You Can Do So Much With a Law Degree

How many times have you heard it? “You can do so much with a law degree.” And you can do so much with a paper clip, too, but its best use is its intended use, generally.

Usually “you can do so much with a law degree” is uttered by well-meaning family, friends or non-lawyer colleagues. And I agree with the sentiment, up to a point.

signpost on remote path

The alternative legal career path may be a little rocky, but oh what a view!

Yes, you can take your law degree into many interesting, rewarding, even lucrative careers. I’ve done it twice. But the alternative to a legal career is the road less traveled. The signposts are sometimes faint or indecipherable. The most popular maps are often inaccurate or take you to places you don’t really want to go. It helps a lot to have a tour guide. In other words, it’s easy to get stuck and founder if you’re not alert.

That’s why those who hate law stay in it—not because they don’t have transferable skills or other talents they could use elsewhere, but because the trip out can be daunting. They stay stuck because they are scared.

The point where I wholeheartedly disagree with the whole notion of “you can do so much with a law degree” is when it’s used as insurance, of sorts, to persuade people on the fence about law school that they should go. Parents and other champions of safe-sounding careers often pull the timeworn phrase out when they sense wavering. As in, hey, if it doesn’t work out, if you decide that being bored out of your mind for 75+ hours a week while working for dysfunctional, toxic jerks isn’t your thing, you can just do something else. Snap your fingers and poof!

Right, because it’s really easy to take $200,000+ worth of debt plus regular living expenses and switch to a new, quite possibly lower-paying career. It absolutely can be done, but it’s not for the faint of heart.

Finding an alternative to a legal career when you’ve got a bright, shiny JD takes a fair amount of soul-searching and innovative thinking. These are not things that law exactly encourages. (Nor does corporate America, for that matter.) Employers look for the roundest peg they can find for their round-hole jobs. They’re not after square pegs, even if the square peg is a diamond waiting to be shaped and polished.

So it’s up to you to decide that you are the one in charge of your career, rather than the capricious job market, and that you won’t passively wait for the alternative legal job fairy to come wallop you on the head with her wand. You have to throw Cinderella thinking out the window, and figure out how to look like the round peg of gold with your JD.

Deciding to actually steer your career ship is a wonderful, heady thing to do, but I know from all the sample career coaching sessions that I do, it’s a very hard mental step for many attorneys. And I talk to the ones who are the most miserable in law and most motivated to get out. If you’re not miserable, the inertia can be staggering.

I started thinking about this because of the NY Times’ article on law schools and how they deceive prospective students about their future job prospects, or rather lack of them. This problem isn’t new, but it’s now reaching the second- and even first-tier law school grads, so it’s finally getting some attention from the bastions of the status quo.

I was one of those who fell for the “you can do so much with a law degree” line, and that was 20 years ago. Yet not much has changed since then. I talk to recent law grads and they say the same thing—they and so many of their friends went to law school without a clear idea of what they wanted out of it. They didn’t have any burning desire to practice law, but they also didn’t have any real idea of what they did want. They figured they could get some kind of decent job with a law degree in hand. Now, they’re finding out that those jobs are the ones they could have gotten without a JD.

If you’ve already gotten your JD and want out, you can do it. Keep reading this blog for tips on how. Network. Get in touch with what you’re really, truly longing to do. Call me or another career coach and get going, already. Make your plan. Follow your path.

If you’re a 1L or 2L, you can quit school. Really. You don’t have to finish what you started when it’s become clear that starting was the big mistake. It’s senseless to compound one mistake with yet another. It’s a damned sight easier to pay back $60,000 or $100,000 than $250,000. So many of the jobs you could switch to with a JD in hand, you could probably do right now. You’ve got the proven analytic skills, you’ve got the work ethic and determination. You’re smart. You do not need your job passport stamped with a JD to show this, I swear to you. You can get a job as a paralegal while you think things over. Or apply for a job as a legal journalist, if you’re of a writing bent. Or . . . you fill in the blank, with your interests and talents.

If you’re reading this and you’re considering law school, do yourself the biggest favor of your life: Make sure. Make sure you’ve got the right personality to succeed in law with relative ease. Make sure you understand what the work is going to be like once school is over and real life as a lawyer starts (most people don’t know, and law school WILL NOT teach you. Promise.) Make sure the schools you are considering are telling you the truth about where their grads are working long-term.

Ask the hard questions now, before you take on a crippling amount of debt in an uncertain, volatile economy. Don’t engage in the magical thinking that yeah, all this bad stuff can happen, but not to me. Sure, you may be special. But BigLaw and other firms are awash with associates and partners who were special, too. Now they don’t feel special, but instead miserable and would quit tomorrow if they didn’t have enormous debt. Check out the comments on any Above the Law and WSJ Law Blog career stories if you don’t believe me.

I know, prospective law students, I might sound like I’m discouraging you from following your dreams. As a life and career coach, I absolutely believe that people should follow their dreams, but let’s be clear about what those dreams are, and are not.

The dreams to follow are ones that light you up with their possibilities. That make you want to get up in the morning. You can’t stop thinking about how cool it would be if you could do X. The dreams to chase are those that give your life meaning, not just creature comforts. Even if they’re really nice creature comforts like vacations abroad, expensive homes and luxury cars.

The dreams to not follow? The ones that are fueled chiefly by the prospect of earning a lot of cash. If you’re getting excited mostly because the paycheck is large and the work seems not awful—be ruthlessly honest about this, I beg you—keep on searching for the dream that fires your imagination and your soul. Cash is nice, but I have never seen a person who is truly satisfied and happy in their life simply because they have money in the bank. I’m not saying that wealthy people are by definition unhappy. The happy ones have meaning in their life first, not big bank accounts in their life first and then meaning.

You, whether you’re already a lawyer, thinking about it, or on the road to law—you can do so many things. Choose the thing that makes you radiant.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who loves helping people who are lost in law to find their way out. She offers discounted, no-strings sample sessions so you can see if coaching is something that will help you find your path. Email Jennifer at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com to schedule your session today.

107 thoughts on “You Can Do So Much With a Law Degree

  1. My salary as a lawyer has basically been flatlined for ten years.

    That is to say, I make the same amount today as I did when I started because I went from mid-law to working for “the lawyer on TV”.

    I only went to law school for the money, basically. I figured I would make more as a lawyer over a career than I would as a chemical engineer. Given that some of my clients are disabled chemical operators, I feel somewhat vindicated in that I avoided melting my lungs in a chemical plant.

    I’ve been ranting on the economics of law school for awhile now, being that I’m a math person.

    One of the people I discuss this with is a chem professor at Cornell. He finally figured out what I was talking about after reading that NYT article.

    He now recognizes modern law as a “killing field”, so to speak. And, with new law school rising all the time, a steady increase in law school tuition, and outsourcing, it’s only going to get worse.

    • As a law school grad who has yet to take the FL bar due to financial reasons (I need money for survival over study time as a single parent), I, too, resent the notion that “you can do so much more than just practice law.” True, one can do anything other than practice law, but I personally cannot get excited about any career that requires only minimal training and little education, as it ignores how hard it was to graduate magna cum laude from a traditional 4-year university, as well as the (3) years of Hell I experienced getting through law school. To me, practicing law is the pay-off AND the reward; you get to finally start earning some decent money AND you can practice in an area of law specific to your goals and needs as a human being. Like many lawyers, my mind never quits – ideas about everything from inventions to evolutionary theories satiate my mind during free time – thus the intricacies and difficult language of the law provide cerebral challenges for a mind craving stimulation. For people like me, the law is a puzzling escape, a game of words against another compulsive wordie, and a delight to try and master The law is, in fact, a living, breathing entity, albeit with broken bones and often too much nonsense draping over it. Yet, still, the skeleton is intact, and thus the opportunity to discover just one novel case through which positive change will result for millions – just 1/4 of an hour in front of the Supremes – and your life as an attorney can be completed. Yes, I STILL believe, incredibly, that I may stumble across a case as in the movie, “The Rainmaker”, and I may comfortably retire young and rest at night knowing my hard work indeed changed lives.

      Unfortunately, I’m aware of my chosen profession’s track record, and how lawyers are some of the hardest drinking, non-sleeping, arrogant a-holes around, with too many becoming disillusioned with the law after a couple of years working (80) hours per week (hmmm… is there a correlation?) Nevertheless, I keep plunking along, hopeful that I may not lose the passion that drove me to complete law school in the first place. Sure, my J.D. can be used for ANYTHING, but will it really be appreciated as much by those outside the legal walls? Will all the people who seem compelled to tell me, “I could’ve gone to law school,” ever REALLY understand literally living in the law school library for several days during exams, or being rushed to the ER (like me) with heart palpitations induced by too many cappuccinos and just a few hours of sleep every night for a week straight (+ complain in the ER about not bringing a laptop to study with because time waiting for results could be better spent studying)? I think the coulda-gone people simply want for me to think that they were at some point as capable as I of handling a program of study designed to weed out the type of people who think they could’ve gone to law school, too. In reality, getting through law school differentiates people who then have a commonly shared experience no one else can understand without having to brief 5000+ cases over a (3) year period. The fact is that graduating law school does represent to the greater public the achievement of something highly difficult, which is a wonderful hiring incentive because the theory is that the same dedication will be reflected in whatever position a law grad may occupy. Whether or not a person has gone down that legal-jargon-path does, sadly, matter> Once the legal path has been chosen, the specific skills learned in law school become yearnings for real-life application that cannot be squashed. In sum, a lawyer at heart must be a lawyer in life if the passion is really there. So, despite all kinds of job opportunities for anyone with a J.D. degree, only those involving the law are suitable for those who sought to create or enforce laws. For me, this means a life choice already made for me upon entering law school to begin with. I was essentially a lawyer before I became one.

      • Ms. Alvey’s insight is incredible. With respect to the debt students are now incurring for a law degree, borrowing over $100,000 for a J.D. is simply suicidal. I cannot imagine having to live with that over my head. A couple of years ago I ran into a young lady with $225,000 in student loans who could not find a job beyond temporary work at a Legal Aid Society. I shudder when I consider what her life is going to be like.

        As to the comment the Florida soon-to-be lawyer made regarding wanting to participate in a field that requires a high level of education, I would note that many, many fields demand a high level of intellectual achievement. As a lawyer, I was trained that surely no other field is as demanding as law when it comes to academic accomplishment. Well that is nonsense. In expanding my horizons over the past several years, I took a Comptia+ computer networking certification test and found it every bit as demanding as the bar exam. One of the problems with lawyers, and I mean no disrespect to the Floridian poster, is that they think they are simply brighter than everybody else.

        So not true. Not at all. Not even close.

  2. Your comment about knowing yourself and personality, and the previous linked post about the MBTI, are very helpful. I’ve tested as an ENFP before, that seems rather accurate so I’ll go with it, and it did make working in a law firm a challenge – but I was able to deal with the law firm much better once I understood that I was different, not defective, and also a personality minority.

    The key is, of course, being honest when you take the test.

    • I also work in law and tested as the same. came as such a relief to know that I wasn’t just stupid or anything for failing to be able to stick a comma in exactly the correct place in a sentence I just cba about tiny detail. Legal personality types are boring and careful. I’d rather be fun and crap at law and move to something way more exciting, interesting and where I am not literally hoping for the end of the world whilst i’m in the office.

      • AB,
        Thank you!! CBA is my new favorite abbreviation. Took a second to work out what it was, but I did in the end. Thank you for sharing it, along with of course your own experience.

        Where do you hope to go, now that you know it’s not you, it’s where you are?

    • cool…did u decide to stay lawyer or leave in order to find a different career? also, would u become a lawyer today knowing everything u now know. pls advise…

  3. Just found this blog from your comment on ATL–it’s incredibly timely for me. I fell for the same line, and, though not completely miserable, I have found myself terrifyingly bored since starting at a firm. About 6 months ago, I decided to make some changes, and I’m still working up the courage to let go. Blogs like this give me hope and direction. Thanks–you are making a difference in peoples’ lives!

    • @ DJ – And if you have student debt, I would recommend getting rid of the debt before bailing on whatever firm you are with.

      You do this by reducing your expenses to as close to zero as you can get.

      Student debt is a pain. So is mortgage debt, to tell you the truth…

  4. @JP–not only have I paid off my debts, but I also resisted the urge to get a house when a lot of people in my class were doing so. Because of that, I have saved a good bit of cash to live off of, and researched what I want to do extensively. I went so far as to develop a “life plan” to get me where I want to go. All that remains is actually making the leap–it can be scary to confront that uncertainty, but I know that when I do, it will be incredibly liberating. Thanks for the advice–good to know there are like-minded souls out there!

  5. Well, at least you have something you want to do as opposed to stumbling around in the wilderness. Did you get to experience the joys of BigLaw or were you in a smaller legal environment.

    I know I’ve got “death” scheduled. But that’s not for about 40 years yet. Maybe 60+ if I turn out like my grandmother.

    Also, my taxes are due next week. I have to do those.

    Death. Taxes.

    Yep, got those things planned.

    I did have a financial life plan once. However, then I realized that I wasn’t actually going to get 15% returns on my investments. I figure I can get at least 2% for the next 10 years. 3% if I’m lucky. Realizing back in 2000 that the stock market was going to return less than money markets was certainly a help. Hence my interest in dishoarding my debt.

  6. It’s that ol’ demon ROI again–and this time, it’s not just financial, it’s emotional, too. What good is a degree if you hate the work, if it grinds you down? Too many people are in law school, waiting out the economy. Wrong place.

    • Indeed, law is a fall back education for a lot of people, or even a three year pit stop while they’re trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. The problem is, it teaches you a skill set with very specific and limited utility. So the fall back education leads to a fall back career. After a few years in the fall back career, it’s really hard to get out of for financial, social, psychological and outside attitudinal reasons.

  7. Thank you very much for this post. I loved reading it. I work at a patent law firm and spent 9 years of my life to finish up with a PhD then realised I didn’t want to do science. So thought I could put all those years in science to good use and studied an LLB to become a patent attorney. I have been in the patent law profession for 7 years. After taking the personality test, I found I was a INFP personality. The one least likely to be either a scientist or a lawyer!!

    Figures!

    I have got to the point where I am pushing for promotion at my firm, who are resisting (because you have to be twice as good as your boss ever was these days), and am working really long hours trying to prove myself. I had a good long look at how valuable that promotion actually is. And to be honest, not much.

    Why would I want to do more of the same stuff I am doing now, but for a higher billable rate so I have to do even more billable hours?? crazy

    Thanks for helping me get my thoughts in line!

  8. Great post. I graduated from law school last year and luckily landed a job in an area of the law I thought I wanted to practice…turns out I’ve realized I’m pretty sure I just don’t like being a lawyer. I am trying to leverage what I can into human resources and away from the billable hour asap. I am definitely having to think out of the box and tailor my resume in very different ways for each new job I apply to. But, I too try to warn anyone I run into that mentions “thinking about law school” or studying for the LSAT. A potential student should really spend some serious time talking to practicing attorneys and really trying to understand what a lawyer does b/c as you mentioned law school does not teach you any of that!

  9. I noticed you didn’t tell us what jobs you can do besides become a lawyer with a law degree. Become a paralegal is not really a legitimate suggestion :S

    • No, I don’t give lists. Lists rarely succeed in helping people identify what their true calling in life is, and that’s the work I do with clients.

      But a job like a paralegal may help get income in the door while taking down the stress level as you figure out the big questions. At least you get paid overtime.

      • I have a joint degree (JD in law/MA in Public Policy). I taken 2 different state bar exams but unfortunately didn’t pass. Now have JD paradox: cannot be hired by law firms as associate b/c I cannot represent clients; reluctant to hire as paralegal as they assume I’ll take bar exam, and after passing, leave firm. Also, I’ve applied to numerous firms (had temp work as contract employee with US Attorneys Office in criminal litigation) as a litigation paralegal. The ones that reply state they are looking for someone with more “fill in the blank” experience (i.e. med mal, personal injury, familly law, contract, etc). It’s very frustrating.

    • What jobs you pursue with a partial or completed law degree depend on your priorities. If you are not sure and need to figure out what your life occupation will be consider that is like trying “to paint a water fall.”..I suggest considering putting your immediate priority on either: 1) reducing your debts ..student loan if a burden: 2) accumulating savings to increase your options; or 3) getting associated with a profession that can be satisfying and produce as much as the average non-partner attorney. Some jobs worth consideration: A) Contract Officer; B) real estate broker focused on commercial sales and property development; or C) Project Manager for organizations with missions you enjoy or favor as a person. The Contract office route will require completing specific course for certifications in many cases but has job opportunities in both the private and government sectors; The real estate broker requires a license but the broker exam can be taken after study with out agent apprenticeship; and the project manager opens the most job options if you have a certification from associations such as the PMI.(International). There are many others but these three lead to jobs that match or exceed what a non-partner attorney is likely to earn. Good luck and investigate and verify the options that fit your current inclinations and priorities.

  10. I am a qualified lawyer in Australia and this blog post is very true – I fell for the line as well. Readers and law students should also be aware that if you get into the wrong practice area your legal career can be over before it begins. I eventually got admitted to practice and specialised in the wrong area. I thought that if I did work for corporate clients then I would be able to branch out – for example if I did high end litigation I could switch to non-contentious corporate or banking and finance. NO. At least not in this market. MAKE SURE YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT AREA YOU WANT TO PRACTICE IN. if you dont know – you better start finding out – otherwise you will end up like me. I am going back to study to try and break into investment banking/corporate advisory. I am really annoyed at how rigid the legal industry is and how universities BS their prospective students into law. Its really not all its cracked up to be.

  11. Wow.. I thank God that I took time to read this posting.. I am or at least was a prospective law student going to OU next year .. I fall right into the category of being motivated by the monetary compensation, JD title, and the infamous JAG.. With no clear direction and no true passion for representing jerks .. I was convinced that law school would be an ideal place to hide at for 3 years and then come out of hibernation .. But after reading all of your comments I truly have reconsidered .. Money is a poor alternative, which could never amount to true happiness.. Working slave hours, litigating with crooks, and competing for a piece of the pie with an abundance of law grads in a limited job market isnt my idea of a good life .. Even if i did crank out 200k plus salary .. I wouldnt want to live for law.without the passion for it.. Sometimes we can get so caught up in life with achieving a particular status to find out we missed it all along.. No matter your career, the most important things in life are God, family, and then yourself .. Sacrificing irreplaceble family time for work is a tragic mistake most of us make only to reflect and regret.. So what if you are a millionaire ,,What good is the phd and all the money if it doesnt buy you true peace and sound happiness? Some of the best times ive ever had in life have been times when ive admired the work of the creator as i ran in the morning dew, or taking time to appreciate the most important things in life .. those around you .. Kissing my parents and siblings and letting them know that they are important.. you cant take it when you die, its too late to say it when they die, .. So why wait? .. Thanks for all your great input, it has only confirmed the cons of a life without meaning… I encourage all you law veterans to continue to share your perspective with young grasshoppers as myself, it truly has helped me dodge a bullet with debt and wasted time written on it.. Best wishes to all .. And remember its never too late to change, your best days are before you and not behind you .. Christ is life 😉

  12. HEY!
    well i have actually heard the line “you can do so much with a law degree” and i want to believe it but what you say makes a lot of sense. well, i’m interested in literature, history, language and politics, but i wouldn’t like to go into teaching straight away so the next best thing that would probably cater for my interests is law. i love to help people, i love to be around people, i love the occasional debate, and most psychometric tests say i should go into social sciences and marketing and things like that. is this enough reason for me to go to law school and then find my way into something i like after that? because i think i’d want to go into NGO work, and things like that afterward. should law be the path i take?

    • Hi!
      I feel the exact same way, the only difference is that I”m already studying Law.

      I had to laugh (bitterly) while reading this article because “You can do so much with a Law Degree” was basically the moto of everyone around me, trying to convince me to apply in Law School. The problem is, back then I had no idea what I wanted to do. I still don’t know. The only thing I do know is that I want to help people but I’m not sure how I am supposed to do that through law, given that it absolutely depresses me to get into any sort of argument or be surrounded by people constantly “fighting” and being interested in “winning”.

      I love being around people and learning about different cultures and languages and as cheesy as it might sound, what I’d like to do is somehow combine these facts with the aim to help dismantle prejudices and unite people. Every test I’ve taken says I should go into social sciences too but I’m at a complete loss as to what to do after I graduate as lawyer just isn’t for me.

      • Hi Maria

        I feel as thought I am in a very similar situation to you! I am currently in my 3rd year studying Law and just know it’s not for me!

        Your last paragraph explains also exactly what I am interested in and what I’d love to do – I just don’t know how to get there! Really don’t know what I am going to with a Law Degree. I too fell for ‘You can do so much with a Law Degree’. I didn’t realise so many people thought this until i read this article.

      • You two sound exactly like me. I only have two subjects left and I am constantly being knocked back for internships because it’s unclear what area of law I want to practice, I have no experience (especially when in the job market, even volunteer positions are ridiculously competitive). I’m thinking of moving towards working with or starting an NGO or something.

  13. Great post. I graduated from law school last year and luckily landed a job in an area of the law I thought I wanted to practice…turns out I’ve realized I’m pretty sure I just don’t like being a lawyer

  14. I dont know many lawyers that like being a lawyer. I met my husband in Law School. I quit after the first year after being put in the hospital from reading too much and spending too much time in the library. You laugh but this is the truth. I sell real estate full time and my husband is an attorney. After working for a large law firm, working crazy hours, almost mising the birth of his first child because he was doing depos in NY, with a good income but no family time. He decided to go out on his own. He is finding his quality of life is better but being his own boss and hunting down clients who dont pay is no fun and is barely making ends meet. Now looking for a career down another path he is finding nothing but dead ends, road blocks and kiss off letters. any suggestions?

    • I’m pretty sure that Alvey specializes in trying to get people out of law world and into something else, being that it’s kind of her chosen profession.

      What this blog needs is “Success Stories” about people who escaped law world for something not involving law.

    • Hello JKS..Consider asking your lawyer husband to take the real estate broker’s exam after some study since he isn’t required to be an agent first. per verification of this option based on your location. You can then consider delving into commercial real estate as broker-agent team where an annual commission on a $100M property could be $$800K or $400 K (e.g.8% to 4% for a split). Fee.for one sale a year beats out the average 80 hour per week lawyer income around $250 K…or he can join a real estate development or investment firm if not inclined to be an entrepreneur. Plan your transition to match your income during transition and expect long hours… up to law student hours… up front but big payoffs with in 3-4 years with time for family and life.Do your own analysis of this option for your situation and hope it helps at least some readers. The first order of business is clear student loan debt and get your time back.rid of the student loan burden. Good luck. Bodhisattva Mel

  15. I failed the bar twice, and now find myself wondering if I really want to practice law. I just cannnot figure out what else I would/could do with my law degree. I’m a people person so I have considered Human Resources and have been looking into it. Also debating if I should bother taking the Bar again…

  16. i’m up an hour later than usual reading these blogs because they are sooo well-written. i’ve been considering a career in Law, after having studied Science at undergrad, because i’m interested in gaining the knowledge but really can’t see past that. I’m only ever interested in seeing new places, taking pics, writing/sharing experiences; none of which sounds like a path to a career. Thank you ever so much for sharing…I will definitely make a more concerted effort to be sure before i take such a step.

  17. Hi Peter,

    I’m also an Australian lawyer. Very very true- know what you want to do. And yes there are as another author said boring conservative rigid personality types. As law changes and consolidates I wonder what will happen to those inflexible conservative types. As futurist Charles Robinson says “Most lawyers are risk identifiers, not risk takers. Our training in stare decisis (precedent) makes many believe that you can only find the future by studying the past. We walk through life backwards. Identifying risk may not be a high value need now or in the future. Jennifer James, an urban cultural anthropologist, includes bar associations along with the American Medical Association and others as lodge cultures in her book Thinking in the Future Tense, (1996, Simon and Schuster). A lodge culture enforces and maintains a nostalgic and unrealistic view of life and work. She describes lodges as a cooperative alliance in which the members bond together for power or protection or both. Lodges often do poorly during periods of rapid change because they are rarely visionary. Without significant transformation they go out of business” (see http://www.charlierobinsonfuturist.com/Default.htm_. )So YES you have to like the law, then decide what you want to do. Then you have to decide if you fit into the culture of the firm, then you have to decide where you want to be 5 years from now etc. As for myself I’ve made the decision with 5 years PAE to move into a niche area of law- suburban law practice is definitely out. The Bar, Niche area or public service are only areas of interest. I feel sorry for the students “who want to be lawyers” who have no idea what they want to do. Find a mentor, several of them. Don’t make potentially the biggest mistake of your life. Law is downsizing and outsourcing.

    • Hi Matt,
      Thanks for sharing your interesting insights. I’d not run into the term “lodge culture” but it’s a fascinating concept that seems quite applicable to law right now. And you are dead on that lawyers are excellent risk identifiers, but certainly not risk takers. It’s their big, whopping Achilles’ heel, and a particularly hard one to deal with for some career changers.

  18. I am a mature student studying law in Ireland and would like to be able to get an internship in Australia or USA when I finish. 2015, any advice or tips? I’m doing Law with criminal justice and French.

  19. I graduated from a top tier school with great experience, average grades, and a publication in a peer-reviewed journal. But couldn’t stand the prospect of 6 more years of schooling to enter a field (academia) where compensation is getting cut to the bone. So, after a peek at the employment and compensation rates for law school, and knowing I was a good personality fit, I went home to my in-state law school to save tuition money. I did alright (journal, average grades, good firm job during school).

    I’m now 6 months out and have been doing nothing but doc review. I’m in financial emergency mode. I’ve applied for every open position and networked so much (which comes naturally to me) that I need a spreadsheet to remember everyone I’ve had drinks or lunch with. It’s netted me exactly 1 interview. All of this frustration has made me question whether I even want to be a lawyer. I’m now spending >50% of my time pursuing other fields (management consulting, transaction advisory services and a variety of positions at Big 4 accounting firms), but have found that, “Employers look for the roundest peg they can find for their round-hole jobs. They’re not after square pegs, even if the square peg is a diamond waiting to be shaped and polished” is 100% true. I’m considering going back to school for a Master’s in Accounting, but I really can’t afford the debt, and it would put me on track to be 29 years old doing the same job as 21 year olds. But if that’s what it takes then I’ll do it. I’ve long since given up on a normal life; I know I’ll never own a home, retire, or marry, I haven’t done anything fun in months, and I’m willing to working hundred hour weeks for $32,000 if that’s what it takes to get me on a decent career track. I’m lost and frustrated and can’t hold out much longer financially. I really don’t know what more I can do.

    • Hang in there. I am recent graduate of a JD and Tax LLM who found employment with the Big 4. It may not pay as much as Big Law (20-30% less), but it is not a bad job for at least a year or so. It is a tough market, but you have to remain positive or keep fighting until you receive a decent job.

  20. Wow, didn’t expect to find such a pessimistic picture regarding a Law degree. I am thinking about changing carreers and exploring studying law as one of the possibilities. I have a PhD in German. Love teaching and research! I was lucky enough to teach at the university level for the last couple of years. But it seems to be a dead end, as the language departments are shrinking, sessional positions are the first to go and new tenure-track positions are not created either. I have applied to various non-academic positions in the past year, have not been successful in that at all. So, I’m thinking about going back to school and studying something that will guarantee a decent income as I already tried the “what interests you path”. I didn’t expect this kind of blog at all.

  21. I can attest to the fact that there is not much you can do with a law degree besides practice law. I graduated three years ago and luckily passed the bar exam the first time. However, I have not been able to find a full time job. I have worked as a traveling contract real estate attorney and now I have been trying to make ends meet by working as a document review attorney. I have gone on interviews and networked extensively to no avail. Most recently I decided to apply for Teach For America to teach and maybe earn my Masters Degree in Education, but I am afraid that it maybe hard to find a job teaching after my two years with Teach For America ends due to the significant amount of teacher layoffs. Not to mention, I cannot afford the additional debt. I feel as if I have done myself a disservice my attending law school.

    • I have been licensed to practice since 1995 and had a variety of work experiences including private practice, doc review, etc. I suggest looking at administrative hearing officer positions in your state; with different state agencies with administrative hearings, i.e., employment security commission, DHHS. JD degree is generally required, not always required to be licensed.

  22. thank you, recently graduate,may 2012 and unable to find a job. currently doing document review, first time. hope I can stick it out for the next few day. Suggestions on point.

  23. Thanks for the article.

    My boss said I was inefficient, and I drafted bad letters. He gave me a warning to improve in one week besides not saying anything for the past 9 months I worked there.

    I decided to give the job the flick. I don’t regret it one bit.

    I absorbed the feedback he gave. I agree with some but not others. Anyway, I decided to do something about it and fix those areas by myself.

    Anyway, I am doing some serious soul searching now. I realised that I DON’T WANT to be a lawyer. I’ve been swimming upstream for years and have now accepted that fact. Problem is that I don’t know where to from now. I want a career that I love. A passion; not something that’s going to make me stress and lose my mind over.

    Would love to have a session with you because I’m lost. Unfortunately, I’m in Australia :\

      • I ask because you reflect my situation absolutely and I feel exactly the same way! How are you getting on?

      • Karen, what is your email address? I’m asking because I just graduated law school and I have decided not to take the bar because I have no desire to practice law. I’m interested to know how you’ve navigated this process so far. I can be reached at: mharrin5507@yahoo.com

        Thank you.

        Mike

  24. Thanks for this article! I’m on the fence about going to law school. Back in 2009, that was the plan, graduated with a bs in poli sci w/ a Pre law minor. Took the LSAT & bombed it. So I decided to go to work and see if something would stick out in the business field… And it hasn’t so far. I’m considering project management bc I’m very strategic. But my passion is cooking. That is what I do when life gets me down… Just go in the kitchen with all my gadgets and get lost in the sauce. But to back up a little after college I went to culinary school for a semester but my family didnt support me bc of the line of work and didnt see it as a prominent field to go into, so I quit. Now I feel like I’m back at square one- at a job I hate (proprietary education bc it’s all a numbers game based on a demographic of people who don’t know any better and playing on their ignorance). So the question is do I follow my dreams and go to culinary school or go to law school. I’m 26 and still home with my mom & with the recent tax raise I can’t afford to move out with the rising cost of rent. So I’m literally banging my head against the wall bc I don’t knw what to do! Do knw that I don’t believe money supplies happiness but I want to enjoy my life and not live check to check… Either way to go I will be in debt but I want to be in debt and actually enjoy the decision I made.

    • It seems sort of bleedingly obvious you should go to culinary school… esp. with the job market the way it is in law, and when you’re successful your family will eat their words. Maybe try and get a job with a big hotel chain like the Hilton or something as a waitress, then try and get them to sponsor you? Just a thought… (I’m a waitress there, and they do stuff like that – you should research the industry more).

      All this stuff is really interesting, I’m 21 and doing a Masters in International Law (which I love) thinking of switching to JD, but I’ve been discussing it with some of the lawyers and non-lawyers in the course and I’m torn! Argh! So much more research to do!

      • Hi Ellie, I’m 22 years old and just about to get my Liberal Arts Degree this fall. My major is Religion & Culture so I feel like International Law would be a good way to further my understanding of the world and hopefully pay the bills! I will actually be studying in Israel for a month this summer, paid for by my university. Do you think International Law is worth pursuing in the long run?

  25. Pingback: Perpetuating the law school myth « J.uris D.ebtor

  26. In a cult of rules, regulations, restrictions, exceptions, limitations.. we all finally realise that behind this culture of prestige is a whole line of “risk assessors” that were to afraid to do anything about the risk of doing something they didn’t love. Didn’t even like.
    Its funny that everyone is so quick to remind you to “stick with it” because there’s so many golden opportunities that will greet you tomorrow when you finally stand on top of that bar..
    But unfortuately.. that bar, is always rising.. always pushing you that little bit further.
    Eventually you realise, the trip to the top has not only raided your wallet, but left you insecure, afraid, and completely unaware of why you did such a thing in the first place.
    In this cut-throat world its intimidating to reflect on the pressure we place upon children to make the decision of their life.. To do law, or not to do law.. that is the question.
    I was that kid that had so many other dreams.. but because the grades where there thought.. “why not! lets do a law degree, and while we’re at it! lets throw in some psychology too!”..
    For someone who only dreamt of being an event manager, or a culinary artist, this was the worst decision ever made. Now the prospect of being a desk jockey, or an over glorified secretary makes me wonder.. Is the suit really for me? Is it really for you?

    Its a question we all have to assess.. and really consider the truth behind our intentions to become part of the law breed. It really is only for a selected few.

  27. I went to an Ivy League Law School and undergrad and have over 250k in debt. I am only making 35k and having trouble paying my basic bills like rent, food, utilities, car..etc. I am in the process of getting my Masters in Teaching to be an elementary school teacher. I really like the idea of trying to work towards a constructive goal rather than a destructive one. In my opinion, going into law has been the worst mistake I have ever made financially and emotionally. I will never own a home or retire, but I want to be able to pay my basic bills. Most of my loans are private so the interest rate is extremely high and private banks don’t work with you like the federal government. Anyone else in this situation?

    • Are you making $35K as a lawyer or as something else?

      If you get a job teaching in Pennsylvania (assuming you went to Penn), you should end up fine, particularly if you become principal and move up toward superintendent (teach 5 years and go into admin). The law degree would be an asset there, I would think.

      That was my father’s path and it will take care of your debt. (Ed.D., not J.D.)

      You could also become a special education coordinator or something like that.

      • Is it me or does it seem like some bloggers focus on the negative aspects of their failures as it pertains to their law degrees and exaggerate their struggles to dismay potential law students from even thinking about entering law school because of competition. If you have a law degree from a Ivy league law school and you are only making 35k I would assume you are either bullshiting, being taken advantage of or just not cleaver enough to put your degree to use… Just my 2 cents.

  28. There are enormous illusions about law. It’s been a favorite remark by lawyer wannabes since the 60’s that they want to be a “corporate” lawyer. Lots of Luck. If you are from the elite families, getting a degree from an elite school, perhaps not so far fetched – otherwise its the “long march” of generally marginally rewarding private practice (ever wonder way so many “big gun” attorneys opt for running for a judgeship after decades of “lucrative” practice (yeah, they probably did hit some big ones, but after taxes, overhead, etc they’re back to scratching for the next case). Most rely on Social Security and whatever legal work they can scrape up when they hit their 70’s. They want a retirement ! A law degree will hobble most people who want to work in other fields – “overqualified”. An insurance company will take you on, however, on a commission basis.With the law school diploma mills grinding out masses of JD’s private practice is a grueling option with little prospect of an affluent lifestyle – but those loans sure pay the bills for the Prof’s and Deans.You notice THEY don’t want any part of “private practice” and are probably refugees from same. If you don’t mind Genteel Poverty and yearn for the “status” of being known as an :Attorney” , then have at it. What was that sign above the gates of Hell in Dante ? Something about giving up all hope ?

  29. I just graduated law school and I have no desire to practice. I’m glad I found this blog so that I know that at least I’m not alone. Thank you.

    • What do you think you will venture into now that you have graduated and have no desire to practice? I only ask as because I am graduating next year and really don’t know what to do!

      Claire

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  31. I am 10 years into my Army career, all of my experience being in the intelligence field with quite a bit of exposure to law enforcement and homeland security. I am halfway through my BA in homeland security and emergency management to strengthen my position in the event I decided to leave the service. I am honestly burned out with this field, but it is the only opportunity I will have in the civilian sector in the San Diego area (which is where I must stay to maintain custody of my son). I am saving my post 9/11 GI bill for higher education, I am thus far leaning toward law school. Thomas Jefferson School of Law is a yellow ribbon program participant, meaning they will supplement my post 9/11 GI bill to cover the full cost of tuition and they have a four year part time program which would allow me to go to school in the evenings.

    Once I retire from the Army, I want a second career that is flexible, and a pace that I have some degree of control over. I’m considering either starting a business, or working in the non-profit/public service sector. I want to do something rewarding, challanging, but not overly stressful.

    My question is if the cost of education is not an issue, is law school worth while? I imagine studing law will help you understand how legal systems and infrastructure work, which would be beneficial in many ways. I’m not looking to have a JD to use as a key to get to a set goal, I want to use the education to better understand how the world works to assist me with navigating through the “red tape” that is currently an enigma to me. I hope I am making some kind of sense. Everyones opinion and words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated.

    • You really learn dealing with “red tape” by working in areas of the law that involve dealing with bureaucracy.

      You really only get this experience by working after law school as a lawyer in such an area.

      Law school isn’t really helpful in terms of practical experience of dealing with bureaucracy.

      • Thank you, JP. Do you feel that a law degree would help with non-profit work or establishing a small business? Would I be better off pursuing an MPA/MBA?

        Even with having an idea of the direction I am looking to head towards with my second career, I’m looking for an education that will give me a certain degree of versatility. I am starting to have mixed feelings as to whether a law degree will provide that frame work.

  32. I was wondering if you ever thought of changing
    the page layout of your blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or 2 pictures.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

  33. I do consider all of the ideas you’ve presented on your post. They are very convincing and can certainly work. Still, the posts are very quick for beginners. Could you please prolong them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.

  34. Anyone thinking of going to law school right now should really do their due diligence about the job market, especially for entry level attorneys. I am in job search mode after graduating from law school and passing the CA bar exam. The entry level jobs are non-existent. I would take a legal secretary or paralegal position, but even those are hard to find because the firms want someone with experience who can hit the ground running. It is rare to find a firm that will train a newbie. All of the ads want someone with experience. And the companies that hire in-house counsel want someone with big firm experience.
    This situation is due to three phenomena: the first is the economy sucks and there is no sign of it getting better any time soon. So most law firms just do not have the growth that requires new associates. The second is that the law schools got really efficient at cranking out tons of J.D. graduates. It is like Henry Ford’s assembly line. So there is a glut of young, inexperienced attorneys competing for the dearth of entry level jobs. The third is that technology has made the whole economy much more efficient, and the legal profession is no exception. Many law firms can do the same work with fewer attorneys than they needed ten years ago due to computers and the Internet/cloud.
    Perhaps a fourth reason is the outsourcing of legal work to India and having a partner in the U.S. review and sign off on it.
    Another phenomena I have witnessed is that instead of hiring new associates, firms are hiring more paralegals and legal secretaries to do their research and writing. The partners sign off on it and/or make court appearances. This costs less than hiring another attorney. The partners also do not have to worry about the paralegals/secretaries stealing their clients because they are not attorneys.
    Firms and companies are using scanning software that does keyword searches on resumes. If your law school or work experience does not match up with their pre-selected requirements, then your resume is deleted without ever being read by a human.
    If you have dreamed of being an attorney your whole life and have a job connection when you graduate, then by all means seriously consider going to law school. But if you are considering law school as a way to avoid working for three years, I would reconsider that plan and get a job doing something you like. It is better than going to law school, accruing six-figures of debt, and then finding out you made a mistake. Check all of the jobsites to see the availability of entry level attorney jobs. Also read the many blogs and websites that discuss whether or not to go to law school. They are not very positive.
    Good luck everyone.

  35. Excellent article. I am working part time as a waiter, after ten years of practicing law. I was good at it but never satisfied. Now I am floundering about trying to find something to do.
    Great article!

  36. Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you
    knew of any widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter updates.
    I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would
    have some experience with something like this.
    Please let me know if you run into anything.
    I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your new updates.

  37. Thanks for your advice,currently am undertaking an LLB degree and I have really gained much courage to keep me going

  38. I have worked with a chemistry degree for about 16 years with a decent salary. However, at about 10 years in the business I decided to go to evening law school, since the pharmaceutical business was decaying where I lived, and law was something I always had in the back of my head. So, I got my JD and also passed the bar. after that, I learned that rookie lawyers in my country earn half the salary I earn with a BS in chemistry. So now, I want to practice law, but can’t afford to leave my current job for half the salary. Now Im stuck in a professional limbo……>sigh<

  39. This blog was such a waste of time. Instead of rainbow out-of-arse ideologies, some credible real-world facts or mentions would have been more apt.

  40. I actually believe this posting , “You Can Do So Much With a Law Degree | Leaving the Law”, fairly
    compelling plus it was indeed a wonderful read. Thanks for your effort,
    Melissa

  41. I’m a couple weeks away from finishing my LLB, but I’ve been unhappy from the start. I also fell for the ‘you can do so much with a law degree’ tagline, but it just seems too black and white for a person as colourful as I am. My true passion is music, and I’m scraping up the courage to leave this behind as soon as its over, and move on to happier, though not necessarily greener fields.

    Thanks for the blog, glad to know other people share my sentiments!

  42. Howdy! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to
    give a quick shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading through your articles.
    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the
    same subjects? Thanks for your time!

  43. I love this article! I was especially moved where the author stated, “[t]he dreams to follow are ones that light you up with their possibilities. That make you want to get up in the morning.”

    At the age of 43, I consider myself a very non-traditional 1L! I have been waiting for many years to get here! I spent 10 years making my decision to attend law school. I would not say yes until I could say with courage of conviction “why” I wanted to be a lawyer. The very week that I found my answer, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies program. By the time I graduated, (Summa Cum Laude by the way!) I knew that I was making the right choice! I wake up in the morning with a fire in my spirit for Juvenile Law! This is where I found the courage of conviction to attend law school.

    I could not agree more that money is not everything! Oh, it is nice to have and I would love to earn a nice fortune! But job satisfaction is more valuable to me! I will never become wealthy as a Juvenile Justice lawyer. But, I know that this is what I was created to be!

  44. Patrick, I hope your work is everything you hope it will be and more. The world could certainly use someone with energy and enthusiasm to help young folks in need. Keep us posted!

  45. Outstanding article. My son is thinking of going for a law degree. I sent him a link to your page and it was powerful enough to give him second thoughts. I don’t want to discourage him from a law degree if that’s what he really wants, but your article is making him think a lot harder about whether that’s what he really wants to do. Thanks

    • Sue, what a super parent you are! I’ve lost count of the number of clients I’ve had who went to law school to please their parents. It usually doesn’t end well when that’s the dynamic. I’d encourage your son to take the Myers-Briggs personality test, if he hasn’t already. There’s a whole Lawyer Personality series I wrote in 2010 that he probably would find useful. He might be able to get the MBTI done for free at his school, if he’s still in undergrad. Also, the VIA Character Strengths and Values survey is fabulous at helping people see what is important to them. I tell my clients that you need at least 3 of your top 5 values to be present in your work, in significant, consistent quantity, to be at least OK with your job. The survey is free, and can be found at https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu. Drop down the Questionnaires menu, and it’s in the right-hand column (at least right now).

  46. Pingback: You Can Do So Much With a Law Degree !!! | Void ab Initio

  47. Superb and inspiring. I think my biggest take-away here is remembering that following the money isn’t the most important thing. I needed to hear that as I think many lawyers become overly concerned with money these days. Inspiring read. Thanks. Do you mind if I post this to my social sites? Thanks — John

  48. I am sick and tired of being a lawyer. I have been practicing family law in Ottawa, Canada for 27 years. Business has been exceptionally slow for the past 2 or 3 years, with more people representing themselves since hiring a lawyer is so ridiculously expensive that I would have a stroke if I had to pay for myself! Now I just don’t even want to be in this office any more. The only thing I can think of doing is teaching, since I was an instructor at the bar admission course for a few years and liked that, but even that wasn’t thrilling. I would like to retire but I can’t imagine how I would be able to support myself!

    Your blog is inspiring I agree, but it kind of leaves me feeling helpless, with no idea of what to do.

    sigh…

    • I can see why you are tired. You’ve been practicing for 27 years!!?? Respect

      How long did it take for you to realize that you hated being a lawyer?

  49. If you like teaching, Susan, what about doing some kind of corporate training? Maybe something like Best Policies for Keeping Troubled Relationships From Splilng Into the Workplace. Or whatever. The teaching function is found in many jobs beyond those that are labeled “teacher.” Many jobs in marketing and PR are often basically educating a target audience about something. Make a list of stuff you’d love to teach about. Then pick up a copy of The $100 Startup, by Chris Guillebeau, and get going.
    Good luck! I know you can do this.

  50. Well, Oliver, I don’t know of any hard and fast reasons why not. Your own personal circumstances may present obstacles, such as loan repayments, but I know several attorneys who have both a JD and a Ph.D. or MSW. And they got the JD first.

  51. Pingback: How Much Do People With A Business Degree Make On Keyboard | Business Degrees Info

  52. Brilliant post, I really benefited from reading this. As a current law student, I’m beginning to discover that legal practice doesn’t suit with my personality or even with my overall interests in life. I slightly regret going to law school but I believe the study of law would give anyone a wider depth of knowledge, help them to understand issues revolving around society besides particular skills that prepare students for the profession, thus, promising them broader job opportunities after they graduate. That’s my opinion though.

  53. My daughter is in 3rd year law school and is miserable. In my country (Singapore), law is a first degree so bright kids enter law school at 18. My daughter wanted to do law although my husband and I tried to tell her about the kind of life she would have as a law student and eventually, when practicing. She wouldn’t listen. She was a straight A student and good in sports and music when she was in school, so full of life and joy. Now, she is an unhappy and defeated person. In law school, every semester around exam time she would talk about dropping out. Then, she would say that she would stick it out because law school had cost so much. Last night, we talked this out (yet again) as a family. She finally came out of denial and said she had had enough. She says she will finish the degree (3 semesters more to go) but not be upset with herself if her grades are average. If she decides she cannot take the 3 semesters and wants to leave, we have assured her we are ok with that too. She has decided not to look for a training contract and will forgo interviews for a training contract. She will not practice as a lawyer. Instead, she is going to switch tracks and go back to History (a passion with her). It’s been a painful journey for her and for us as parents, watching her suffer.

    I wish I had found your blog earlier. I am convinced that you need to be a certain personality type to do law. And, you are right – we are told so many lies that begin with the statement, ‘You can do so much with law degree …’. And here’s another lie, one that her professors told her – ‘Press on. You will make a good lawyer. ‘How would they know when they never saw her private suffering? Now, as my daughter says no to this deception, there is a sense of liberation in our home. Finally, she is free of this awful delusion. She is finally free to live life and believe again how special she is as a person.

  54. I am glad I found this post! I was on the verge to going to law school. I applied to three school & got in! Now I am thinking if I should reconsider. My passion is to study law, but I would rather pursue a Master’s instead. It’s much more appealing that going to school for 4 years. Dreading my head in the books when I know that’s not really me. I looked at my partner thinking if this was really worth it. She barely has life experience, but is well rounded with logic & reasoning skills. Part of the reason I am with her. Anyway, her telling me that it’s not worth it was a sign that my instincts was right. I got clouded by the notion that going to law school would be great & I would enjoy studying law. Also have a professional degree would increase my rankings with other parents who compare their kids education & the school they went. However, in reality I found out that isn’t much the case in my world. I stayed away from the political cultural that I’ve been trapped growing up. Being raised by parents with two different heavy cultures & always believing that I am a failure (indirectly). Then it hit me! That I knew better. I know that I am a well rounded person who believes in fairness, logic, reasoning, & not try to judge others without going to law school. Which is the reason I stumbled upon this article. Now here I am sharing my story as well. I am glad that I am reconsidering my options. I would rather pursue a Master’s or Science in Law & possibility a go back to school to learn Accounting since my bachelors is pretty much useless. Although my bachelors can get my foot in the door to beginning salary careers, I still feel limited.

    Thank you for posting this. I hope everyone considers the same.

  55. Thank you for posting this blog. I’m currently taking my Bachelor’s degree, and I really want to study law in U.S after I graduate. To be honest after reading the blog I felt like I don’t have enough courage to enter law school, but deep inside me I know that I still want it.

    When I was young I wanted to enter law school because of the cash that I will be able to earn, but after reading this I realize how crazy I am. I need to erased the childish dream I have, a childish dream of being a lawyer just for the sake of money. I still want to be a lawyer but not for the money or fame, and not because my parents are forcing me. I want to become a lawyer because I want it.

    Now I need to decide if I should take it after I graduate or after taking may master in International Relations. Anyway, again thank you very much for posting the blog. You made me realize something.

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