There’s a well-worn adage that “You can do anything with a law degree.” Well, that’s technically true. You can write a novel with a law degree, but you could just as easily write one without attending law school. You can become a top chef with a law degree, but you’d probably need to go to culinary school too. You can be a wedding photographer, an airline pilot, or a psychiatrist with a law degree, but a J.D. isn’t helping you break into any of those industries. So, yeah, going to law school probably isn’t limiting your career options (except to the extent you can't take a low-paying job because you have six-figure law school debt), but it isn’t opening as many doors at the adage may imply.
Outside of actively practicing law, there a few fields where having a law degree can be a leg up, what the ABA calls “J.D. Advantage” jobs. According to the ABA, these jobs are those “for which the J.D. provided a demonstrable advantage in obtaining or performing the job” and cited examples include “corporate contracts administrator, alternative dispute resolution specialist, government regulatory analyst, FBI agent, … accountant, … jobs in personnel or human resources, jobs with investment banks, jobs with consulting firms, jobs doing compliance work in business and industry, jobs in law firm professional development, and jobs in law school career services offices, admissions offices, or other law school administrative offices.” In other words, jobs that are really similar to lawyering or that deal with a lot of lawyers. And personally, I question how much of an advantage a legal educatiobn would give you in some of these industries, particularly HR, investment banking, accounting, and any sort of non-legal consulting. But even including those fields, these jobs are a far cry from “anything.”
So, can you do anything with a law degree? Yes. Can that degree actually help you do many things outside of practicing law? Well, actually, maybe the answer to that is yes too. Not the JD itself, but the skills you developed in earning it. Law school may be too long, over-priced, and mind-numbingly boring at times, but you’d be hard pressed to graduate without improving your reading comprehension, writing, and problem-solving skills. All of those are skills that translate into pretty much any other career field. You’re also likely to meet and befriend other smart, driven people in law school, and we all know that networking is the best way to find a new job. And understanding how contracts, negotiation, and the legal system work can help in myriad areas in your life, including salary negotiation, landlord disputes, and dealing with a loved one’s estate.
Now, are these benefits worth the expense and opportunity cost of attending law school if you don’t think you’ll be practicing law? Almost certainly not. The sky-rocketing cost of a legal education and the dwindling prospects of new law grads certainly make law school an unattractive option for new graduates just looking to find themselves.
You probably shouldn’t go to law school if you don’t want to be a lawyer. And you really shouldn’t go to law school if you only want to be a lawyer for the money. But if you did go to law school and don’t want to be a lawyer (or can’t get hired as one), fear not: you can do anything with a law degree... and that degree may even prove useful in your other chosen thing.
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