Alternative Careers for Lawyers

Alternative Careers for Lawyers

With the current economic downturn and the grim hiring market overall, what options are available to lawyers and graduating law students?
 
Whether you are disappointed that you won’t be making a great deal of money, haven’t found a job yet, or are just looking for a change, it is more important than ever to have a backup plan, and maybe even a backup, backup plan.[1] According to the ABA Journal, the nearly 44,000 law students set to graduate in 2009 will have an average of $73,000 in loan debt.[2]
 
Believe it or not, there are many alternative careers available to lawyers. The choices are as varied as the interests and experience of the people seeking such positions. There are positions in government, the corporate world, non-profit organizations, education, freelance/contract positions, etc.
 
Before you begin your career search, you really should take some time to consider what you would like to do, where you want to be located, and the market for such positions. Many law schools and bar associations have trained career counselors or a career service office that can help guide you in your search. They may have you take a career aptitude test, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. There are also a multitude of books on the subject of alternative careers, many of which are available through ABA Publishing at www.ababooks.org.  
 
Transferrable Skills
 
If you decide to apply for a position outside of the traditional legal field, be sure to clearly state in your resume and interviews that law school has taught you many valuable skills, including research, technical and persuasive writing and speaking, critical thinking, logic, and organizational skills. Be sure to include as many specific skills as possible. For example, you would be valuable as a Human Resources manager because you know how to read and interpret employment laws and regulations and you know how to negotiate. Also, you would be an excellent environmental manager because you know how to find, read, and interpret the applicable federal and state laws and regulations. State how these skills would positively impact the company’s bottom line: fewer lawsuits and fines result in increased profits.
 
Government Employment
 
There are often many positions available in federal, state, and municipal government offices. Some of these positions require a law degree, while others do not. However, even with positions that seem outside of the legal field, your law degree can often bump up your pay grade from entry level to much higher, giving you a nice salary right from the start, in addition to excellent government benefits, possibly including deferral of your student loan payments. If you are interested in government employment, take a look at www.USAJobs.opm.gov. This is a clearinghouse for most, if not all, federal government positions. You can post your resume, get email alerts to jobs that meet your criteria, and search through a vast database of openings in just about any career field and part of the country that you can imagine.
 
If you are interested at all in government work, begin your search early. Most postings require a lengthy and detailed application process, and many jobs are not filled quickly. Also, some positions, such as an FBI Agent, require passing a separate test conducted at specified times in specific locations and a very lengthy background check, which can take up to a year or more to complete.
 
Some possible governmental options include:
 
  • Executive branch agency staff
  • Judicial Administration and law enforcement (including FBI, CIA, National Security, and Marshals, all of which actively seek out law school graduates)
  • Diplomatic agencies
  • Regulatory agencies (The SEC and the IRS are two that highly value a law degree.)
  • Military service, such as the JAG Corp.
 
Business and Industry
 
Besides in-house counsel, there are many nontraditional positions available to lawyers in all levels of business. In many industries, a law degree is seen as beneficial to advancement in managerial positions. Investment banking and securities, real estate, and trust administration often value employees holding a law degree.
 
Some possible business options include:
 
  • Corporate management
  • Insurance
  • Tax advisors
  • Trust administrators
  • Investment bankers
  • Human Resources
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Purchasing
  • Marketing
  • Public Relations
  • Media – reporters and anchors
  • Health care administration
  • Labor/employment negotiators
  • Contract negotiators
  • Real estate agents/brokers
  • Zoning officers
  • Patent/trademark/copyright review
  • Arbitration and mediation
  • Commercial loan/mortgage officers
  • Risk managers
 
Public Interest
 
Beside the obvious choices of running for office and lobbying, there are many public interest positions to consider, including:
 
  • Nonprofit administration (pay often comparable to corporate)
  • PACs, lobbyists, campaign coordinators/managers
  • Contract negotiation
  • Professional fundraisers
  • Legislative review
  • Election staff
  • Spokesperson/public affairs
 
Education
 
Universities often employ law school graduates as general counsel, but there are other positions, as well, including:
 
  • Teaching positions (both legal and non-legal)
  • Law Librarians
  • Academic Administration/advisors
  • Fundraisers
 
Consulting/Freelance/Writing
 
If you are interested in nontraditional hours, travel, and variety in your work, you may want to consider the growing field of consulting. Some possible options include:
 
  • Research and writing (legal, technical, or creative)
  • Arbitration and mediation
  • Contract negotiation
  • Private investigators
  • Editor/publisher
  • Headhunter
  • Grant writer
  • Negotiator (labor, contracts, etc.)
  • Technical/specialty consulting, such as environment, safety, human resources
 
This is by no means an all-inclusive list. Your options are truly limitless. What you choose depends on your interests, experience outside of the law, location, strengths, etc. Just don’t limit yourself to only traditional legal positions, unless that is really what you want to do. You will spend the majority of your waking hours at work, so make sure that you enjoy what you are doing with those hours as much as possible. Happy hunting!


[1] McDonough, Molly, “New Law Grads Urged to Have Backup Plans,” ABAJournal.com, October 20, 2008.
[2] McDonough, Molly, “New Law Grads Urged to Have Backup Plans,” ABAJournal.com, October 20, 2008.
Updated September 30, 2009 from previous post