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Some Law Graduates Cheerfully Choose Alternative Careers

Generally speaking, you need a law degree (plus a license) to practice law.  However, having a law degree doesn't mean you must practice law.  While most graduates of U.S.-based law schools enter the private practice of law, a notable number do not, opting for diverse career opportunities that may not even require a law degree or law license, but in which the broad-based education underlying the J.D. proves useful.

Meet four law school graduates who are doing something different with their legal education.   They are in the minority, but these doctors of law are pursuing a diverse array of careers, including:

  • financial planner, 
  • owner of a real estate investment business, 
  • campaign worker for presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama, and 
  • consultant for the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

The reasons for these mavericks' selections of nontraditional career paths are as varied as the positions they currently hold.  The financial planner cited a weak job market as part of the reason he picked an alternative career.  However, the three other law graduates suggested that they used law school itself as a stepping stone to work that was not centered around practicing law.  One used his legal education to advance his real estate career.  The other two graduates used their law degrees, respectively, as a springboard to enter politics and public policy, and to become a social entrepreneur who works on social justice issues.

Do these deviations indicate a trend moving away from traditional law careers?  It's really too early to tell.  Nevertheless, these four stories about career satisfaction and success suggest that there are many ways to use a J.D. in satisfying work; traditional law practice is just one option.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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It was interesting to read your post on law graduates not necessarily following a law degree.

I'm a UK based careers counsellor and I've worked with well over a dozen lawyers, who started out on a law career and then realised it wasn’t for them.

What we have found out in every case was that they were following a conventional path to a well paid career but had never stopped to think if this was actually what they wanted to do.

I'm a chartered occupational psychologist so make use of assessments. One in particular – the Highlands Ability Battery looks at someone’s abilities, what they can actually do rather than what they think they can do.

We often find out that they don’t have the natural abilities to be a successful match, so whilst intelligent they have to work around their natural strengths.

It is more than assessments though, having a chance to talk in a safe environment means they can discuss the working environment and often it is exactly the opposite of what they want – a large open plan office when they want time alone to think, or an office on their own when they need more involvement.

Many find that law has taken over their lives with each weekend spent preparing for court on Monday.

My law clients have moved onto a variety of other career paths including a university researcher, law recruitment consultant, small business owner and mediator.

Denise Taylor, Chartered Occupational Psychologist and Registered Career Guidance Practitioner
Winner of 2007 National Career Award - Working with Adults for the Gold Career Programme
Want to find a job you love? Sign up for the eProgramme, 10 Steps to a Job you Love from

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