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10 Alternatives to Becoming a Lawyer: The Flexibility of a Legal Education

What does one learn in law school? Yes, law, okay. But the principles of law are only the tip of the legal iceberg. Law school is all about building character and gaining a trove of life skills. Life skills that come in handy for law school graduates seeking alternative careers to a becoming a lawyer.
The percentage of law students who end up working as lawyers has fluctuated significantly in the past decade. Around forty percent of law graduates do not practice law. This is partly due to the economy, with firms hiring fewer in-house lawyers, but it is also because more and more students are realizing the value of a law degree in countless other professions—from HR to government to business to teaching. There are also other educational paths toward a law-oriented career than attending law school, such as earning a Master’s degree in Law or getting certified as a Paralegal.

PEOPLE WANT TO HIRE YOU – KNOW YOUR WORTH!

Writing, negotiating and public speaking are valuable, but it’s not only the skills you gained during your legal education that will help you in both the legal and general workforce—it’s the character traits you built. Committing yourself to your education can be a challenge and if your goal is to earn an advanced degree, especially a Juris Doctor, than the word “challenge” is an understatement. School (especially law school) is a place where one learns resilience and to push past perceived limits. It’s a place where you become you.

So don’t underestimate your character and personality as an asset in your job application. If you made it through law school, earned an advanced degree or worked full-time while earning your bachelor’s, you are most likely a certain type of person—one who is hardworking, responsible, and a critical thinker. You pay attention to details. You are able to see different sides of a problem. You’re able to make deadlines and retain a ton of information. These are all character traits and skills that apply to numerous fields and will be appreciated by employers in many industries. Don’t shy away from highlighting these qualities in your resume and cover letter!

OH THE PLACES YOU’LL GO – IN AND OUT OF THE COURTROOM

Many entrepreneurs come out of law school, and many CEO’s and COO’s end up going back to law school to gain a firmer grasp of how to run their company. There are also employers who specifically recruit law school graduates for government jobs, including the FBI. There is a multitude of jobs that these skills can translate to—some do require law degrees while others do not, as indicated below. Keep in mind your career goals, and that this list is not exhaustive, as you read on.

Arbitrator – if your favorite aspect of learning law was mediating conflict between two parties, this is the path for you. Acting as an informal judge, an arbitrator helps move a case along before it goes to trial. A J.D. (Juris Doctor) is not required, but this job is often held by someone with a law degree.

Paralegal/Legal Assistant – If you want to work closely with attorneys and provide crucial assistance to their caseloads, this is the perfect job for you. Your enthusiasm for the law and attention to detail, which you honed in your legal education, will not go unnoticed. You do not need a law degree.

E-Discovery – We produce a LOT of electronic data. So, of course, a new field emerged to manage it within legal and government investigations. Someone working in Electronic Discovery collects, organizes, and analyzes Electronically Stored Information (ESI) for cases. This is a growing field (so get on it!), therefore educational standards are not yet set—a legal education will help, but a law degree is not necessary.

Law Professor – If you loved the law, loved your professors, loved the journey you took through law school—why leave? There are many law professors who earned their JD but decided that instead of practicing law, they wanted to impart their love for it. Law degree required!

Compliance Specialist– Charged with ensuring that a company is following all policies and standards, a compliance specialist understands the legal ins and outs of a variety of different departments within a business. A graduate who has earned a bachelor degree in legal studies or a Juris Doctor, and has an eye for detail are both in the right place.

Human Resources – Handling employee relations often involves understanding legal compliance of a company’s rules and mediating conflicts. Any level of legal education would aid in this position.

Legal Marketer – This is another fascinating career if you want to work with lawyers but don’t want to be one. Responsible for client relations, reputation management, and much more, a legal marketer is the marketing expert in a firm with extensive knowledge about the services they are promoting. Having a JD is not essential, but it helps.

Jury Consultant – Lawyers rely on consultants to select a jury for high-stakes cases and to help them evaluate human behavior and predict juror behavior. Jury consultants often have a background in sociology or the like. This job does not require a law degree, but it is helpful.

Content Writer – There are many publications and blogs specifically about the law and they are all looking for new content—Every. Day. And they are looking for writers who know their stuff. The writing and analytical skills you gain in law school or any other legal degree will go far here.

Politics/Government – As a law school graduate you learned how to construct arguments, think critically and change policy, so why not look into a career in politics? Local government offices would be keen to hire a law school graduate with an instinct to lead and communicate clearly.

If you went to law school and decided not to practice law, make sure that your potential employer knows you aren’t looking for these jobs just because you can’t find a job as a lawyer. Let your them know that this career path is intentional. Law students go on to have incredibly fulfilling careers outside of the courtroom, and this is your first step toward that. Keep in mind that most jobs you’ll apply for won’t understand the terminology you used in law school. To stand out in your non-legal job applications, and to show how your law school experience is indeed relevant, highlight the general skills you gained from each activity, rather than explaining the specifics of the activity.

This list is only a place to start. The world is your oyster! And you don’t have to fight it in court to shuck it open.

Carmiel Banasky is a writer, teacher, editor, and the author of the novel, The Suicide of Claire Bishop. carmielbanasky.com

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