Finding Success Down the Road Less Traveled: A discussion with Mark Burns on non-traditional career paths for law students

I am hearing more and more from third year law students that they are planning, and working toward, careers outside of the “typical” legal market.  Those same students are often finding success on the path less traveled.  It seems that the very nature of non-traditional career paths forces law students and new lawyers to be more proactive and self-promoting.  The absence of established law firm recruiting or governmental internships seem to encourage a person interested in a career in an area such as music, sports,  insurance claims, negotiations, etc. to create a success plan that is more tailored to their own unique strengths and circumstances.  These customized approaches are  producing great results when coupled with initiative and ingenuity.

I recently spoke with Mark Burns, a 3L at Belmont School of Law, about this topic of finding success on a path less traveled.  Burns, who has been very successful in creating a positive brand for himself within his chosen career path, discussed the need to follow 3 valuable steps to establish yourself in a chosen market.

1)      Put yourself out there in your chosen market

2)      Get busy connecting within this chosen market

3)      Add value to your connections

Put yourself out there in your chosen market:  In our conversation Burns simultaneously encouraged the use of social media as a preferred platform for breaking into a field of interest, and cautioned the danger of not having adequately sanitized your online image for professional viewing.  He discussed how the use of LinkedIn in a coordinated effort with Twitter and Facebook were instrumental in allowing him to become part of the sports market, where he intends to build his career.  The use of social media however is only as good as the image you have created and fostered for others to see, and if you have not taken the time to make sure this image is in-line with your professional goals please do so today.  Burns also suggested the creation of both professional and personal accounts to allow you to both portray the professional image you want, while also allowing you to enjoy conversations with friends about social and family events.

Get busy connecting within this chosen market:  Once you have chosen the market you would like to build your career in, and have positioned yourself within its borders, Burns encourages swift and consistent activities.  Adding well informed comments to a conversation, timely blog entries and articles, and attending events related to this market are essential in creating the opportunities that get you noticed in the way you want, by the people you want.  It is important to recognize that this is not the precursor to your career, but is the actual beginning of your career.  Now is the time to work hard at becoming a professional within this market, you career starts today.

Add value to your connections:  Burns gave a great example of how he was able to leverage his new connection, established though social media, into a solid opportunity.  It didn’t take some uncanny ability to do legal analysis, but good old fashion hustle, a trait that in my observation Burns has in abundance.  By first identifying a need that a significant connection in the field had, Burns took the initiative to fill that need (creating spreadsheets and organizing data) and gave it to this person as both a token of assistance, and a demonstration of his willingness to jump in and work.  This act of adding value turned into multiple opportunities including working with this connection on multiple articles for Forbes. 

Mark Burns is an example of how to succeed in breaking into a non-traditional market while in law school.  The conversation with him, which I encourage everyone to listen to (see player below), was one of optimism and the hard work and ingenuity that it takes to be successful.  Burns is one, but not the only, example of how despite gloomy observations and employment numbers for new lawyer, victory is still being taken from the jaws of defeat by people being bold enough to go get it.


-Brett Knight



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Filed under Belmont University College of Law

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