Alternative Career Pathways for Recent Law School Graduates

By Kimberly Pray, U of O School of Law

The recent New York Times article entitled "Is Law School a Losing Game?" sparked a lively discussion about the saturation of the legal services market. While the article presented a convincing argument against attending law school, it provided little in the way of meaningful advice or constructive examples for current students or recent graduates.

The competitive nature of the legal profession, exacerbated by the current economic downturn, shed approximately 15,000 jobs nationwide, challenges recent graduates to think more creatively about alternative career pathways. However, the knowledge and skills acquired over the course of a law school education offer exciting and engaging opportunities for a professional career outside of a traditional legal practice. Moreover, law firms and companies continue to hire, despite the down market, but it may take ingenuity and perseverance to find and land those jobs.

For many graduates with experience in the workforce prior to attending law school, a JD may provide for a return to a similar field, yet command a management track position with increasing levels of responsibility. For graduating students with little or no professional experience, a legal education provides a foundational skill set, including advanced research and writing capabilities, an aptitude for problem solving and the ability to meet deadlines. These professional attributes create value for potential employers and provide law school graduates with the flexibility to explore non-traditional career options.

For those graduates who ultimately seek to practice law, many find success through creative job search strategies. For example, finding a position as a law clerk or as a contract lawyer provides the supervising attorney or law firm an opportunity to get to know a candidate's skills and abilities prior to making the commitment to hire a new full-time employee. Volunteer positions with local nonprofit organizations and government agencies provide additional opportunities for newer lawyers to gain experience and explore the practice of law.

Similarly, professional networking offers new lawyers the opportunity to meet established professionals in a variety of practice areas and other fields. Local and state bar organizations, such as the YLS, offer new lawyers a chance to engage in projects such as writing newsletter articles or participating on committees and provide many options to attend CLE seminars and other educational events at a reduced cost.

While a law degree does not provide the same guarantee of a lifetime career as it did in previous decades, the legal profession is anything but a dead end. The recent economic downturn likely fueled a cultural transition as an increasing number of new lawyers are forced to shift expectations away from the traditional path and approach new careers with flexibility. These changes, which follow trends in other industries and professions, will influence and transform the landscape of the legal profession for years to come.

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David Segal, Is Law School a Losing Game? N.Y. Times, Jan. 8, 2011