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There are more skills involved in studying the law than just understanding it. Business opportunities abound for law graduates, but few appreciate the diversity of careers on offer, says Keith Gaines

Law graduates have many more career opportunities in the commercial and business world than most are aware of. It is a real concern, given that when starting a law degree more than 90% of students are interested in practising the law but, in the end, less than 50% of them eventually do so. Graduates need to understand their options in the commercial world.

Broader horizons Although it is probably not surprising, law students’ horizons and employment focus can be too narrow – they are unaware of the vast array of opportunities that a law degree or, more particularly, an appropriate law degree opens up to them. Few appreciate the huge diversity of alternative careers that exist in commerce and business. Fewer still realise just how highly marketable their skills are.

In my own experience, and anecdotally, this seems to be a particular issue in the UK. In the US, and indeed in continental Europe, lawyers appear to be more willing to identify and seize the business and commercial opportunities outside legal practice. In the UK, accountants tend to rise to be the leaders and managers in business. There are notable exceptions. John Varley, the group chief executive of Barclays, first qualified as a solicitor before moving to the bank. However, this is only one exception, and there is no reason why it should be the case.

It is not just the horizons of students that are limited, however: many employers fail to spread their recruitment net widely enough to include law graduates and consequently miss out on the talents they can offer to enhance business. The demands of commerce and business now, and increasingly in future, will require individuals with a high level of appropriate skills and a great degree of flexibility. Lawyers have much to offer. Given the increased financial burden placed upon students by the advent of tuition fees, the availability of a number of career options both within and outside the law must be considered a good thing.

There are signs that students are beginning to understand these points, for instance, the Nottingham Law School is launching a law with business qualifying law degree in October 2008, and the recruitment figures have exceeded even our own modest expectations. The fact is, those who appreciate and take positive steps to accrue as much commercial understanding and experience as possible during their time at law school will have an advantage over those who do not.

Good skills To be highly marketable in the wider commercial and business employment fields, law students need to be able to grasp some principal attributes which are inherent in legal training.

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