What can you do with a law degree? You become a lawyer, duh. Not so fast — the answer is not so clear for many. Maybe you graduated from law school or you are a newly minted member of the legal profession. You find that the study or practice of law is not what you had expected and you are planning a career change. What do you do with your law degree?
“You can do so much with a law degree!” Many disgruntled law students and lawyers can tell you that they’ve heard this line enough to make their eyes roll back into their heads. But is this quip true?
It really is. You can, in fact, do a lot with a J.D. besides practicing law, contrary to popular belief. The transferable skills that a law degree helps you develop are useful in a variety of non-law related professions.
Lawyers are typically a bright bunch of people. Had they not been lawyers, or if they ever contemplate a career change, there is no telling how they would have used or could use their skills and abilities in another way. These alternative careers are just a few of the options available.
Since lawyers are good advocates in general, they would be excellent advocates for prospective authors. Advocates for authors are called literary agents. They help develop the author’s product or brand to position it for success.
They also put their networking skills to use by cultivating relationships with publishers who would be interested in their client’s manuscript or work. Moreover, literary agents can help negotiate the book deal, something a former lawyer is well equipped to do.
John Grisham drew upon his legal knowledge to write his best-selling crime novels. Before she started Happy Herbivore Inc. and sold 200,000 cookbooks, Lindsay S. Nixon was an attorney. Since lawyers are trained to write effectively, many lawyers translate their writing, investigation, and problem-solving skills into communication jobs such as reporting, public relations or publishing.
Some lawyers blog for a living, like Kat Griffin of Corporette.com or Elie Mystal of the popular Abovethelaw.com legal blog. Contrary to working in a traditional law practice, being a freelance writer or a blogger gives the former lawyer more mastery and control over his or her time, as well as the potential for increased job satisfaction.
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.
They can easily parlay their expertise in corporate law and knowledge about business associations and equity into starting a new business. The number of lawyers-turned-entrepreneur or CEO is endless.
Entertainment, Media, TV Host
Harvey Levin was a lawyer before he founded the famous gossip website TMZ.com and became a producer of The People’s Court. Star Jones was a lawyer before she became a host on The View, competed on The Celebrity Apprentice and wrote two books. Geraldo Rivera was a lawyer before he hosted his show named after him. Ana Quincoces was a lawyer before she starred on the Real Housewives of Miami and become a chef and a cookbook author.
Before Iyanla Vanzant started to fix the lives of others, she worked as an attorney in the Philadelphia Public Defender’s office. Not to mention Judge Judy Sheindlin, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Alex Ferrer, Judge Marilyn Milian, Judge Lynn Toler… need I go on? Combining their legal analysis, personality, presence and gift of gab, some lawyers go on to host successful TV shows of their own.
Much of the practice of law involves analysis of cases and legal arguments, which helps lawyers, in turn, to arm themselves with the skills of an analyst and be able to think critically. Thus, many lawyers become legal recruiters, policy analysts, social commentators, and political strategists.
At the core of being a lawyer is the ability to give advice. Being adept at cultivating and building relationships, it is not surprising that some law graduates go on to become counsellors, psychologists, and members of the clergy, giving advice about personal, sensitive and/or confidential issues in very much the same way as a lawyer, only without the legal jargon and with a more personal touch.
They say, “those who can’t, teach.” But that’s not always true, especially with law graduates. The love of research and writing, and the ability to communicate one’s thoughts effectively compel many law graduates go onto to achieve an LLM (Masters of Law) of JSD/SJD (Doctorate of Law) and enter academia and teach.
Some lawyers decide to teach in another discipline entirely, while others decide to teach at the high school level instead. Other lawyers participate in university life by becoming Dean of Student Services or Alumni Relations or Career Services – positions for which their varied vocational experiences have prepared them.
And still, other legal practitioners become adjunct professors, teaching law (or another subject altogether) part-time to law students. Bringing their practical knowledge into the classrooms often helps law students ground their abstract knowledge by seeing it at work in the real-life experience of their professors.
Artist, Chef, Athlete, Etc.
Lawyers are taught to be analytical; seldom are they encouraged to be creative and artsy. However, many lawyers turn their hobbies into a career: Underwater diver, pilot, seminar leader, and chef are just a few of the possibilities.
Adam Liaw, winner of MasterChef 2010, and Willin Low, who made an appearance on the Martha Stewart Show and Top Chef, are both well-known chefs. However, before they got down in the kitchen, they too were writing legal briefs are lawyers. Rich Roll is a two-time top finisher at the Ultraman World Championships and completed 5 ironman-distance triathlons. He was named one of the “25 Fittest Men in the World” by Men’s Fitness, but before all of that, he was an entertainment lawyer. It was his alcoholic past and unhealthy lifestyle that helped him build his brand and find his path as an entrepreneur and an athlete.