It would seem like the purpose of any school would be right there in its name, and so when most people think about law school, they assume its purpose is to teach you how to practice "law," ostensibly so you can actually practice it at a law firm.
However, this is definitely not always the case.
Many people go to law school precisely because it yields a very flexible degree that can be applied in a number of different ways.
To be sure, there is definitely no shortage of post-graduate options outside of law firms. Here are just a few:
In-House Corporate Attorney
Entrepreneur (business owner)
ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) specialist (e.g. a mediator)
Analyst (financial, bankruptcy, legal, fraud investigation)
Academic (professor, law professor, law librarian)
Contract administration, negotiation, licensing, procurement
Law is relevant to each of these and many more career paths in different ways, and so what areas of law you end up enjoying in law school could help you make the decision as to which alternative career path you will choose.
For example, financial compliance at big financial institutions might fit well with an interest in administrative law, securities, and banking regulation because you will be interacting with many administrative regulations and decisions in these areas. A job in publishing, on the other hand, might fit better with an interest in copyright and media law.
If you find that you are more interested in resolving conflict than in causing it, then perhaps a job as a mediator is what's best for you.
While the process of going through law school will refine your interests and perhaps confirm the path that is best for you, you should start seriously thinking about it before you begin law school. This is because before you know it you will need internships and summer positions to pad your resume, learn what you like and what you don't, and maybe even turn one into a job. Especially in today's economy, it's important to build and maintain relationships in the industry you want to work in long before you graduate, so putting thought into it before you start school can't hurt.
Also, keep in mind, the flexibility of a JD might have one somewhat inflexible consequence; namely, that if you don't go right into a law firm after law school, or soon thereafter, but instead go in-house or to some "alternative" career path, you might find it difficult to break back into law. Absent coveted industry experience, most firms would prefer to hire associates that have years of law firm experience, and in this market, they usually get it, and they get it on the cheap.
While in the past many lawyers have made the jump back into law from publishing, banking, government, and countless other areas, people that pursue alternatives in today's job market will probably find it hard to double back to law. And while a lawyer with several years of law firm practice under his belt can go "in-house" at essentially any company that requires counsel, and yet always come back to law, attorneys that go in-house straight from school risk losing out down the road to their colleagues with more law firm experience as well as to summer associate hires, less experienced but more "moldable."
That said, all this really means is that you need to make sure that pursuing an alternative career right out of school is really what you want - if that's where you want to be at the end of the day, don't hesitate, take it!
If you aren't sure, you need to educate yourself by doing research, and getting internships that expose you to the alternatives you're considering. In doing so, you can determine whether law firm practice is right for you.
Sam is a writer, Law School Admission Test (LSAT) instructor, and an aspiring attorney. Sam is currently law clerk to the Honorable Claire C. Cecchi, U.S. District Judge for the District of New Jersey, and is awaiting the results of the New York and New Jersey bar examinations. Sam earned his Juris Doctor law degree with a concentration in intellectual property and communications law from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, and his Bachelor of Arts degrees in history and political science from the Johns Hopkins University For over three years, Sam has helped students prepare for the LSAT, beginning with a stint at the Princeton Review. Since then, Sam has focused on pursuing a career in law, while also continuing to assist law students in their efforts to prepare for the LSAT, and to gain admission to law school in the United States.
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