10 Alternative Careers for JDs

justice scale clip artI’ve been thinking a lot lately about career choices, especially all the different career paths available for my educational background and experience. Until I went to law school, I had never thought much about alternatives to traditional legal practice. Then I met others who were actually subjecting themselves to law school with no intentions of practicing or even being admitted to a bar! It blew my mind to think of all that hard work without the end “prestige.” Of course now I can look back and smile at my naiveté. It was those people who gave me hope after I hit the real world and realized I didn’t want to be a practicing lawyer. I was lucky enough to fall into environmental consulting, but there’s a whole world of other options out there!

Last month I went over the top reasons NOT to go to law school. This month I wanted to focus on alternative career options for those who survived law school only to discover that the traditional legal field just isn’t for them. So here are my top 10 suggestions (based solely on my opinion):

  1. Academics. Whether you wish to teach law or at a collegiate or K-12 level, academics is a very viable (and popular) option. Law professors, much like college professors, spend a great deal of time teaching (obviously) but also conducting research and writing articles on various aspects of the law.
  2. Agent – sports, entertainment, real estate, etc. My law school had a reputation for sports and entertainment law. Students in that area were generally the ones in law school for the knowledge (with no intention of sitting for a bar exam). Those negotiation and contract skills really help out when it comes time to bring in those endorsement deals! Commercial real estate also seems to be especially popular given all the different laws and regulations in that area. Any of these would certainly put those hours of studying for contracts to good use! (smile)
  3. Banking/finance. If you prefer to stick to working with the money rather than statutes, that law degree can still prove useful, especially when advising clients. Areas such as estates, tax, and small business are popular options.
  4. Compliance. Compliance professionals can be found in almost all industries, but especially health care, technology, insurance, etc. These guys make sure that business flows in accordance with laws and regulations.
  5. HR management. There’s an increasing desire for individuals capable of hiring employees and implementing policies and procedures to enhance work environments. These positions also involve a degree of #4, as the rules and regulations for businesses are constantly evolving.
  6. Government. Several of my classmates and friends have taken government positions as officers in the Foreign Service, asylum or refugee officers in Citizenship and Immigration Services, or policy advisors in one of the other departments. The FBI, CIA, and other enforcement agencies are also popular options. All of these positions fully utilize the skills inherent with a law degree, without requiring you to actually practice.
  7. Journalism/writing. Legal journalism has become popular these days thanks to an increasing interest in high profile cases. There’s even a network devoted to the cause (TruTV, which used to be CourtTV)! But if you find it’s not your thing, consider writing instead – just channel your inner John Grisham. (smile)
  8. Law librarian. Chances are you spent a good amount of law school becoming very familiar with the library. Law librarians maintain the library’s collection of texts and materials as well as assisting lawyers, professors, and students with their research. I actually knew a girl in my class who took this option and loves her job; although I do believe there was some additional training involved.
  9. Politician/lobbyist. Law school does give you a very insider perspective as to how our government works. You begin to understand how an idea comes together to form a law as well as the ramifications from that law – especially if it’s not well written. This is invaluable knowledge for someone running for office or lobbying for particular issues. Politicians make the rules. Lobbyists are often employed by public interest groups, trade organizations, and PR firms to utilize contacts with lawmakers to push certain policies. Lobbyists, like politicians, must be well versed on the issues and possess excellent communication skills, which shouldn’t be a problem for most lawyers.
  10. Consultant. And last on the list, my own choice – consulting. I chose environmental consulting but these days there are consultants in most industries. These guys work with any number of statutes and apply them to their client’s needs. It’s a great way to practice your legal skills in a particular area in a broader way. For instance, I like environmental law but I don’t want to be tied to only water law. As a consultant, there are few environmental laws I haven’t had some exposure to at some point along the way, which certainly keeps things interesting!

This list is by no means comprehensive and I encourage anyone out there thinking about making a change to do your research! I fully understand how hard it is to let go of the idea of being a traditional lawyer, but with so many great options out there these days, there’s no excuse not to be doing something you love. And there’s certainly no shame in being happy!

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