Non-Legal Career Alternatives for Law Graduates

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Non-Legal Career Alternatives for Law Graduates

Non-legal alternatives available to law graduates differ from law-related alternatives in several important ways. A law background-both educational and experiential-may or may not help, depending on the discipline. Because of this, you may encounter more difficulty in identifying and then finding a job. You will probably experience similar difficulty in marketing yourself and convincing an employer of your value for any position. Some job seekers in pursuit of Non-legal jobs have even reported that they encountered an overt bias against applicants with prior legal experience. Some interviewers, rightly or wrongly, believe that those individuals trained in law will have neither the interest in nor the skills for tasks that are not in some way law-related.

While this attitude is a formidable impediment to your search, it pales in comparison to your own attitudes about the value of a law job versus one that is Non-legal. Psychologically, one of the most potentially damaging aspects of a Non-legal job search is your own sense that you are settling for something less prestigious and less financially promising than a traditional law position. Many individuals in search of Non-legal alternatives see themselves as second-class citizens and, unfortunately, communicate this self-concept in their interviews.

While neither your own, nor the interviewer's attitudes about a Non-legal job search are insurmountable hurdles, they are nevertheless important constraints for which you will want to be prepared. You will want to explore by yourself and with the help of a career counselor the background, attitudes, and skills that might lead you to a Non-legal job by way of law school. The education you obtained prior to or after law school will be important, as will any employment experience you have had outside of a traditional legal setting. You will also want to consider whether you are willing to explore alternatives that require either more education or some period of on-the-job training. Both may require an ability and willingness on your part to accept a life-style based at least temporarily on less financial reward.

Non-legal alternatives that seem most appropriate for individuals with law backgrounds fall into three primary clusters: business, service, and independent. There are actually no purely business, service, or independent jobs, only those that seem to emphasize one set of skills more than-but not to the exclusion of-others.


All businesses are involved in trade or commerce of some type. The range of goods and services to be bought or sold is as broad as our Western culture, but you will probably want to focus your search on the corporate, accounting, manufacturing, or entrepreneurial segments of this broad business cluster.

The corporate world is one of the most appealing to those with legal training because within the corporate setting, lawyers can move both into and out of the corporate legal department and management hierarchy with relative ease. Good upward mobility exists outside of the legal department and includes executive, general management, personnel, marketing, public relations, communications, and planning positions.

Accounting firms, frequently considered part of the corporate world, have in recent years expanded far beyond a mere accounting function to provide a range of business services. These include fields as diverse as tax auditing, estate planning, financial management, personnel services, research, training and development, and consulting in areas such as communications, marketing, and technology.

The third category in this business cluster, manufacturing, is concerned with the production of, as well as the transfer of, goods and services. An undergraduate degree and some work experience in a related area are useful in jobs in the most active manufacturing areas: high technology, chemicals, food production, pharmaceutical and medical products, textiles, office equipment, and utilities.

The fourth and final category in this cluster, the entrepreneurial, usually attracts individuals who like to organize and manage a business with some risk but potential gain in its future. Real estate development and capital investment management are the most obvious choices in this category. If you're a risk taker, starting and owning your own business may be another alternative.

Unlike the business cluster, the service cluster is characterized more by an interest in performing work for other people than by interest in the goods or rewards produced. The services world certainly has its business interests, but these are combined with, or secondary to, providing a service.

The most businesslike area in the service industry is a group of institutions offering financial services. These include commercial banking, investment banking, financial planning, and stocks or commodities trading. Also included here is the insurance industry, in which a variety of opportunities exist in sales and as an adjuster, claims analyst, title examiner, or financial and estate planner.

The second field in this cluster, government, is very broad and provides opportunities at the local, state, and federal levels. City management, urban planning, and legislative support, as well as the more obvious civil service positions, are just a few examples of the variety of alternatives. And this variety is not limited by geography. Not only do such positions exist in every town and city in the country, but Foreign Service positions are also available, with appropriate training and experience, around the world.

An arm of the government, law enforcement, is the third area in the service cluster. Like their law-related counterparts, Non-legal positions can be found at the federal, state, and local levels. They range from FBI and CIA agents at the national and international levels to state probation officers and legislative committee aides at the state level, to human resource specialists and advisers in local mayoral offices.

The most obvious segment of the service cluster is the one concerned with individual welfare, including organizations involved in public education and health care. Teachers, trainers, educational and health-care administrators, and school and hospital board members are but a few of the options that lawyers have chosen as they have moved out of traditional practice.


The independent cluster, while providing services to certain segments of the population, is a cluster in which you will find the opportunity to work independently and autonomously. The three areas in which lawyers have found the most opportunities for this going-it-alone approach to work include personal services, communications, and consulting.

Personal services are provided by individuals as diverse as agents to sports or entertainment figures and counselors in the fields of financial, estate, or tax planning; stress management; and career planning. Executive search firms and outplacement firms (those that counsel and provide support to individuals who have been fired or laid off) also number among their employees many former practicing attorneys.

Communications work is a less obvious and less financially promising option, but it may be for you if you find autonomy to be an important aspect of your work. Free-lance writing and editing for legal publications provide extraordinary freedom but may also inspire extraordinary uncertainty in the number and types of assignments and the resulting compensation. The publishing industry, especially the segment that produces law school texts or law-related newsletters, also attempts to attract individuals with law training.

Consulting, of which communications work is frequently a part, provides a broader array of job alternatives if you have expertise to offer in fields such as marketing, personnel management, financial planning, business development, professional training, or office technology. The uncertainty of remuneration coupled with the going-it-alone characteristic of most of the personal services options make this one, as well as the others, satisfying primarily to the more independent risk takers among us. Having contacts in the market you hope to serve is also a prerequisite to setting up your own consulting business.

The options are many, but so too are the trade-offs, many of which require your personal decisions about financial security, life-style, and self-concept. Recent years have found legal practice becoming even more specialized and legal education ever more expensive. Because of this, law is no longer an economical generalist education that opens any and all doors. It is, however, a respected profession in which career movement both within and outside of its bounds is increasing rapidly. For individuals who choose law as a means to an end rather than a career in itself, the skills associated with law school and lawyering-analysis, communications, discipline, thoroughness, and attention to detail- will serve them and their careers well.

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Law Graduates      Law School      Law-related Alternatives      Legal Education      Non-legal Alternatives      Non-legal Job Search     

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