No matter if you are in the process of choosing your higher education path or you’ve just graduated from law school and are wondering what to do next, it’s helpful to get an idea of the career opportunities you can pursue.
Considering that legal matters are embedded in almost every aspect of modern-day life, it comes as no surprise that a degree in law offers a solid foundation for a diverse range of careers besides simply becoming a lawyer.
In this article, we’ve done our best to answer the somewhat complicated question “What can you do with a law degree?” and offer an overview of the typical careers law graduates are eligible for. Furthermore, we’ve made sure to provide a glimpse into alternative legal careers and nontraditional law-related jobs we suggest you explore.
Pursuing a Law Degree in the US
Before we start discussing career opportunities for law practitioners, let’s take a look at the educational path you’ll need to follow if you decide to devote your professional life to legal matters.
The first step involves completing a Bachelor’s degree of your choice. According to the American Bar Association, students aren’t required to study law at the undergraduate level to gain admission to law school. While there isn’t a correct major to pursue, future law career seekers typically choose English, business, political science, economics, journalism, or philosophy.
In addition to obtaining an undergraduate degree, there’s another core requirement of the law school admission process - passing the Law School Admission Test. The LSAT is administered by the Law School Admission Council and measures candidates’ knowledge and skills in critical areas of future legal work, such as information management, argumentation, reasoning, analysis, and critical thinking. The test requires rigorous preparation.
The next step on your path toward a career in the legal field involves submitting applications, getting into law school, and pursuing a Juris Doctorate. Note that the nationally recognized degree for US legal practitioners, the Juris Doctor degree, is currently offered by more than 200 ABA-accredited law schools.
After earning their JD degree, US law school graduates start the procedure of requesting to enter the ABA, which will allow them to practice law in the country. Those who desire to pursue a career in the Supreme Court of the United States or any of the state or federal courts need to meet several other admission requirements.
If pursuing public careers in law isn’t a part of your plan, you can get a job as an associate and hone your craft by working closely with seasoned lawyers. Alternatively, you can continue pursuing your education at the Master’s and doctoral levels if you are interested in careers involving research and academic scholarship.
A law degree teaches you to solve problems, think critically, communicate efficiently, research, work in teams, and distill long and complicated pieces of writing into concise information. As such, it opens the door for many exciting and lucrative career paths.
Jobs You Can Do With a Law Degree
Let’s take a look at some career paths law school grads in the US might consider. Examples of a typical career in law include in-house counsel in a legal department of a corporation, outside counsel in law firms, prosecutors in the offices of the District Attorney, State Attorney, or Attorney General, defense attorneys, plaintiff attorneys, staff attorneys, litigators who offer advice to clients, appellate attorneys, trial attorneys, and non-trial attorneys (also referred to as transactional lawyers, corporate lawyers, or office-practice lawyers), whose line of work rarely leads them to court.
Furthermore, the list of jobs for someone with a JD degree goes on to include practicing law as a part of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, or Coast Guard as a military lawyer in JAG Corps. Alternatively, you can build your career in international property law and work as a patent attorney, agent, clerk, designer, or examiner. Just note that, for this role, you’ll need to be granted special permission issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Beginner Law Degree Jobs
Almost everywhere in the world - the US included - fresh law school graduates start their careers in junior roles.
While you’ll have many more job opportunities to choose from once you have enough experience under your belt, there’s still a good range of beginner roles to opt for. In addition to the experience level they require, junior positions may also vary based on the amount of involvement in legal proceedings they entail. You can start a lawyer’s career path as a court clerk, court messenger, court legal advisor, file clerk, document coder, legislative assistant, legal transcriptionist, mailroom clerk, trainee lawyer associate, or with a role as a paralegal.
In general, legal careers can be divided into two broad categories - those which require spending a lot of time in the courtroom and those that require your presence in the offices of a law firm or elsewhere. The list of courtroom roles for law practitioners includes court administrator, chief court clerk, court reporter or stenographer, court interpreter, courtroom deputy, judge, jury selection expert, jury consultant, jury commissioner, legal reporter, litigation secretary, litigation examiner, litigation support specialist, magistrate, arbitrator, and prothonotary.
Law Firm Careers
So, what can you do with a law degree in a law firm? Before we answer this question, let’s take a step back and compare various law firms.
As you explore job opportunities, you’ll come across several types of law firms. Beyond being big or small, some law firms are public while others are private (or corporate), some focus on advising individuals, while others work with corporations. As a rule, community legal clinics, legal aid firms, and legal startups typically focus on providing legal counsel and other services in specific law areas and, therefore, offer opportunities for careers in the law field they operate in.
On the other hand, larger legal companies employ dozens of lawyers who may specialize in several fields. These firms typically distribute their load of work among two segments. The transactional department handles the administrative side of the work and advises clients, while the litigation department members’ responsibility is to represent clients in court. Apart from lawyers, large legal firms also typically employ paralegals, HR specialists, administrative staff, librarians.
As you can see, the selection of jobs for a law graduate in a law firm is abundant and diverse. Law practitioners can work as plaintiff attorneys, corporate lawyers, claims examiners, contract negotiators, university attorneys, and title examiners, to mention just a few possibilities. Furthermore, candidates with a law degree can also explore the options of working in the business, finance, marketing, administration, research, editing, publishing industry, law recruitment, or an information technology department of a big law firm.
Alternative Careers in Law
Roles that benefit from the skills and knowledge obtained while pursuing a law degree can be defined as alternative law-related jobs. If you want to build your career in law but don’t necessarily envision yourself in a courtroom, here are a few possibilities we suggest you explore.
You can work as a law teacher, work as an instructor in a legal trainee program, become a career advisor within a law school, work in an administrative office of a law school, write for magazines and journals focusing on legal matters, go into recruitment and work as a headhunter for finding candidates for jobs in the legal field, apply for government legal analyst positions, work as a legal clearance officer in immigration, or apply for a research assistant position via the Law Commission’s recruitment campaign.
Moreover, you can explore the diverse range of career choices that require you to collaborate with lawyers. In this context, the list of possibilities for someone with a law degree includes working in law enforcement or prisons, pursuing a career as an asylum or customs officer, getting a job in the trust department of a bank, working as a legislative aid or analyst, becoming a civil rights analyst, getting a job as a compliance officer, a public interest advocate, conflicts analyst or a lobbyist, and becoming a victim compensation officer, among other options. Jobs involving law also have a lot to do with diplomacy, so alternative legal career seekers can also go into international relations.
Nonlaw Careers for Legal Graduates
Given the interdisciplinary nature of law, the skills students develop and the knowledge they gain while completing a JD program can help them attract employers operating in a variety of industries and sectors. Some of the areas in which legal graduates can transfer their knowledge and skills are:
- Communications and entertainment. If you’d like to look for employment opportunities beyond careers in the legal field, we suggest you put your communication and persuasion skills to good use and apply for roles in marketing, advertising, sales, public relations, or human resources. Combine the aforementioned capabilities with good writing skills, and you’ll also qualify for job opportunities in journalism, content writing, screenwriting, editing, publishing, media, and similar fields.
- Business and politics. Jobs in any law field require strong organizational skills, and so do business and management positions such as corporate trainer or chief management officer. Alternatively, you should also be able to take advantage of your comprehensive skills in sociology and ethics to pursue a career as a political advisor or strategist.
- Research and reporting. Research and communication skills can also help you land a job as an archivist, political research assistant, academic librarian, broadcast journalist, radio broadcaster, or television anchor.
- Auditing and enforcement. While they may not seem like jobs for someone with a legal degree, opportunities in banking, finance, auditing, accountancy, and investment management may also be an excellent choice for those with analytical skills and a knack for mathematics. If you are interested in law enforcement, you can also explore roles in the FBI or CIA.
People-based roles. If working with children and vulnerable groups is what you’re passionate about, we suggest you look into alternative jobs in law that involve teaching, adult education, product safety, professional standards administration, or health and safety compliance.