU) & B. International Studies (Syd)) did just that. She turned down a corporate graduate law position to pursue her interests in corporate social responsibility and human rights and now travels the world doing what she loves.
By Tatiana Stotz (Published 9 February 2015)
I must admit, I promised to send in this blog post around a week ago. But my excuse is that I have been at the UN Headquarters in Geneva attending the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights (I know, I’m bragging a bit).
I am the Programme Manager for the International Marine Purchasing Association’s CSR Initiative, IMPA ACT (www.impa-act.org). Most of my role involves advocacy and building the capacity of shipping companies and shipping suppliers wanting to improve their sustainability and human rights compliance. Our offices based in Colchester (1hr from London), but I regularly travel throughout Europe for work and have worked remotely from Australia a couple of times.
A few years ago I wasn’t really sure if you could get a job in business and human rights. A few days ago, I was a speaker on UN panel on human rights challenges in large supply chains sitting next to the Unilever’s Global VP for Social Impact (next dream job for sure).
After finishing a JD honours thesis on business and human rights last year, I chose to turn down a graduate law position to work in this field. It was quite a gamble, but I am glad that I made the leap.
A ‘non-traditional’ law career has definitely been great for me so far, even if there is a bit of trial and error in figuring out where you are going. So with that in mind, I’ve reflected on some of the practical steps that I have taken and would recommend to others.
Image Source: Demetri Martin
1) Ask yourself: ‘What makes my heart sing?’
This by far is the most important thing to reflect on. This isn’t necessarily what you are good at, or the law school subject you have enjoyed the most, but what cause, subject matter or pursuit that you truly enjoy and feel intellectually stimulated by. For me this was corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the business responsibility to respect human rights. I could read for hours about it, get super excited when I find it in the news, and have nerdy crushes on the academics in the area.
It might be a subject matter, a lifestyle (e.g. I want a role that allows me to work from Thailand), or may be unrelated to law (e.g. I want to be part of a business that through technology that improves livelihoods). Knowing this enables you to put in the hard work and persevere- particularly in late study or work sessions.
Once I found this, I could develop a rough plan of some of the experiences or organisations I wanted to work with. It enabled me to look at the people I admired in this emerging field and the spectrum of experiences and career moves it took for them to get where they were. The end goal became clearer…and so did the steps I needed to take to get there.
Another added bonus was that it took the pressure of engaging in (as much) comparison with my law friends who were pursing impressive and enviable opportunities or clerkships, but which ultimately were not essential for what I wanted to achieve.
2) Instead of taking a winter break, organise your own summer school overseas
Many law schools will have a summer or winter exchange program, but the timing can be off for other opportunities and may be competitive to get into. If this is the case, consider independently organising credit for a summer school subject.
I took up a subject on Comparative Corporate Governance at the London School of Economics during one Aussie winter (hello European summer). It was a great way of building up expertise, making friends and exploring local city life all at once. Bonus, I only had to take three subjects the next semester. Downside, you might need the extra time to pay off the expensive flights and course cost.
3) Create your perfect internship
If you can’t find an internship in the area you want to break into, one strategy is to approach an organisation with an internship proposal. I did this a couple of times on LinkedIn by connecting an individual expert, shouting them for a quick coffee to pick their brains about their career, and eventually suggesting a short-term internship. This was the way that I ultimately got my foot in the door in the world of CSR and business and human rights.
In my (worryingly) vast experience of unpaid internships, I have found that the more structure, the better. Advertised internships therefore have an upper hand by being based on the organisations existing need and capacity to supervise you.
Therefore, if you are considering proposing an internship, I would suggest a pro bono short-term project based on an area of research or expertise you wish to acquire. Create a draft project plan with key deliverables and defined expectations. Remember, it is important to treat volunteer positions and internships professionally by meeting deadlines and completing work to the best of your ability. Burning bridges is unnecessary and not advisable, even when you are working for free.
4) Consider gaining industry experience and don’t neglect your other degree
Another angle to take is to reflect on the industries that you find interesting. ITC, Logistics, Mining, Professional Services, the Arts. Which ever it is, gaining a good understanding of an industry, its legal challenges, and the main players will make you a better lawyer in the long run.
Going in-house is one option. Another option is to draw upon your other degree and consider joining a company either temporarily or as a graduate in a non-legal capacity. Transitioning from one team to another internally or working on legal issues in other departments may be a creative way to get on board.
5) Make a name for yourself
I haven’t always been the best at networking, but it does get a bit better with practice. One thing that I highly recommend is to attend conferences and events that are relevant to the area you want to get into. You often find yourself the only student there and (accidentally) eating a sandwich lunch standing next to some really interesting and influential people.
If the conference has a registration fee, sometimes directly contacting the event organiser may help to get in for free or a reduced price. One suggestion would be to live tweet the event and write a blog post in exchange for a complimentary conference pass.
Twitter also makes connecting and engaging in a dialogue with experts much easier. Like their tweets, mention them in articles that are relevant to them, engage in a conversation. If you are a bit on the shy side, building an online rapport can give you a boost of confidence when meeting them at events (and also gives you something to talk about!).
Take away lesson: Remember why you are doing it
For all the effort I’ve put in pursing a career that I love, the most important thing that I have learnt has been to try and enjoy the process of working towards your dream job. This means celebrating the successes and appreciating that it success isn’t a straight line.
If you are at the beginning of this, it is tough but well worth it. Remember to have fun, create your own luck, and enjoy the ride.