"Beyond Practicing Law with a Law Degree: New Career Options for JDs"

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Most grads fresh out of professional school jump straight into the employment pool and look for jobs that directly relate to their degree. Lawyers are no different. However, with openings at lucrative law firms in short supply, many JD-holders find themselves at loose ends. We asked experienced attorneys and companies that employ attorneys how a law school graduate can make the most of a JD and this is what they said:

Beyond Practicing Law with a Law Degree: New Career Options for JDs

There are many jobs for law graduates. I am a lawyer and can tell you I've used my law degree in a number of different jobs that range from entertainment to the Internet to retail.

I also have friends with law degrees that write books, etc.

So the jobs I've done or seen are the following:
  1. Legal fiction (all the legal thrillers) or history (books on supreme court, etc.) or historical fiction.
  2. Writing for television (legal shows on the air from "Law and Order" to "Ally Mcbeal" in its day, to any of the new incarnations) or feature films or reality.
  3. Internet: I run an internet legal business that connects consumers and business to contingency fee professionals. I've had several lawyers and a retired judge work with me, as well as legal interns. We work on the business logic, the outreach to lawyers on our site, building internal forums for lawyers, newsletters for different verticals, we do case review for jurisdictional purposes and for clarity of thought, etc. I'm always looking for really bright lawyers who want to learn the ropes and/or take one of our business initiatives and run with it. But it's tough to find lawyers who are also entrepreneurs which is what it requires.
  4. Retail: there are many retail businesses that cater to lawyers or law firms from travel to conference organizing, to lobbying groups, to sales professionals for legal products, etc.
  5. Legal Marketing: this is a really big area these days and it's growing. Larger law firms now have legal marketers in-house.
  6. Non Profit Boards (or for profit boards): these don't have to be big organizations. They love having lawyers on their boards for many obvious reasons. It's not difficult to volunteer for smaller organizations and grow with them.
  7. Teaching: that's an obvious one I guess
  8. Lobbying: most lobbyists I know (including my sister) are lawyers. She has moved over to run a CEO Group now - but her legal background is critical for understanding legislation that affects all of her constituents.
  9. Politics: again, very obvious. Politicians love having lawyers on their team to insure they abide by campaign finance laws but the lawyers don't have to be lawyering-they can be working on the campaign, fundraising, etc. as their primary role.
  10. Venture/finance: lots of venture partners were former lawyers. They made the move after enough deals and relationships so that's not so much out of law school as it is switching careers mid-life.

Michele Colucci, Esq.
MyLawsuit.com, PatentReview.com

Despite the downward pressures on the traditional legal market, a law degree is still a great all-purpose credential to possess, and if you think about this, it makes perfect sense given how law permeates so many different facets of personal and professional life.

Here are some of what I think are the most attractive areas that law school grads should consider that don't involve direct work in law:

Dispute resolution: working as a commercial arbitrator, mediator or ombudsman

Contracts: contract manager, purchasing specialist, rental property manager

Public sector: court officer, guardian ad litem, child protection officer, social worker, non-profits and NGOs, intelligence, diplomacy/public service, FTA, security

Criminal justice: police officer, parole officer, immigration officer, customs/immigration officer, border patrol, FBI/ATF agent, wildlife agent, treasury officer

Environment: coast guard, EPA, occupational health, environmental affairs

Higher education: professor, adjunct faculty, career placement/counseling, administration, grant writer, alumni/development relations

Law-related: paralegal, notary public, law librarian, researcher, archivist, freedom of information officer

HR: HR specialist, benefit plan specialist, health plan coordinator

Real estate and property: real estate agent, property forfeiture, investment, property management, land examiner, zoning, public housing

Banking and finance: bank teller, credit examiner, loan administrator, accountant, financial consultant, tax specialist

Public relations: politics, lobbyist, legislative assistant, researcher, policy analyst

Insurance: sales, claims examiner, risk manager, health plan coordinator, claims representative, workers compensation, veterans claims

Media: editor, writer, legal correspondent, legal writer, newscaster, journalist

Dr. Ian C. Pilarczyk
Director, Executive LL.M. in International Business Law
Boston University School of Law
As a now non-practicing attorney who owns and manages a business as a marketing and public relations consultant for law firms and other professional services, I've been asked more times than I can count how to get out of the practice and transition into another field. It's sad how unhappy many attorneys feel while also being trapped by "golden handcuffs" that make moving to other fields cost-prohibitive, especially when student loans factor into the mix. While I did transition well, I had a background in public relations and marketing to tap into. Therefore, my first piece of advice would be: if you have a previous career that marries well with the law-public relations, marketing, consulting, journalism-there may be ways to create a hybrid path or play up your previous positions as pluses in the interview process.

If there is no fallback career, diversify your resume with unorthodox opportunities you are taking advantage of at the firm-or maximize ones from the past. Have you helped plan any events for your group? Have you played an administrative or managerial role on any committees? Have you presented on any topics? These can all show greater diversity because most employers don't realize that attorneys can do other things.

Finally, my answer to the question that everyone really wants the answer to: "But how do I get out of here right now?" There is an answer but it isn't all that pretty. Legal Marketing groups at large firms like attorneys, as do human resources teams, if you have labor and employment experience. And public relations or reputation management firms always like their crisis communications experts to have a legal background. The catch? You'll probably have to start near entry level and take a substantial pay cut.

Eva V. Van Brunt
One of the best fields for a newly minted attorney (or a law graduate who has decided not practice law) is financial planning. I have worked in the financial planning field for over 15 year and it is an amazing experience. My law degree has prepared me for the challenges of working through the complexities of planning. As a financial planner I am able to offer consultative services that build off of my law degree.

I am both a Registered Investment Advisor (Financial Planner) with the State of Florida and an Estate Planning Attorney.

Peter Blatt
Blatt Financial Group, LLC
Several key factors have led to the legal profession's demise as a surefire option for mobility and sound investment choice for students:
  1. Big law firms are cutting back - Massive layoffs at one of the nation's most prominent law firms, Weil Gotshal & Manges, have made headlines in the past week. Layoffs of this magnitude have been rare within the industry, yet the lack of demand for young attorneys in the profession indicates that these cutbacks will mark a "new normal" in the industry.
  2. The supply of entry level and younger attorneys is too large - On average, only 52% of the graduate class of 2012 received legal jobs. As lower-level legal work continues to be outsourced to contract attorneys, the demand for entry-level legal professionals has fallen dramatically. This makes law school not only an expensive investment but one with limited career options immediately after graduation.

As it turns out, specializing in an area of law early in your graduate career has proven to be a successful way to avoid unemployment in the industry. The New York Times has even specified tax as a prime example of the success students can have with a specialized legal education. Receiving a J.D or an L.L.M. in tax can provide you with a solid foundation for both tax and legal training, allowing you to expand your career path more readily. If you fail to land a job at a large recruiting firm, you are also capable of working within an accounting firm instead.

As post-graduate job prospects continue to diminish, don't panic. Instead, specialize! If you have not yet chosen a legal specialty, there are still plenty of opportunities to help you decide which areas of law are best suited for you and your career path. Specializing will boost your job prospects and ultimately lead to a higher paying salary so you won't have to resort to extreme measures like the University of St. Thomas law school graduate who joined the army in order to pay off his law school debt. So for those of you who are currently in the process of getting your J.D., here are a few things to keep in mind as you search for a specialty which best suits your career goals:
  • Take advantage of as many clerkships that are offered within the legal specialty of your choice as possible. If you can't find any clerkships specifically within that specialty, take advantage of clerkships in related areas. Your time at law school is short so these opportunities are extremely valuable. Clerkships can enhance your resume, lead to letters of recommendation and referrals to hiring authorities, and will help to build a network that will become a vital component in your future job search.
  • If your J.D. program offers a concentration in the area of your choice or a joint degree program, take advantage of it. If you are looking at Tax Law, a JD/MBA, a JD/MST, or a concentration in Tax would be great options to pursue.
  • Getting an LL.M. will give you the highest long-term earning potential in tax and generally the most career opportunities. Having an LL.M in Tax will not only make you a better tax practitioner, but will also give you a leg up when being considered for promotions to senior-level tax positions later in your career. Although tax is an in-demand field, the LL.M paired with a JD will not solely make you a particularly more marketable candidate. In order to really distinguish yourself from your classmates, you will need to go on and get the CPA as well. Getting the CPA rather than the LL.M may also make more sense from a cost-benefit analysis if you plan on working for a public accounting firm rather than a law firm in the future.

Tax is a prime example of how specializing in law school can be advantageous in multiple regards. A legal specialization will give you an edge over your peers and can result in more job security and stability than entering the legal profession with a J.D. alone. Because professionals with an LL.M. Tax are sought after in both Tax and Law fields, job security is rarely an issue and provides professionals with the opportunity to have career options in either field. There are many areas within tax law that you can specialize in as well including Corporate, Partnership, Individual, and Estate Taxation. Tax Attorney's don't do so badly in terms of money either with the median expected salary for a typical Tax Attorney IV in the United States being $171,298. So if you are still on the fence about whether to jump into the legal profession with a general J.D. or to specialize, know that investing the time and money into a specialized legal education is well worth it.

Natalie Santiago
You can use your law degree to find a position reading contracts and securities for real estate properties. The first place that comes to mind are banks, since they often have an asset-backed securities position that requires a law degree where the employee reviews contracts to ensure the banks financial stake is protected from every angle.

Alexandra Wolf
Marketing Intern
Homescout Realty.com

About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

About LawCrossing
LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit www.LawCrossing.com.

Boston University School of Law


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