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!

Reasons NOT To Go To Law School

Inns of Court

When I was just a kid my family (my mom especially) liked to tell me that I should be a lawyer because I liked to argue so much. Not knowing any better I took their advice to heart and determined that I would go to law school. I did everything I could to make that dream happen – it influenced my extracurricular activities, my school decisions, and to some degree even my relationships/social life. I just knew that I was meant to be an attorney.

So imagine my surprise when I realized during my senior year of college that I didn’t really want to go to law school! My gut told me to go to grad school instead and study something I was passionate about. But after 20 +/- years of working towards law school, I couldn’t just walk away. The idea of disappointing my family like that was unbearable, so I decided instead to go forward with the original plan and just make the best of it. I knew by the end of the first semester it was a mistake, but stubbornness runs deep in my family. (smile)

I learned a lot in law school – about the law of course, but also about society, my peers, and myself – things better left to another post perhaps. For this post I want to share the top reasons not to go to law school. These are a combination of my own experience and a few colleagues who were nice enough to contribute to the cause – consider them words of wisdom we all wish someone would’ve told us before we enrolled.

Without A Doubt Book Cover

Anyone remember that O.J. trial? (This is a great book btw)

I want to be rich and/or famous

Oh don’t we all? Especially when we’re young and think being rich and famous would solve all of our problems. The truth is, the majority of attorneys do make good money. But they work hard for that money – 50+ hours a week, living life in 6 minute billing increments. Of course most of us also have student loans to pay back so… The rich and famous attorneys are far and few between. Sure one case can make you, but chances are someone had to be really hurt to get you that case, so it’s a bit of a catch 22 when wishing for action. If you’re in it for the justice, well then, the money shouldn’t matter so much, huh? And P.S., there is no justice in the justice system. It really is all about the better attorney – no pressure though!

My family/friends/etc. want me to be a lawyer…

Most of my immediate family didn’t make it past high school, so they were all very encouraging when it came to higher education (which I appreciate very, very much). I think my mom felt like my going to law school would somehow give her an affirmation of being a good parent, of getting me through the “rebellious years.” The others were a mix of wanting a secure future for me and getting free legal advice. But here’s the thing, your family/friends/whomever aren’t the ones who have to do all of the work. These are your choices that you are making for your life. You’ll be the one who has to keep up the grades, pick the right major, and then survive law school – not them. And you will be the one who practices law every day and sees the realities behind the profession.

I’ve always thought that being a lawyer was like being an inactive law enforcement officer. There are some truly good days that make it all worthwhile, but you also see people in all their not-so-glorious humanity as well. There are so many rules to follow, so many politics to maneuver, it’s really no wonder that alcoholism runs rampant amongst attorneys. (And no, I am not saying you’ll become an alcoholic because you are an attorney, I’m just saying it’s a prevalent pitfall of the profession.)

Blind justice clip art

Blind Justice indeed

I love to argue – and win…

Congratulations! I’m sure your friends love carrying on conversations with you…*ahem* Let me tell you something now that I didn’t realize until it was way too late – you get further by persuading people than by arguing with them. And persuading is exactly what lawyers do. It’s never really an argument so much as (at best) a heated debate. If you’re arguing, you’re on the defensive and perhaps missing a key opportunity to present your side of the story. Oh and you will lose sometimes won’t always get everything you want/ask for. The final decision is almost never up to you – that lies in the hands of your clients or a judge. Sometimes they’re capable of appreciating the finer nuances of the situation, but oftentimes it all just depends on a mood or even a bias. Nobody’s perfect. And when you lose don’t get exactly what you were hoping for, there may or may not be ways to appeal the decision – either way it will be steeped in rules that oftentimes take the wind right out of those puffy red cheeks. Maybe you should consider being a political commentator instead?

I don’t know what else to do…

Look into other grad school options, join the peace corps, take the first interesting job you come across, explore your options!! You can always go to law school later. In fact, I often wonder if I would have done better with a more mature perspective. Law school can be an expensive and stressful gamble if you aren’t 100% dedicated to the cause. Explore your reasoning for thinking about law in the first place – is it on this list? (If so, reevaluate!) Would you rather be more active – perhaps a cop, a forensic scientist, or an FBI agent (my dream long ago) would be a better option? Do you want to bring about justice and change in the world? Try joining a non-profit in another capacity first. If you really enjoy it and feel like a law degree would be helpful, that knowledge will help you better focus your studies and graduate with a much better sense of direction. Law school is a life changing journey, much more so than an undergrad degree. You owe it to yourself – and your potential future clients – to choose the option truest to yourself and your own happiness. I can promise you that personal happiness will go a long way in building a successful career. (smile)

Graduation photo

I promise I was happier than I appear in this photo!