Most law school students intend to become an attorney, but for a variety of reasons, that plan may not work out as expected. Whether you decided that you don’t enjoy the practice of law – not to mention the stress and burnout that come with it – or you simply found a deeper passion for another field, you may be seeking a new career opportunity. Fortunately, having your Juris Doctor degree puts you on the path to many potential careers. Although a law school background isn’t necessary for many of these roles, the knowledge and experience you have gained are certainly valuable, and the unique skills you bring to a company may make you an even more appealing candidate to employers. Some of the career paths you could explore with a law degree include non-lawyer roles in the legal industry, political positions, communications roles, business and finance opportunities and vocations in academia and advocacy.
Jobs in the Legal Occupations
If you aren’t swearing off the legal industry in its entirety, there are plenty of non-attorney roles where you could use the skill set you already possess to make a difference. Consider carefully what you like and dislike about practicing law and what your goals for your new career are.
If you enjoy life in the courtroom but feel burnt out by the demands of preparing cases and balancing inventories of clients, becoming a judge may be a natural career transition for you. Many judges started out as attorneys, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This role would allow you to be the impartial party presiding over trials and hearings.
On the other hand, if it’s the courtroom that you’re eager to escape, a role as a legal consultant might be the right fit. In this consulting position, you would continue to draw on your knowledge of law, case law and the legal process, but instead of representing clients in an official capacity – such as in the courtroom – you would provide guidance for people or companies, often to help them prevent legal matters from arising. You might help a business better understand the legal implications of its decisions or the steps it can take to reduce the likelihood of incidents of harassment or discrimination, in turn making it less likely for a lawsuit based on such an event to happen. Legal consultants work in many different fields, so experienced attorneys can find a role that suits their expertise.
You can also leverage your law background to work as an arbitrator or mediator. Like judges, these legal professionals hear cases as impartial third parties, but they do so through informal hearings for which the goal is to reach agreements to settle out of court.
Jobs in Politics
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A knowledge of law is crucial for those who work in politics. Whether you want to be a politician yourself or work behind the scenes as a policy analyst or director, your law school degree is a valuable asset. However, jobs in politics aren’t necessarily the kinds of jobs you can get through traditional application practices. No one can hire you to be a candidate for political office. Instead, you must take the initiative yourself and cultivate a strong network of supporters to help you reach voters. Similarly, many people who are hired into behind-the-scenes political roles start out by making an impression in a volunteer capacity. If you think you want to pursue a career in politics, it may make sense to start networking with established political candidates and begin volunteering to help with their campaigns – both to get your name out there and to get a firsthand look into the career path.
You might also find work as a lobbyist, bringing important issues and suggested solutions to the attention of incumbent politicians and political candidates.
Careers in Communications
Good attorneys must be great communicators. o present a compelling argument on your client’s behalf, no matter the type of legal matter, you need the skills to connect with an audience – whether a jury of laypeople or a team of attorneys or insurance adjusters – and express ideas in ways that resonate with them and persuade them to see your point of view. Some former attorneys pursue roles in writing, journalism or other areas of communications, according to Forbes.
While it’s exciting to follow your passion, consider your financial expectations, too. Most attorneys-turned-writers don’t become bestselling authors, although some do. The median wage for reporters ($41,260) and writers ($62,170)is far less than for lawyers ($120,910).
In the banking, finance and insurance industries, there are plenty of regulations that companies must comply with or face penalties for violating. If your legal area of expertise is closely related to these matters, you may have your starting place for a new career field. A former tax law attorney may make a great tax advisor or accountant, while experience in estate law may help you get started in financial planning. You might find a role as a compliance officer or analyst, in which you help banks or other financial institutions meet the terms of government regulations and avoid legal problems.
Because finance is another high-paying field, former lawyers might not feel that they are taking as much of a financial hit when switching careers to a financial occupation compared to a communications or social advocacy role.
Careers that Give Back
Many law school students want to become a lawyer to make a difference. Sometimes, they wind up frustrated because their current legal practice doesn’t afford them the opportunity to the impact they had planned. If this motivation sounds familiar, you could consider one of the many opportunities in academia and advocacy available to passionate candidates with a Juris Doctor degree. As a law school professor, you could train the next generation of lawyers, drawing from your own successes as well as your failures. You might also look for a job in advocacy or public interest. In a public interest position, you might work for a nonprofit legal aid society, working directly with clients who are economically disadvantaged, socially marginalized or otherwise disenfranchised.
You can also devote your career to advocating for public policy change, using your knowledge of legal framework and your communication skills to become a compelling voice for the cause that inspires you.