Why Go For a Non-Lawyer Career with a JD

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With one lawyer in every 247 citizens in U.S., going for a non-lawyer career with a JD is a question that crosses the minds of many law students and attorneys, quite frequently and quite logically. To establish success in a career, besides the obvious formulae of hard work, time management, acquiring effective habits and other essential strategies, market positioning is one that is often overlooked.

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Positioning yourself for an alternative career:

Let's give a simple example: One of my friends, who was just a nonentity here and literally struggling to survive, is currently having a great life of respect, adequate money and quality life in Schezwan province of China as an English teacher. In U.S., he was just another person who knew English as a mother tongue – nothing out of the ordinary. In China, he is an extraordinary asset to the educational institution which hired him.

My friend successfully positioned himself by making a shift from being in a market where his skills were surplus in supply (everyone knows English) to where his skills are in great demand (no one has English as his mother tongue). Same thing with a JD. There are many skills that are acquired by law students and graduates with JD which are ordinary in a market for lawyers, but extraordinary in many non-lawyer jobs. Proper market positioning can yield quick success in alternative careers and accompanying greater quality of live and living. Sometimes, it is worth a thought, and this article is for those who do not subscribe to the belief that when you have a JD, your only option in life is to become a lawyer.

What do you get on a non-lawyer job that prefers a JD?

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While there are many advantages of a non-lawyer job over that of traditional lawyer jobs, the following are obvious:
  • No sweatshop and billable hours
  • Better work-life balance
  • No pressured atmosphere where ‘who you are' is measured on ‘how much you manage to bring in'
  • No facing the common public disdain for lawyers ( You might be able to prove it is illogical, but won't be able to prove that it does not exist)
  • No more bound to state licensing authorities and constrained to keep working in the same courts – leading to greater geographical flexibility
  • Greater respect from colleagues and co-workers for your legal knowledge and background
  • A greater number of career options
  • Greater value for your undergraduate education
  • Greater job and salary security
  • Greater rights as an employee – even in public service attorneys do not have so many rights and protections as non-attorney employees
  • Much, much more enjoyment of life
Of course, there are downsides too and the major downsides are lower income levels on average and a feeling of a loss of social prestige. (No one habitually addresses you as “Sir” any more, but then no one also hates you for being a slimy you-know-what). Coupled with this there is also a slight disdain from former colleagues and classmates who would like to believe that you were ‘unable to make it.' But, you got the chance to prove every one wrong, because the world is now open to you. Unless, you are working in a suitable law-related position which is recognized in law firm practice circles, it would be difficult to return to mainstream law practice again.

Traditional non-lawyer alternatives for a JD:

Nothing's impossible for a JD – run for the President's post if you want to, or become a human resource manager if you feel like it. And you may not believe it, but the industry also recognizes that there are ‘traditionally non-traditional' options for those with a JD, and non-lawyer jobs where a JD is truly preferred. Some such fields of work include Academic Administration, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Banking and Finance, Civil Rights Organizations, Contracts and Grants, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, Energy and Environment, Healthcare, Ethics and Professional responsibilities, Insurance and Risk Management, Intellectual Property, Intelligence and Security, Legal Administration, Legal Research, Management, Teaching, Media & Entertainment, Real Estate – the list is factually endless. All of these fields have openings for people with a JD and where you do not need to work as a lawyer.

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