I’m not a career counselor. I haven’t even played on TV. However, I did make it through three years of law school and obtain a J.D., only to skip the bar exam and go directly to work in a field completely unrelated to the law. So please take these thoughts as they are intended – one person’s view of how to use law school as a vehicle for a career outside of the legal profession.
American law schools do not exist to prepare future diplomats, encourage entrepreneurial activity, create fine journalists, or churn out programmers. They are part of a guild structure. They prepare students to become members of a closed society of legal practitioners that mandates standards of professional ethics and behavior, and determines who can and cannot enter the profession.
In an ideal world, there would be a balance between the number of guild members needed and the supply of law school graduates. We’re not living in that ideal world. Not only are there more students and graduates than the guild needs, life inside the guild isn’t always as rewarding as it sounds on the outside.
If you’re concerned about the odds of getting hired into the guild, or if you’re wondering if that life isn’t for you, there are ways to turn law school into something else.
While your school is probably not set up to prepare you for anything but guild life, what you are learning in law school can help you get a job outside the guild. If you know in your heart that the law isn’t your thing, but you still want to obtain a J.D., now is the time to tailor your curriculum and your internship plan. Talk to the folks at the career center, but don’t expect them to drive your planning. You’ll have to create your own path for the remainder of law school.
Getting into law school is difficult, and making it through the law school curriculum requires hard work and perseverance. You know that because you’ve been there. But most folks who haven’t been to law school won’t care one bit. Why should they? What matters to them is the skills, experience, and personal traits you can bring to their organization.
That’s a good question. What can you bring to the table? Plenty. For starters, you can think critically. No other field of study prepares graduates to weigh evidence, consider all possibilities, come to a decision, and advocate for that decision – all in the context of the squishy, hard to define realities of human behavior, language, and moral and ethical dilemmas.
You can also dig deep. You know how to obtain, validate, analyze, and synthesize information. We live in the Information Age, but you’d be surprised at how few information workers possess even half of the skills you picked up in your legal writing and advocacy classes. Your ability to sift through information and write about it cogently is extremely valuable.
You can manage time and juggle tasks. You either figure out how to do that, or you burn out in your 2L year. Associations, journals, externships, fellowships, internships, and other extra-curricular work show that you have the juice to be the kind of motivated employee most managers would love to have.
It gets better. You’re making connections with professors, fellow students, and legal practitioners. If you have an idea of the direction you want to take, let them know about it. Facebook is great, but if you haven’t already, you need to get serious about LinkedIn, pronto. Your professional network is tremendously important, and law school is an excellent place to cultivate relationships. Be sure to pay it forward, too. Help your classmates and anyone else you meet in law school to make connections and advance their career goals. Give selflessly and you’ll receive far more.
If you’re in law school and considering opting out of the law guild, keep your chin up and start planning now.