During the stressful, arduous three-year period that is law school, many law students will question whether they even want to be lawyers at all. For most students, after making it through the draining stress of the first year of law school, realizing the next two years will be better, and getting some likely enjoyable work experience, the answer will be yes. But, for some, the answer will be a resounding no. Some people may know before they ever attend that they never have any intention of practicing law. All of which begs the question: should you attend or finish law school if you don’t want to be a lawyer? The answer, as is the answer to most questions involving the law, is: it depends. There are a range of skills, jobs, and personal factors that go into determining whether a law degree is right for the individual who has no intention of practicing law.
Reasons to Go to Law School or Finish Law School if You Don’t Want to Be a Lawyer
There are a number of considerations that vary based on individual wants, needs, and desires, but there are a few pretty solid reasons to go to law school or finish law school even if you’re feeling like you’ll never want to be a lawyer.
1. You Are Going for Free
If you have a full-ride scholarship or someone else will be footing the bill for you to attend law school, there is a pretty good case for you to get a JD. One of the biggest detractors of law school, especially if you aren’t sure whether you will actually use the degree for its intended purpose, is the debt incurred from attending. Law school tuition is expensive, the cost of living while in law school is expensive, and the payments on law school loan debt are expensive; the cost of law school should not be taken lightly when deciding whether those three years of expenses are really worth the end product. But, if your time in law school will be free from any or even most costs, there is less to lose.
2. You Already Have a Job Waiting for You
Presumably, a person attending law school hopes that they will have new employment opportunities available to them as a result of their newly acquired law degree. Thus, a major concern for those who leave law school searching for something other than a job as an attorney, is where to find work. If there is a guaranteed position waiting for you once you’re done, it probably makes sense to graduate law school and take the job. Of course, if there really is a nonlawyer job with your name on it, it should be considered whether you even need a law degree to get the gig, but there is still a major item you can check off of the list of things to worry about post-graduation.
3. You Want to do a Nonlawyer Job
Some people are very sure of their post-school career goals, and want to pursue a specific nonlawyer career. There are some jobs that do require or prefer a law degree, while not requiring that you work as an actual licensed attorney; for these positions, your degree will obviously be useful. However, even if there is some other job that you know you want to do, and you really believe that your law degree would help you get the job in some way, it may be a good idea to go to law school or finish law school. Still, you should consider your level of comfort with explaining your JD during job interviews, as many employers who are hiring for a position that does not obviously relate to a law degree will want to know why you attended law school, how your experience in the law applies to the current position, and whether your skills and interests really are a good fit for the job. Similarly, if you drop out of law school, you will have to grow comfortable explaining to employers why you did not finish.
4. You Will Feel Saddled with Regret
Even if you know you don’t want to be a lawyer, there is something to be said for the sense of achievement that comes with doing something you set out to, such as graduating from law school. Especially for those who are already in law school, but also for those who are considering attending, there should be some self-reflection in order to determine what your feelings will be about not completing law school and earning a law degree. If you will forever regret not going, feel sad about dropping out, or you will always long for the degree, it’s probably worthwhile to get your JD.
Marketable Skills that Come with your Legal Education
If you do decide to go to law school and earn your JD, there are a number of skills honed during your legal education that you can use to market yourself to employers. There are some solid, dynamic abilities that law school helps you to build, and that will help you excel in a number of jobs.
1. Clear and Concise Writing
A great deal of law school is spent sharpening writing skills that allow students to communicate clearly with readers. Law school also teaches students to write with appropriate grammar, proper structure, and without unnecessary words or information. Given that writing is a key form of communicating no matter the job, writing skills are a valuable tool you can use to sell yourself as an ideal candidate for many positions.
Law students learn to critically think and analyze complicated concepts in order to break them down into more basic components. In law school, this skill is usually used to transform factual occurrences into the basis for legal arguments, but this talent is applicable on a much broader scale. The ability to conduct analysis is a valuable skill that can be used in a range of job settings, including large and small-scale problem solving, synthesis, and simplification of information.
Legal research is a very specific skill that law students learn to perform during their three years of school. While the precise manner of such legal research may only be applicable to a legal career, the meticulousness and thorough nature of research taught in law school are assets in variety of career fields. A good researcher can provide employers with confidence that many tasks will be carried out to satisfaction.
4. Make Arguments
As clichéd as it sounds, law students do quite a bit of arguing. They learn to craft persuasive arguments to sway others on a range of topics, which is a skill that is not limited to working as a lawyer. Many fields of work would benefit from an individual who can convince others to see things from a certain perspective and sway them to act based on that influence.
5. Public Speaking (Maybe)
While most law students will gain some experience with making oral arguments or other forms of polished speaking, public speaking is not a guaranteed skill for all law students. However, if your classes, extracurricular activities, or work experiences in law school do endow you with the ability to speak well in front of others, this is something that you should mention to potential employers. Public speaking skills gained in law school are a valuable asset that can be leveraged to your benefit in a range of circumstances and work opportunities.
Nonlawyer Jobs that You Can Probably Do with Your Degree
There are many jobs for which the skills earned in law school and a JD will be helpful, or even required. Still, keep in mind, as with all degree-job scenarios, just because you probably could do the job, doesn’t mean someone will hire you to do it. Further, just because you have a law degree doesn’t mean that you are limited or constrained by that degree; you can theoretically do anything you want to do without regard for the fact that you spent three years attending some school, as long as you can convince someone that you are capable, or you create the opportunities for yourself. But there are some jobs that provide ample opportunity to put your law degree to use, and that may seem like a natural fit given your skills.
Law school helps you to become a better writer, and if you enjoy the writing process, you may be able to make a living as a writer. There might be opportunities for you as a journalist, content writer, technical writer, or even just freelancing to fill writing needs as they emerge.
Teaching is a dynamic role that could mean work in a number of environments, including, but not limited to high school, college, and law school. Considering the knowledge you’ve likely acquired, teaching or training others in the areas of writing, political science, government, policy, or law might be right up your alley.
3. Law librarian
Although it generally requires further specialized education, working as a law librarian is a career that aligns closely with your legal education. Both law schools and law firms typically hire law librarians to assist those looking for help with their legal research.
Many local, state, and federal government employers will not bat an eyelash upon learning that you attended law school. Given the breadth of government opportunities available, there is probably a job that meets your interests and skills in one of the many government agencies or organizations.
Policy jobs vary widely in subject area and job description, but most would benefit from the skills you bring to the table as a law school graduate. Research, writing, and advocacy are often at the heart of these roles, and you will likely have an opportunity for all those talents to shine through.
Compliance jobs often, but do not always, require a law degree. Compliance is an easy fit for a law school graduate, as the job requires interpretation and application of rules, which is at the core of what you learned in most of your law school classes.
7. Legal Recruiter
Legal recruiters work to find and match attorneys with law firms or other jobs for which those individuals seem to be a good fit. This job is benefitted by your law degree because of your research, communication, and analysis skill set, as well as your experience with law students for three years, which gives you pretty good insight into how those same kinds of individuals interact in the workplace, and whether they would be appropriate for various jobs.
8. Legal Sales
There are some products, namely research tools, that are unique to the legal field. These are tools that you likely grew quite comfortable using in law school, and legal sales positions often require a law degree in order to ensure that the salesperson understands how to use and market these products to attorneys.
9. Real Estate
Careers in the real estate field are varied but often include the interaction of research, writing, and analysis skills you learned in law school. Involvement in real estate transactions and development is not a huge stretch for an individual with a law degree, who will benefit from property, contract, and real estate law knowledge.
10. What You Did Before You Went to Law School
If earning a JD was intended to help you advance further in the career field you were already in before beginning law school, returning to that field makes sense. Individuals who worked in tax, finance, or many private industries may find that the best place to work is in the trade where they have the most experience and expertise, including the areas of familiarity gained during their pre-law school lives.