1. You Do Not Have To Be a Lawyer
The fact that you went to law school does not relegate you to a career as a lawyer. This is an obvious statement; but it is often forgotten by law students because their professors, fellow students, family, and friends assume they went to law school to become lawyers.
The fact is, many law graduates go on to successful careers that have nothing to do with the practice of law. They can do this because the underlying skills they developed in law school translate well to numerous other fields ranging from banking to real estate, to the entertainment industry.
The key to finding a career outside the law is understanding the skills you possess and then demonstrating to employers how these skills qualify you to work in their respective fields. This page will help you identify your abilities and offer some fields that value those abilities. Next it will discuss whether you should take the Bar Exam. Finally, it will provide some resources that will help you find the career you are looking for, and list some specific non-lawyer jobs that are frequently held by people with law degrees.
It is worth reiterating that this page is only a starting point. Any student interested in a career outside the law should make an appointment with Law Career Services. They can help you come up with a job search strategy tailored to meet your specific goals. Appointments can be made online.
2. What Have You Learned in Law School?
There is an assumption amongst non-lawyers that a person goes to law school to learn the law. As you have probably realized by now, law school is not just about teaching you the black-letter law. If this were its only purpose, your education would be obsolete in five years.
If you are thinking of not practicing the law, it is important to identify the underlying skills you have acquired during law school. Think about all you have done in law school and consider how they have contributed to your ability to:
- think and write analytically
- speak in public
- write clearly and persuasively
- synthesize ideas
- compile facts and information
- simplify complex ideas
- develop a strategy to reach a desired outcome
- work with others
If you graduated from law school, you have likely participated in some activities that demonstrate you possess most if not all of the skills listed above.
It is critical to tell non-legal employers you have these skills. When writing a resume for a non-legal job you should not simply list what you did during law school. The non-legal employer will not know what a summary judgment motion is. They will assume it has no relevance to the job they are hiring for; and they will not care that you have written one. Instead, your non-legal resume needs to frame your activities in terms of the skills you gained from completing them. Remember, you are trying to counter the assumption all you learned in law school was the law. Here are some examples of what to do and what not to do:
Wrote motions to suppress client confessions based on Miranda violations.
Developed persuasive writing skills by authoring and filing arguments to suppress evidence on behalf of criminal clients.
The specificity of the first example is fine if you are applying for a job in a public defender’s office. They will know what you are talking about and will want to know the extent of your criminal law experience. The non-legal employer will probably not know what a Miranda violation is and will not see its relevance to the job you are applying for.
The focus in the second example is on the skill you developed rather than the activity. By isolating and defining the general skill for the non-legal employer, you frame your experience in a way that makes it applicable to careers outside the law.
If you survive three years of law school and the California Bar Exam, you have proven yourself to have certain character traits that employers find desirable. It is safe to say you are:
- goal oriented
- detail oriented
- hard working
Emphasize all these traits when you meet with employers. As law students, you have been surrounded by people with all these traits. You would be surprised how many people do not possess them and how valued they are by employers.
Conversely, lawyers are also well known for possessing some negative traits. Employers will be looking to see if you fit the stereotype of the arrogant attorney. Go out of your way to avoid making this impression.
You Did Something Before Law School
Remember that you acquired skills prior to entering law school and that those skills have value. In fact, law school has probably helped you further develop those skills. Go over the skills you acquired before law school and see how law school might have enhanced those skills.
Explaining your law degree
Employers will ask you why you went to law school if you did not want to practice law. There is no right answer to this question. There are several wrong answers:
- Lawyers work too hard.
- There are no legal jobs out there.
- I didn’t like the pressure and responsibility.
The best way to counter this question is to refer to experiences in your law school career that show an interest outside the law. The earlier you show a demonstrated interest in a career outside the law the better. This will have two effects. First, it will show you are certain the law is not for you and that you are dedicated to doing something else. Second, it will dispel any thoughts that you are seeking other employment because you cannot find work as a lawyer.
Also, point out something that was missing in your law career that would be satisfied if you got the job you are interviewing for. For example, if you are applying for a HR position talk about how you enjoy interacting with people and how the legal profession prevented you from doing this.
3. What Can You Do With a Law Degree?
The following is a non-exhaustive list of jobs that uses the skills you acquired in law school. They are courtesy of Hillary Mantis.
4. Specific Non-Lawyer Job Opportunities Available to Law Graduates
The above list gave you ideas about jobs that use the skills you learned in law school. The list below are jobs that specifically look for law school graduates.
Law Related Careers:
Many lawyers love the law but hate the practice of it. The need to meet billable hour requirements, satisfy difficult clients, and make deadlines can overshadow the sense of accomplishment one gets from working on interesting and important legal issues.
Careers Outside the Law
5. Should You Take the Bar Exam?
The answer really depends on the individual who is asking it. You should take the Bar Exam if:
- You think you might want to practice law at some point in the future. Whether you practice or not, you will never know as much law as you do the year you graduate from law school. You were taught all this law for a reason, the Bar Exam tests it. Re-learning this law again three, five or ten years down the road will make studying for the Bar Exam harder than it already is. Take it now while all that knowledge is fresh in your head.
- You are ready to devote yourself to passing it. Passing the Bar Exam requires a large investment of time and money. Simply taking the exam costs several hundreds of dollars. Enrolling in study courses will add between $3,000 and $5,000 to the total cost. Finally you have to factor in the money you will lose by not having a job during the three months of studying. Depending on the number of bar courses you took during law school, you will spend roughly 6-10 hours every day studying for the test. The rest of the time will be spent worrying about whether you are studying enough. If you are not willing to devote this time and money, you are better off not taking the exam.
When making the decision whether to take the Bar Exam, you should also keep in mind that the exam is not a secret only lawyers know about. The general public knows about it. Many of them also know California’s exam is one of the most difficult in the country. Passing it will confer upon you a level of prestige; and it will also demonstrate to employers you are capable of achieving the goals you set for yourself.
6. Resources and Programs
- If you are interested in going into business, we offer two options at Santa Clara Law: the JD/MBA program or the online Master of Legal Studies (MLS) in Corporate Compliance.
- You might also consider enrolling in SCU’s Summer CAAP (Certificate in Advanced Accounting Proficiency) Program. Students will complete six undergraduate accounting classes over a period of ten weeks. At the end of the ten weeks students who achieve a 2.0 GPA will be eligible to sit for the Certified Public Accountant Exam. For more information, go here.
- LCS has several books in its library dedicated to alternatives to legal careers. Many of the books are dated(written in the late 1990s) but the still outline a good strategy for finding the career that fits your interest.
- FindLaw.com has a webpage with information on how lawyer can transition to a non-legal career.
- Barely Legal: The Blog offers a reassuring but realistic peek into the experience of finding and landing that first non-legal career.
- Master of Legal Studies (MLS) in Corporate Compliance program
7. Final Thoughts
If you are thinking of a career outside the law, realize that your job search will be more difficult than your peers’. No career is ready-made for law graduates other than “attorney.”
Finally, employers might be impressed by the fact you have a law degree; but that does not mean they will let you start anywhere other than the bottom. Accepting this fact early on will increase the chance you find the job you are looking for. Take comfort that once you land a job your lawyering skills help you advance.
Ed. Note: The editor would like to acknowledge Hillary Mantis and recommend her book “Alternative Careers for Lawyers” to any law student interested in a career outside the law