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In law schools across the D.C. area and the nation, today’s career services offices are increasingly being called upon to address an issue once considered taboo: What can I do with my law degree besides practice law? On the student side, questions range from “Do any nonlegal employers come to recruit on campus?” to “How difficult is it to get back into the practice of law if my first job out is not a ‘traditional’ legal position?” to “I’ve been a summer associate, interned at a GC’s office in the federal government, and clerked for a judge over the summer. I haven’t enjoyed any of these experiences: What should I do next?” Alumni, however, tend to be a bit more categorical in their approach: “I’ve been practicing law for several years and have no interest in continuing. What other careers are available to me?” Analysis of a 15-year study by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) shows that the number of graduating law school students who did not pursue traditional jobs in the legal profession almost doubled between the years 1985 and 2000. The American Bar Association’s most recent Young Lawyers Division “Survey of Lawyer Satisfaction” reported that 33 percent of the respondents were “strongly considering” leaving their jobs, and an additional 31 percent were “willing to consider” it. At several of the area’s law schools, career counselors and directors report seeing a steady increase in the demand for counseling and programming in the field of alternative careers. According to Kristen McManus, chair of NALP’s Alternative Careers Committee and director of Catholic University’s Career Services office, with a few exceptions this trend comports with what she has heard from career services offices around the country. IT’S THE ECONOMY, PARTLY As provocative as this statistical and anecdotal data may at first appear, one must be careful not to jump to conclusions about the overall desirability of practicing law as a career. In particular, the rate at which students choose not to enter traditional legal careers seems to periodically rise and fall depending somewhat on the state of the economy and the options available upon graduation. In times of abundant opportunity, for example, graduates are attracted to higher-paying jobs in nonlegal fields such as investment banking or global consulting, whereas in leaner times they may have little choice but to take a job outside of the law. In addition, schools report that those most likely to consider alternative legal careers tend to be either joint-degree, part-time, or second-career students who often enter law school contemplating a broader range of career options. Finally, depending on how one defines “alternative” legal careers (i.e., either those requiring a J.D., those where it is preferred, or those where it is not needed), the results can change yet again. Nevertheless, the fact remains that more law students and lawyers than ever before are expressing a desire either not to enter the profession or to exit it altogether. Regardless of prospects born of either good or bad economic conditions, student body profiles, or what jobs are classified as “alternative legal careers,” it appears that fundamental forces are driving people from the traditional practice of law in increasing numbers. According to the ABA’s survey on lawyer satisfaction, similar regional polls, and practically every major published work on attorney career change, there are several distinct challenges in practicing law that routinely drive lawyers from the profession, and keep students from ever entering the profession. These factors are continually raised by students and alumni in counseling sessions: the lack of work-life balance and overall quality of life; high billable-hour requirements; a decrease in professionalism and civility generally; lack of meaningful work; and increased competition for traditional legal employment, to name a few. But it’s not all gloom and doom. Certainly, many new and experienced lawyers point to these factors as reasons for seeking alternative careers, but many alumni who have enjoyed a healthy legal practice state that they are simply looking for a new career direction, or to mitigate certain aspects of the practice that they don’t enjoy on a day-to-day basis. Still others are looking to put a nonlegal spin on an existing practice, say from managing partner to law practice management consultant, or perhaps to convey their legal expertise in an academic setting instead of the courtroom or boardroom. Finally, the increasingly recognized value and transferability of traditional legal skills in the overall marketplace, coupled with growing acceptance of the fact that a law degree does not require one to enter or remain in a traditional legal practice, have created a more welcoming environment for those choosing alternative legal careers. CAREER SERVICES RESPOND • Individual Career Counseling. The most critical service offered by career services offices is the personal advice they give students and alumni through individual counseling sessions. It is in these sessions that we begin to understand an individual’s needs, desires, career aspirations, and fears. And it is through these appointments that we are able to critically advise our students as to career options they might want to pursue. Despite this individualized approach, career services professionals around the country seem almost unanimous in their advice to students considering alternative careers that they should at least try a traditional practice (or at the very least try one that requires a J.D.) upon graduating. NALP’s McManus reports that this response was born of three major considerations on the part of career advisers: (1) for the student’s peace of mind in knowing that she at least had the experience of practicing law before choosing to give it up; (2) that having legal practice experience will ultimately help lawyers market themselves in alternative sectors; and (3) that outside employers want proof based on experience that an individual is sincere when expressing a desire to enter a new industry. • Specialized Counseling Skills and Services. The Office of Career Services at American University Washington College of Law has chosen to address the issue by designating one of its career counselors as a specialist on the topic of alternative legal careers. Career Counselor Kevin Rogers says that his goal is “to accumulate an expansive resource library, to offer a series of programs, and to approach the subject using a process-oriented group dynamic where students interested in alternative careers can meet regularly as a group to both learn from each other and assess progress.” Other approaches used in our office to address alternative careers and to better assist students and alumni with career and life planning include coaching. Some law schools, including Fordham, administer the Myers Briggs test as a tool to assist students and alumni seeking alternative professions and career direction in general. • Alternative Career Programs. Most career services offices offer some type of programming on the topic. These panels usually involve highlighting a group of alumni who have successfully transitioned from the practice of law to an alternative career, and exploring strategies and tools for making the move. Carole Montgomery, assistant director at George Washington University Law School, reports that her last such program was so successful that it was standing room only. American University will be offering the program “Alternative Careers for Lawyers” at its upcoming alumni reunion weekend. At Catholic, a recent National Security Law Career Fair brought in representatives from such agencies as the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Homeland Security. • Mentors. Increasingly, career services offices are relying on their alumni to assist in providing inroads into firms and organizations, as well as to serve as panelists and mentors to students and fellow alumni seeking assistance with their job search. As alumni populations in law-related fields reach healthy proportions, schools are arranging programs, listservs, and networking events in order to offer students valuable contacts in various law-related industries. So, what can you do with your law degree besides practice law? It depends on whom you ask. In Hindi Greenberg’s book, The Lawyer’s Career Change Handbook, the author offers More Than 300 Things You Can Do With a Law Degree. Richard Hermann of Nationwide Career Counseling for Attorneys came up with 600+ Things You Can Do With a Law Degree (Other Than Practice Law) in his book of this same title. Deborah Arron’s What Can You Do With a Law Degree? also lists hundreds of job titles held by lawyers who were looking to get out of traditional practice. Local career services offices report that the major sectors in which their students and young alumni seek alternative legal employment include: legal editing, writing, and publishing; journalism; Capitol Hill; legislative affairs; trade associations; and federal law enforcement. Trends in the Southeast include teaching, particularly at the high school and college levels; nationwide, students are looking into investment banking, finance, human resources, and law school administration. So the answer to this question is both liberating and daunting: You can do practically anything else with a law degree. The challenge for career services offices is to work with their students and alumni to ensure that they make well-informed decisions about the options. Matthew Pascocello is assistant director, Office of Career Services, at American University Washington College of Law. He specializes in counseling alumni and attorneys in career transition. He may be reached at [email protected].

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