You’ve spent three years in law school—and perhaps some time practicing law—and realize now that the idea of spending time in a courtroom, reviewing contracts, poring over financial statements, taking depositions, dealing with clients, going toe-to-toe with opposing counsel, or keeping track of billable hours turns your stomach. And this isn’t merely a passing phase, but a certainty—you do not want to practice law. Further, you don’t want to undertake additional schooling. What now?
First, take a deep breath. You certainly aren’t the first person to be in this position. A recent survey found that while 97% of the members of the class of 2018 were employed, only 51% were working in law firms. Fourteen percent of the surveyed graduates were working in business, and 13% were in government work.[i] Another report—this one from the International Bar Association—showed that 20% of 3,000 junior lawyers surveyed worldwide are considering leaving the profession altogether by 2027.[ii] Second, take heart. Don’t become preoccupied with thinking that you need to practice law, or that you’re selling yourself short by not directly using your law degree. Third, take steps to use your law degree to your advantage. Having a JD makes you very marketable, and serves as an excellent foundation for doing things other than practicing law. The skills acquired in law school “have broad applicability across a range of fields.”[iii]
What are some of the best options for lawyers who don’t want to practice law?
Alternative Careers to Consider
- Real Estate Agent/Regional Planner/Land Manager. Property is generally one of seven foundational courses in one’s first year in law school, so anyone coming out of law school will have some familiarity with property law. Further, courses in law school necessarily involve extensive reading of (and some ability to understand) federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Persons with JDs are particularly well suited to analyze information, navigate disputes, and ensure compliance in the above-mentioned fields.
- Human Resources/Recruiting. With (1) Contracts as a required 1L course, (2) likely exposure to classes in labor & employment, employee benefits, insurance law, mediation, and/or negotiation, and (3) the ability to read, interpret, and apply federal statutes like Title VII, OSHA, ERISA, FLSA, FMLA, and the ADA, to name a few, a law degree provides a strong basis for work in human resources or recruiting.[iv]
- Government. Plenty of non-practicing lawyers wind up working in government because of their experience with general legislative, regulatory, and public policy matters, and because of their analytical skills. Positions with the government can include anything in politics, in law enforcement or criminal justice, with regulatory agencies, and with public policy organizations or think tanks.
- Banking/Finance. The financial services industry is “highly regulated, and lawyers have credentials that are greatly in demand.”[v] Taxation, securities law, mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcy/restructuring, and trusts and estates are all law courses that lend themselves to positions in banking and finance, as does experience reading and analyzing regulations and legislation. Examples of positions in this field include trust officers, financial advisors, and estate-planning advisors.
- Compliance/Risk Management. Employees in this field are responsible for knowing the rules and regulations that govern organizations—and for making sure everyone in the organization is following them. While some schools offer specific certificate and “juris master” programs in compliance and risk management, law school generally includes substantial exposure to and experience with contracts, laws, regulations, and policies so that a career in compliance and risk management is eminently possible.
- Something in a legal-adjacent industry, where there is a preference or an advantage for persons with law degrees. In many roles, having spent three years in law school, having some legal work experience, and knowing the “language” can be advantageous. These types of positions include working at a law firm or law school in some sort of marketing, communications, or advisory capacity. The legal background gives you automatic credibility and relatability among attorneys, administrators, professors, and students.
Preparing for or spending time in a particular career can be quite an investment—in terms of time, money, and effort—and changing jobs can be a daunting undertaking. However, with a law degree or legal experience, you are uniquely situated and prepared for positions in many different fields.
[i] Weiss, D.C. (2022, June 28). Only half of class of 2018 law grads practice in law firms, NALP report finds. ABA Journal. https://www.abajournal.com/web/article/only-51-of-class-of-2018-law-grads-practice-in-law-firms-nalp-report-finds
[ii] Walker, H. (2022, February 1). Over Half Of Young Lawyers Considering Quitting by 2027, IBA Research Finds. Law.com. https://www.law.com/international-edition/2022/02/01/over-half-of-young-lawyers-considering-quitting-by-2027-iba-research-finds/
[iii] Kuris, G. (2022, June 27). Go to Law School if You Don’t Plan to Practice? U.S. News. https://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/law-admissions-lowdown/articles/is-law-school-worth-it-even-if-you-dont-plan-to-practice-law
[iv] St. Francis School of Law. (2021, April 16). How Does a Law Degree Benefit HR Professionals. https://stfrancislaw.com/blog/law-degree-for-hr-professionals/
[v] Kolakowski, M. (2019, January 23). Career Options in Finance for Law Degree Holders. LiveAbout. https://www.liveabout.com/lawyers-in-finance-1287193
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