By: Renee Sylvestre Williams
A law degree doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have a career in law. It does guarantee you will have a degree and most likely a student loan.
In North America, there seems to be a glut of lawyers. Earlier this year, New York Supreme Court judge Melvin J. Schweitzer ruled that lawyers couldn’t sue their schoolsfor marketing the field as a viable source of employment.
In Canada, the Globe and Mail looked at the issue of too many law students and not enough articling positions in the big firms.
Law schools and working lawyers are paying attention. Ilana Raynai, of Brauti Thorning Zibbarras in Toronto, is part of the student committee at the firm. She speaks with high school students, articulating students and young associates. Raynai says, “Obviously, there is a concern about jobs.” She pointed out that there are the top law firms that everyone wants to work at which has 10 to 15 spots. Mya Bulwa, Assistant Dean, Students at Osgoode Hall Law School, says, “Students are coming in with broader view of what they can do their law degree.” She explains that Osgoode Hall’s legal education is trying to be responsive and give students a wide breadth of subjects so they can apply their law degree.
But what can you do with a law degree that doesn’t include working in the hottest law firms in the country? Surprisingly, quite a bit:
Bulwa says a new staff member at the school has a law degree and a counseling degree. This combination allows the counselor to understand the stresses of law students because she went through the same process.
Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
While you don’t need a law degree to work as a mediator, legal knowledge can help during the mediation process.
Your degree can help if you plan on working with a Nongovernmental organization. After all, a lot of them work in countries where knowledge of the law is crucial to their mandate.
Government and politics
This one is a gimme but consider how many politicians have a law degree. There’s Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – just to name two presidents – and United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. While law and politics remain entangled, there is a decline of lawyers entering politics.
Banking and finance
So if you don’t go into politics, why not try finance? There are certain fields where a law degree certainly couldn’t hurt such as estates, tax and small business. Even if you don’t want to practice law in the finance sector and prefer to deal with the money, having one can help since finance does require legal knowledge.
Of course you don’t need a degree to be an entrepreneur but Jacqueline Dinsmore went from working as a corporate lawyer for one of the largest firms in Canada and then as the Assistant General Counsel for the Toronto Star to founding Luvali Convertibles. Dinsmore credits her degree for helping her understand and negotiate contracts related to her business.
Law professionals may not want to practice the law but they might be interested in teaching it or doing research on the law to look at ways to improve or update the law.This article from the University of Chicago traces the paths to teaching law.
Journalism or Writing
Journalism probably isn’t the best alternate career considering the regular reports of cuts in the industry but some lawyers have found work as legal analysts and like Today’s Savannah Guthrie as television anchors.
Lawyers can also turn to writing as a career. One of the most famous writers is John Grisham who came to fame thanks to his books about the law.
Public Interest Advocacy
Do you feel strongly about an issue and want to influence policy decisions? Then why not consider public interest advocacy?
Whatever you decide to do with your law degree, don’t go into the field without thinking about what you want to do. Raynai says that even if you don’t practice law, a law degree is good to have and should be considered as a foundation for a career, if not the career itself.