Any number of paths can lead to a rewarding career using your legal training even if you end up in a non-legal function, Erin Dunn of Priori said in a podcast with LinkSquares Chief Legal Officer Tim Parilla.
Dunn graduated from law school in 2010, when companies were hunkering down during the economic recession. “That brought me to the world of forensic accounting,” said Dunn, an accounting major before going to law school.
Dunn obtained her CPA credential and tried her hand at several accounting functions at FTI Consulting before moving into an in-house legal role at advisory company Ankura. There she worked on non-disclosure agreements, vendor and marketing contracts and other transactional work.
“It wasn’t the exact business line I had worked in as a consultant but I was generally familiar with it,” she said.
Shared skill sets
Moving from accounting to in-house legal transaction work didn’t require a big leap for Dunn because the skills the professions use are the same in many ways, she said.
This is particularly true for forensic accounting and lawyering since both jobs come down to document review.
“You’re taking a pile of 200 documents and understanding what the transactions look like,” Dunn said. “What should they have looked like? What did we expect to happen? What actually happened? Were there market factors involved? Is something nefarious happening?”
Since 2021, Dunn has been doing sales at Priori, a legal-services marketplace that helps connect in-house teams with outside counsel.
“It’s the end of the quarter for the sales team and they’re all just going nuts with all their agreements, trying to get it done, and they just need flexible support,” she said.
She’s now creating an accounts management role at the company to help it understand what its customers and clients need so Priori can help them in more innovative ways.
“I used temporary legal support when I was in-house, so I know the world,” Dunn said. “I know the pros and cons, being able to bring that consultative approach and offer clients the support they need.”
Previewing new roles
Dunn says she likes to learn about a role she’s unfamiliar with from people who already do the work because that’s the best way for her to understand if she could thrive in that role.
“What does your day-to-day look like?” she said. “What are your priorities, concerns? What does your team look like? If you’re curious about anything related to careers, just ask someone.”
She says she sets up a short chat over coffee with a busy co-worker or other executive to ask those kinds of questions.
“I’d like to understand what legal tech sales means or what customer success means or what a marketing director does,” she said. “You have to have those conversations to educate yourself and know whether you want to talk to more people like that or, no, this is not interesting at all.”
As a manager, she tries to give the people she works with the opportunity to explore career options even if it means eventually losing that person.
“The best kind of manager is someone who wants to keep working with you but realizes that by not being fully transparent and giving you all the information [about other opportunities], they wouldn’t be doing their job as a manager,” she said. “Most people know when it’s time to make a change: ‘I want to try something new and I’m not able to do it where I’m at,’ or ‘I want to jump off a cliff and do something completely different.’ It’s listening to that intuition.”
For those with a legal background, a lot of opportunity awaits, according to Dunn.
“For me, it was feeling like you’re a lawyer so you have to be a lawyer … and that’s just not true,” she said. “The takeaway is keeping an open mind. If your gut is telling you something, it’s easy to shut it down and say, ‘No, I worked hard to get to this point. I’m just going to keep on the path.’ It’s harder to listen and have conversations. It takes a lot of energy to work a 12-hour day and then still take an hour at night to email people and research. But that’s the way to get where you want to be.”