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What Can You Do With a Law Degree?

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“You can do anything with a law degree!” Anyone considering going to law school has probably heard a variant of this mythical phrase, promising a full briefcase of career prospects upon completion of a law degree. The reality, as many law professionals and recruiters would attest, is not quite as promising… but also far from bleak.

Whether you’re looking to make an informed decision about your post-secondary-school choices, or you’re fresh out of law school and wondering ‘What next?’, it’s useful to get an idea of the career prospects open to you. So, to attempt to answer the elusive question “What can you do with a law degree?”, below are some typical careers a law graduate can enter, along with a look into additional law-related roles and alternative legal careers to explore.

Note that there are regional variations in the terms used to describe lawyers – for example, solicitors and barristers (UK) are called attorneys in the US, while barristers are called advocates in Scotland, South Africa, Israel and Brazil, and solicitors are called attorneys in South Africa.

Legal careers in the US

In the US, law graduates (students who have passed the postgraduate-level Juris Doctorate) will then commence procedures to gain admittance to the bar, which will allow them to become practicing attorneys. If you then want to pursue a legal career in federal courts or the Supreme Court of the United States, you’ll need to pass several admissions requirements, including paying a fee and taking a spoken or written oath. In this way, attorneys can progress from state supreme courts to the federal courts, all the way to the top position as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

With the exception of patent law practice, comparisons between different types of attorneys are neither fixed nor formal. Examples of legal jobs in the US include outside counsel in law firms, in-house counsel in a corporate legal department, prosecutors in the District Attorney, Attorney General or State Attorney’s offices, plaintiff attorneys, defense attorneys, staff attorneys, litigators who advise clients in and out of court, trial attorneys who argue facts, appellate attorneys who argue the law and non-trial attorneys (also called transactional lawyers, office-practice lawyers, corporate lawyers, or attorney-advisors) who seldom need to go to court.

Further legal careers in the US include serving in the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps as a military attorney or being a patent attorney, which requires special permission from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Within patent (or Intellectual Property) law, you can be a patent attorney, agent, clerk, examiner or designer.

Typical careers in law

In other parts of the world, law graduates will typically start their legal careers in junior positions, regardless of whether they have completed undergraduate or postgraduate study in law. While there is wide range of careers in law you can pursue once you’ve gained enough experience, typical junior roles will vary in the level of experience required and the amount of direct involvement they have in law proceedings. Some junior legal jobs include: calendaring clerk, court clerk, court legal advisor (or magistrates clerk), court messenger, document coder, file clerk, junior barrister’s clerk, legal transcriptionist, legislative assistant, mailroom clerk and paralegal or hybrid paralegal, to name a few.

Alternatively, students can take advantage of the relatively new field of legal apprenticeships, which involve undertaking training at a law firm in lieu of university study. Typically, however, legal career hopefuls complete undergraduate or postgraduate studies in law and then undertake “articling” or a work placement with a law firm, working as a trainee lawyer, articled clerk, judicial clerk or associate. If you’re studying under English common law, this is when you decide whether you want to become a barrister or solicitor in order to then pursue specific further studies, training and examinations.

Careers in the courtroom

Typically, legal careers are divided into those within the court room and those outside. Legal jobs in the courtroom include but are not limited to: broadcast captioner or CART provider (Communication Access Real-time Translation), chief court clerk, court administrator, court interpreter, court reporter or stenographer, courtroom deputy, courtroom technology specialist, deposition/legal videographer, judge, jury commissioner, jury consultant, jury selection expert, legal reporter, litigation examiner, litigation secretary, litigation support specialist, magistrate, mediation coordinator (also called arbitrator or conciliator), prothonotary (principal clerk of a court), and webcaster.

Careers in law firms

There are many different types of law firms you can enter: public or private (corporate); big or small; focusing on advising individuals or corporations. Legal aid firms, community legal clinics, legal start-up companies and other smaller, ‘boutique’ law firms tend to specialize in one area of law, while larger or ‘mega firms’ employ numerous lawyers specializing in many areas of law. The latter are usually divided into the transactional department, which advises clients and handles administrative legal work, and the litigation department, which represents the clients in court.

The very smallest type of law firm is just one person: self-employed lawyers or legal executives working alone for individual clients, on a consultancy basis for a larger law firm or for virtual law firms based online. You can also offer your services as a lawyer to charities, public-interest organizations, not-for-profit organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), think-tanks, the local Citizens Advice Bureau or legal advice center, working in the Government Legal Service in the UK public sector or becoming an advice worker, either on a paid or pro-bono (voluntary) basis.

Options for careers in a law firm are plentiful and include but are not limited to: plaintiff attorneys (also known as a personal injury lawyer), corporate lawyers, contract negotiators, claims examiners, title examiners and university attorneys. Graduates with a law degree can also find positions working in the finance, business, marketing, administration, copy center, secretarial (as legal assistant, for example), research, publishing, editing, law recruitment, library or IT department of a large law firm.

Alternative legal careers

Alternative legal careers include roles that clearly benefit from the knowledge and skills gained during a law degree. These include teaching law, becoming an instructor in a legal trainee program, becoming a legal career advisor/consultant within a law school, becoming a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) specialist, writing for law journals and magazines, working in the administration department of a law school, going into recruitment as a headhunter for legal jobs, going into government positions as a legal analyst, applying to the Law Commission’s recruitment campaign for a research assistant position, and working in immigration as a legal clearance officer.

Further law-related jobs involve a range of careers that require collaboration with lawyers. Such alternative legal careers include working as a pre-trial services officer; as an asylum officer or customs officer; working in law enforcement or prisons; working as a legislative aid or analyst; working as an accident reconstructionist; working in the trust department of banks; becoming a civil/immigration rights analyst, lobbyist, conflicts analyst or public interest advocate; becoming a compliance officer, a victim compensation officer, or congressional affairs specialist; working in government, mayoral or political positions; and becoming a diplomat or going into international relations.

Non-law careers with a law degree

Due to the multidisciplinary nature of law and the multiple transferable skills gained during a law degree, students are able to build up a high level of employability, attracting employers from a variety of industries and sectors. Some of the ways in which law graduates may transfer their skills and knowledge include:

  • Communications and entertainment roles… Use your interpersonal, persuasion and communication skills in advertising, marketing, sales, HR and PR. You might also find a calling as a sports, literary or talent agent, or in real estate if you have an interest in property. Combine those skills with strong writing skills in content writing, screenwriting, editing, journalism, publishing and media roles. Or add an interest in hospitality to enter the retail, catering, event management and tourism industries.
  • Business and political roles… Use your organizational skills and knowledge of business and management to become a corporate trainer, or take a lead business role as chief management officer, chief resources manager or corporate social responsibility manager. Alternatively, use your understanding of sociology and ethics to go into politics (as a political advisor or strategist, for example) or into government policy making and research.
  • Research and reporting roles… Combine those skills with research to become an archivist, academic librarian or political research assistant. Add communication skills to become a broadcast journalist, television anchor, radio broadcaster or fundraiser.
  • Auditing and enforcement roles… Candidates with strong mathematics and analytical skills may thrive in banking, auditing, investment management, finance and accountancy. Add an interest in law enforcement to enter the police force, become an affirmative action officer or work for the CIA/FBI.
  • People-based roles… If you’re interested in working with children and vulnerable people, you might go into teaching and adult education or become an aid development officer, a counsellor or career/personal advisor. Your training in law could also be used in health and safety compliance, in healthcare and hospital management, and in consumer product safety and professional standards administration.

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‘What Can You Do With a Law Degree?’ is part of our ‘What Can You Do With…’ series. We have also covered artbiologybusinesscommunicationscomputer scienceEnglishengineeringfashionhistorygeographymarketingmathematicsperforming artsphilosophypolitics, psychologysociologychemistryeconomics and physics.

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Written by Hasna Haidar

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