From Lawyer to Contract-Management Professional: A One-Way Trip?

In this 2009 post I wrote about the respective roles of lawyers and contract-management personnel in the contract process. That’s what led a reader to send me the following:

I am an attorney licensed to practice since 2009 and, since graduating law school have been working in a small, general practice law office as an associate attorney. My current position focuses around the traditional role as an attorney, representing clients in various legal proceedings. However, I have always wanted to work more on the transactional side of the law dealing with drafting, negotiating, and advising on contracts. I have always felt that my goal is to become an in-house counsel.

For the past 6-8 months, I have been searching and applying for new jobs that more closely match what I would like to be doing. As I have not been having great success in attempting to transition from my litigation background to the transactional side of the law because most positions available require the candidate to have at least a year or two of transactional law experience. Just recently, I have started looking at contract administrator and contract manager opportunities in addition to the more traditional attorney positions. In fact, I am about to have a second interview with a company for a contract manager role.

My main reservation/concern with possibly accepting this opportunity (and I suppose my question for you) is whether working as a contract manager for a few years will ultimately help my career path? Essentially, if I were to take this position and work as a contract manager and then 2-3 years down the road want to switch to a law firm as a contracts/transactional attorney or to an in-house counsel position with a company (or even within the same company), will having spent my time in this contract manager role really provide me with the kind of experience that my future employer would be looking for? Would this experience enable me to move up the ladder so to speak? Or would I be met with the sentiment that I have been working in a non-attorney position and, therefore, have essentially been out-of-practice for a few years, ultimately hindering my career path?

In addition to my general goals for my career is, of course, the compensation issue. As my current position does not pay well and this contract manager position would be a salary increase, it is not quite the increase I am looking for. But, with today’s job market, I feel like I should feel blessed for any opportunities and take what I can get. However, the reality is that, with the mountains of debt I am now shouldering from law school, the traditional salary range for a contract manager (from my understanding and research thus far that range is about $50,000 to $75,000 being very high for this position) just isn’t going to be enough a few years down the road. When I decided to take on that huge debt in 2006, I never dreamed that I would now be four years out of law school and still making less than $80,000-$90,000. So, the necessity and opportunity for increased salary in the future has to be a huge part of this decision.

I invite you to give this reader the benefit of your thoughts. In particular, is the change from lawyer to contract-management professional a one-way trip?

[Updated May 12, 2013: I started a discussion about this post on the LinkedIn group “Contract & Commercial Management,” here. You have to join the group to view it.]

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.