Can You Do Anything With A Law Degree? Maybe . . .
Chances are high that you have received mixed messages as to the value of a law degree. On one hand, some people may note its prestige or ability to open the doors to opportunities that might have been closed to you with just an undergraduate degree. In contrast, others warn prospective law students against attending law school, citing the glutted market, the small number of high-salary attorney positions available versus the number of practicing lawyers seeking jobs.
With all this conflicting information going around, you may be confused about your own career path. Maybe you are considering pursuing a J.D. but are worried about finding gainful employment once you graduate from law school. Maybe you are in law school right now and are worried that you made the wrong decision. Or maybe you already have a law degree and are still trying to get a foothold on the job market, not completely sure what your next move should be. In this post, we will examine the value of the law degree and determine exactly one can do with one. Is it as limiting as people say it is? Or is there some merit to having one that is overlooked?
In contemplating the choice to go to law school, you should consider what you want to do over the long term and how you think a legal degree will help. In many instances, you can do what you wanted to do, with or without the J.D. That is, nothing is stopping you from doing the things you had wanted to do before you got one. Maybe you want to write a book, for instance. You do not need a J.D. to do that, but having the degree will not necessarily help you be more creative, and not having one will not make it harder to become published.
However, in considering your options, there are, in fact, jobs, outside of practicing law, for which a law degree can provide a reasonable advantage. One expert calls these jobs, citing the American Bar Association, “J.D. Advantage Jobs.” What do J.D. Advantage jobs include? With a J.D., you may be an ideal candidate for the following positions (Moody):
Corporate Contracts Administer
Alternative Dispute Resolution Specialist
Government Regulatory Analyst
Jobs in Personnel or Human Resources
Jobs with Investment Bankers
Jobs with Consulting Firms
Jobs doing compliance work in business and industry
Jobs in law firm professional development
Jobs in law school career services, admissions offices, or other administrative offices.
These jobs, while not the kind that offer the prestige that follow practicing law in a coveted “BigLaw” position, do offer legal experience and do in fact make use of the skills and experience that come from earning a law degree. The truth is, however, is that you could also very well obtain these jobs without a law degree and instead just a relevant undergraduate degree from a reputable program—and it would be much more cost effective.
But any advantage that the J.D. does provide is not necessarily from the degree itself; it comes from the skills you reap from earning it and how you present the value of those skills to potential employers. Whether the journey is worth it depends mainly on what your personal professional goals are and the path that is most likely to help you achieve such goals. Maybe you would benefit from a law education; many people do. Law school offers its students a chance to develop and enrich superior reading, writing, and critical thinking skills (Moody).
Fortunately, these skills are useful for just about any job you can think of, those that involve practicing law or otherwise. Not to mention, the networking opportunities a law school may offer, especially a top-ranked one, can be highly beneficial in the long run. Finally, some of the skills you will learn that are exclusive to law school may give you an edge when applying to other jobs: think about value of learning the fundamentals of contracts and negotiation, of better understanding how the legal system runs (Moody). Think about gaining skills in salary negotiation and landlord disputes (Moody). Not many of the non-J.D.-holding people applying for the same jobs as you are likely to have these skills, at least not to the degree that you do and with the same level of experience—that is, if you make full use of your legal education.
But, of course, you also have to consider the cost of considering law school. Is it worth the financial burden you are likely to take on? Moody and other experts are skeptical. If you are not definitely set on becoming a lawyer of some kind, then law school is probably not for you. Also, going to law school in hope of becoming rich is a poor move as well, because the truth of the matter is that the job market is very uncertain. Even those who fare very well in law school are not guaranteed the kind of salaries that people associate with big-shot lawyers. However, if you do complete your J.D. and discover that being a lawyer is not for you, do not write off the whole experience as useless. You can market the skills gained from law school to appeal to non-legal employers. It just takes some diligence and smart thinking, two qualities that you certainly honed in law school.
Moody, Matt. “You Can Do Anything With a Law Degree. Sort Of.” |Vault Blogs|Vault.com. Vault.com Inc., 18 Nov. 2015. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.