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Top 11 Non-Legal Careers for Former Lawyers

published February 28, 2018

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Summary: There are plenty of great non-legal jobs that a person can do with a law degree, and sometimes those jobs are more rewarding and better paying.
Top 11 Non-Legal Careers for Former Lawyers
People go to law school for various reasons. Some knew they wanted to practice law since they were kids. A few attend because they were inspired to change the world. Others do it to please their families or because they don’t know what else to do with their lives. Whatever the initial motivation, portions who graduate with their J.D. degree never go on to become lawyers or other legal professionals. But that doesn’t mean the three years they spent in school was in vain. There are plenty of great non-legal jobs that a person can do with a law degree, and sometimes those jobs are more rewarding and better paying, experts say.

“In my career spanning more than two decades as an attorney and legal recruiter, I have met an astonishing number of people who have chosen nontraditional legal careers,” Harrison Barnes, CEO of BCG Attorney Search, wrote for LawCrossing. “With very, very few exceptions, most of these people are far happier than they ever were practicing law. A good number of these people who left the legal practice also make more money in their new professions.”

Some of the most common career paths for law school graduates besides law include politics, journalism, and business. However, there are plenty of other choices available too.

The following are some of the top non-legal career choices for people with J.D.s:
  1. Politics

Politicians often attend law school before entering the field. Their law school education hones their knowledge of government, and it helps them when it comes to understanding legislation and writing and drafting bills.

"A lot of people in the political realm have law degrees, because it helps them understand the governing process beyond the basics that we learn in elementary or high school," David Helfenbein, a Washington University in St. Louis School of Law alum and a senior vice president with the Main & Rose strategic branding company, told U.S. News and World Report.

Attending law school is also a benefit for the future Obamas or Bushes of the world because it’s a great place to network. For example, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, and numerous other high-profile politicians all are Harvard Law School alumni. While their political affiliations may keep them apart, they all share at least one thing in common.

Possible jobs: President, Congressperson, Lobbyist, Campaign manager, Political consultant, Government worker, Policy analyst
  1. Journalism

Nancy Grace, Harvey Levin, Megyn Kelly, Geraldo Rivera, Jerry Springer and numerous other former lawyers successfully use their legal knowledge to become television household names.

For instance, Nancy Grace and Harvey Levin started their careers as legal commentators. Grace worked for Court TV, and Levin covered legal issues for a local NBC affiliate. Eventually, Grace was given her own TV show, where she discussed current legal cases, and Levin went on to form the mega-news franchise, TMZ.

Lawyers tend to be great journalists because they have strong communication skills, can think logically, and know how to present complex arguments to a mass audience. The investigative skills they use during discovery are similar to those used by journalists as well.

Possible jobs: News anchor, Reporter, Legal pundit, Television producer, Talk show host, Publisher, Editor
  1. Entrepreneurship

Nina and Tim Zagat met while students at Yale Law School when they came up with the Zagat Survey, a compilation of foodie opinions that became a standard for restaurant credibility. The Zagats and other legal-minded people make excellent entrepreneurs because they are creative, logical, and are willing to put in the hard work to make a business get off the ground. But even more important, lawyers are not afraid to deal with red tape, something that any business owner will invariably encounter.

“Lawyers are problem-solvers. They are trained to see problems and fix it, but also to avoid problems altogether. That’s why a former lawyer may make a great entrepreneur, since the most successful entrepreneurs create products as a solution to a problem,” Simone Samuels stated on The Richest.

Possible jobs: Small business owner, Chief executive officer, Management consultant, Business development
  1. Sales

In law school, students are taught how to argue, and that persuasiveness can lead to a lucrative career in sales within a variety of industries. For instance, billionaire Sam Zell graduated from the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor Law School before he grew his real estate empire.

“If you got into law because you are great at persuading others and establishing trust and interest, you might consider being a salesperson,” Barnes stated. “A salesperson either sells products or services to customers or advises them on such services. What matters is having charisma or a way with people so that they like you despite themselves.“

Possible jobs: Real estate agent, Salesperson, Entertainment agent, Sports agent, Literary agent
  1. Compliance

Large companies often have their own in-house counsel or they have relationships with law firms to help them with government regulations. Despite having these resources, they often like to hire leadership with knowledge of the law to help make sure they make decisions that will not get them into any trouble.

Organizations also have human resources departments that help them stay in compliance with laws that concern everything from wages to sexual harassment. Law school graduates who don’t want to become lawyers can go into HR and thrive in that crucial role.

“As an HR director, you will manage the human resources team for a company or organization. This means knowing the policies and organizational strategic goals for the company, and being able to write up further goals and implement them. In this, your canniness for law and the structure of human organization will enable you to get your hands on how to keep a business well-staffed with a work force fit for the goals of the company,” Barnes said in LawCrossing.

Possible jobs: Compliance executive, Human resources director, Human resources recruiter
  1. Creating writing

Many writers write what they know, and if you have a legal background, you have a leg up on the competition because mysteries and legal stories always have an audience. For instance, John Grisham used his experience as an attorney in the South to write numerous bestselling novels; and Boston University Law School alum, David E. Kelly, created successful legal TV shows such as “Ally McBeal,” “The Practice,” and “Boston Legal.”

But creatives with law backgrounds are not limited to only writing about lawyers. Elizabeth Holloway Marston was a Massachusetts attorney who created the character Wonder Woman with her husband, William Moulton Marston, in the early 1940s.

Possible jobs: Novelist, TV writer, Screenwriter, Writing professor, Writing consultant, Comic book writer
  1. Public Relations

Dealing with the media can be tricky because sometimes a flub of words can be twisted. And in times of crisis, one definitely does not want a viral gaff, so hiring a public relations professional with a law degree is a smart move because they are experts with words. Think of a real-life Olivia Pope from ABC’s “Scandal.”

“People in crisis communications have to be very careful with the words that they choose just as lawyers have to be very careful with the words that they choose," Helfenbein told U.S. News. He added that publicists with law backgrounds can work with their clients’ attorneys to draft statements that will not put their clients in legal peril later.

Possible jobs: Crisis communications specialist, Publicist, Corporate communications executive
  1. Education

Law schools are always looking for enthusiastic professors and administrators, but people with J.D. degrees aren’t limited to just working in those types of institutions. Barnes said that lawyers who want to teach may also find work at colleges or high schools.

“If you are not interested in intensive law research, but you enjoy teaching, you might consider becoming an undergrad teacher, or perhaps even a high school teacher,” Barnes wrote in LawCrossing. “Having a background in law is relevant to a range of classes at different levels, but need not focus on publishing in law. You may simply enjoy the structure and rigor that goes in law, and want to share this with others. If so, becoming a teacher is a relevant consideration.”

Possible jobs: High school teacher, College lecturer, Law professor, University administrator, Academic advisor 
  1. Finance

The finance industry loves people with law backgrounds because they are familiar with regulations, something that the financial sector has to deal with constantly. Shauna Bryce, founder of Bryce Legal Career Counsel, told U.S. News that consulting companies such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte or Ernst & Young actively look for law school graduates to do financial work.

"They are almost always hiring entry-level positions," Bryce said. "A lot of those entry-level positions are J.D. preferred but not required."

Possible jobs: Financial advisor, Chief financial officer, Financial analyst, Stockbroker, Investment banker, Banker 
  1. Law Enforcement

Former FBI agent Asha Rangappa told the Yale Daily News that FBI agents were traditionally lawyers. This is not unusual considering that people with legal experience can find meaningful work in all levels of law enforcement because it utilizes their analytical thinking and investigation skills.

Examples of lawyers in law enforcement include the Attorney General of the Department of Justice and agents like Rangappa.

Possible jobs: FBI agent, Private investigator, Detective, Attorney general
  1. Arts, Sports and Entertainment

Actors John Cleese, Sigourney Weaver and Gerald Butler all went to law school. Famed French artist Henry Matisse studied law in Paris. San Francisco 49 Steve Young won a Super Bowl the same year he earned a law degree.

These professional artists show that legal minds are not just focused on the law. They are also creative and have the intelligence to make a career in the arts if they so choose. Plus, their backgrounds give them an edge when it comes to negotiating contracts.

Possible jobs: Actor, Musician, Artist, Stand-up comedian


Whether or not you decide to leave the legal field during law school or after practicing as an attorney, there are always career options available that will fit your needs and personality. Some people worry that the disadvantages of leaving law outweigh the benefits, but those who have done it, say that it is rewarding if that is what your heart tells you to do.

“Whether you end up in a legal position or not, your degree (and those three long years) is still a selling point. In fact, in every single one of my post-law jobs, the fact that I had a law degree was an absolute plus,” former public defender Devo Ritter wrote on The Muse. “As you consider making a career change, remember that the prestige is still there; completing law school and passing the bar are both huge accomplishments. There are plenty of objections that you’ll have to face. But take it from me—none are so convincing that they should deter you from pursuing what you really love.” 

Hindi Greenberg, the president of Lawyers in Transition, additionally argued on the American Bar Association website that lawyers who wanted to give up the law could transition into fields that will still use their legal backgrounds.

“In my experience, most lawyers who initially express a desire to leave the practice of law remain in law or a law-related field,” Greenberg said. “I am not aware of any study documenting where lawyers go who change jobs or careers, but an overview of my past clients indicates that less than 20 percent divorce themselves completely from law. Even those who do totally leave the law continue to draw on the skills they developed in law practice, because those skills are broad-based and valuable. Legal training is very beneficial in the development of useful, transferable skills that are much in demand in the workplace. Both legal education and legal work provide excellent training in analytical thinking, communication, writing, and persuasiveness—skills that can be used in many endeavors.”

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( 352 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
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