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Like To Write? How To Break In To Legal Journalism As A Lawyer

Careers in Journalism

When Jill Schachner Chanen considered leaving the law, she thought about what she liked about her job: writing. Like many lawyers before her, she took her legal knowledge and skills into the journalism world, a great alternative career for lawyers. In this video, Jill shares how you, too, can find legal journalism jobs.

Jill, the assistant managing editor of ABA Journal, has worked both as a reporter and editor. In this interview, she shares what various careers in journalism are like, and how journalistic writing is different from legal writing.

Be sure to listen for her great tips on how to break in to these great careers for lawyers, including how to pitch articles. Not sure what you want to do? Get started with my guide to leaving law here: “I hate being a lawyer.”

Join JD Careers Out There for access to this video plus more day-in-the-life career path interview videos & transcripts.

Today’s Guest

Legal Journalist Jill Schachner ChanenJill Schachner Chanen
Title: Director of Public Affairs at the John Marshall Law School
City: Chicago, IL
Law School: Loyola University Chicago School of Law in Chicago, IL
Other Post-Graduate School: Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University in Evanston, IL
College: Northwestern University in Evanston, IL
Previous Career: At the time of this interview, Jill was the Assistant Managing Editor of the ABA Journal. Before going into journalism, she worked as a law firm associate.
Videos: Careers in Journalism & Jill’s Career Advice


This is a transcript of the preview video on journalism careers.

Join JD Careers Out There for access to the full version of this transcript plus the career guidance video library & transcripts.

Luber: Hey everyone – today on JD Careers Out There we’re looking at what it’s like to use your law background as a journalist – so stick around!

[theme song]

Alright, today’s guest is Jill Schachner Chanen, who left the practice of law for a career in journalism. Today she’s the assistant managing editor of the ABA Journal and she also teaches journalism at Columbia College in Chicago.

As you may already know, at JDCOT, we explore career paths both in law practice and outside of law for those of you who are thinking, “I hate being a lawyer,” or simply want to explore alternative jobs for law graduates. We do this to help you find a fulfilling career that fits you and help you succeed using your law degree.

I’m your host Marc Luber, the founder of JDCOT. I’ve always used my law degree to work in alternative careers for lawyers – first in the music industry and then as a legal recruiter. I’ve been helping lawyers with their careers since 2003 and I’m excited for the opportunity to help you.

Today, Jill’s gonna tell us all about careers in journalism, so let’s get started. Jill, welcome to JDCOT!

Jill: Thanks, Marc, it’s good to be here.

Luber: Definitely, thank you for being here. And Jill, I’m going to ask you to tell us all about this legal journalism path, who makes a good fit for it, how to break in and stuff like that. But first, tell us, what do you as a legal journalist?

Jill: Well I’m an assistant managing editor at the ABA Journal of the American Bar Association and we’re a monthly publication that goes out to about half a million lawyers every month and we like to say we cover the law, the legal profession and trends in the law from Wall Street to Main Street nationwide.

What that translates to as a legal journalist may mean something different every single day. I, as an editor, help plan the magazine, help assign stories, actually edit stories and I’m also taking on some new roles, as many journalists are these days, in trying to monetize our editorial content. So looking for business development opportunities, we’re expanding into programming, seminars and the like, so it’s always a jam-packed day; it means lots of different things.

But the essence of being a legal journalist is really being a reporter or an editor and covering the law, whether that’s a Supreme Court decision or trends in the law, writing profiles of interesting people in the law and just covering the industry in general.

Luber: Interesting. So can you describe to us how the role of editor would differ from the role of reporter, both in the day-to-day work as well as the lifestyle of the job?

Jill: Yeah, that’s a great question. Let me just start, a reporter generally is somebody who, really, his primary responsibility is writing and they may have responsibility for coming up with their own story ideas or taking assignments from editors and doing the story idea.

And they may have a certain quota every day if you’re working for a daily newspaper, for example. You may have a quota of stories you have to write every day; you have to cover a beat, which means a certain topic or subject area and turn in a certain number of stories.

Working for a monthly magazine, we’re probably a bit slower pace; we don’t have as many stories but we’re also thinly staffed like everybody else is these days, so we’re doing more with less.

As an editor I, on occasion, write. I guess I have the benefit and the luxury of being a little bit choosy if I want to write something or I want to assign it out.

I have a lot of responsibilities, planning…actually editing, taking copy in – raw copy that comes in and working with it and rewriting it and working with reporters. I do that on a daily basis. And a constant responsibility to come up with content for the magazine.

I’m not the only editor; we all have those responsibilities, but it’s a lot of pressure to always come up with current, interesting copy and that requires a lot of time, research, talking to people, being out in the street.

Luber: Alright, so that should give you a little taste of what it’s like to work in journalism. We’ll continue this discussion in the Full interview. You’ll hear Jill talk about things like a typical day, who makes the right fit for careers in journalism, how to break in and lots more.

You’ll want to join the JDCOT membership for for access to the full, in-depth career interviews & transcripts that will help you find and land a career that fits you. Check out what people are saying about JDCOT by clicking here.

Thanks again for watching everybody. I’m Marc Luber and I’ll see ya soon.

[theme song]

©2019 Careers Out There

What do you think about leaving law to practice journalism? Share your feedback in the Comments section below.

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JDCOT's self-reflection questionnaire 


Thinking of leaving the law? The best first step you can take is a good look in the mirror. START HERE:

it's free!
You’ll also get periodic updates, reminders & access to career guidance programs sent to your inbox. We respect your privacy. You can unsubscribe via a click at any time.