Earning a Juris Doctor (JD) degree is an exhausting, challenging but rewarding endeavor. However, in this current economic environment, not all budding lawyers or even experienced practitioners want “traditional” post-graduate jobs that include corporate or litigation positions at law firms. More and more employees opt for a career that offers them a work-life balance and where they are able to apply transferable skills.
Here are our top choices for realistic alternative careers for lawyers. These options are ideal for individuals who have received a legal education but want to use their training and background to pursue other careers.
Median salary: Compliance analysts - $62,500-$84,000; chief compliance officer - $141,750- $197,000 (Lawfit)
Compliance is a very popular sector that many law school graduates and legal professionals are attracted to because developments in laws and regulations demand analysis that legal minds are accustomed to. The compliance industry also intersects with policies and procedures that are constantly evolving. Compliance jobs are available at financial institutions, banks, corporations and even law firms. Many new or experienced lawyers will certainly appreciate the balanced work hours and challenging workload.
2. (Legal) journalism.
Median salary: $87,810-$96,313 (Paysa)
What do lawyers and journalists have in common? A knack for writing, editing, content curation and organizing. Journalism is a great track for new and experienced lawyers because both forms of writing require being direct, sticking to the facts, applying logic and creating organized content. Journalism can be a surefire escape from the dense legal jargon found in many documents that takes hours to filter through.
Median salary: $118,474-$233,706 respectively (Salary.com)
Legal academia is a great option for those who love the mechanics and structure of law but not necessarily the practice. Legal academics perform research, analyze legal trends and industry developments, prepare lectures, grade exams and problem-solve. Many choose to be a professor because they enjoy working with students and having the time to conduct their own research and develop personal scholarship.
4. Legal recruiter.
Median salary: $93,073-$123,159 (Salary.com)
As I’m sure you vividly remember, oftentimes finding a job requires a lot of work, lengthy applications and some sheer luck. Legal recruiters are instrumental figures who ease the job-search process by placing candidates in their dream jobs. Legal recruiting is a hot career alternative for lawyers who want to be on the other side of the job search: helping others find their ideal fits. Headhunters understand the cultural, workload and compensation needs many of their candidates demand because they’ve been in the law firm and in-house environments themselves. Besides, with compensation structure and commission, legal recruiters don’t miss out on the big law bonus but certainly appreciate the lack of billable requirements!
5. Business development/marketing
Median salary: $65,937 (Glassdoor)
The world of business development and marketing involves dealing with customers and clients, fostering professional relationships and establishing one’s personal brand or firm/in-house company brand. Many ex-lawyers or budding new lawyers appreciate the risk-averse nature of the business development and marketing world while getting significant business exposure.
Median salary: $93,121 (Payscale)
I’m sure you have heard of the Big Four (Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young and KPMG), who are the major players in the consulting world. Transitioning from a lawyer to a management (or other) consultant role is a very popular choice, as many lawyers are looking to diversify their workload, use their skills to build models and strategies for clients and even travel. Many who decide to go down this track and have two or more years of lawyering experience can be hired at the post-MBA level, which means interviewing and networking with professionals who are well-versed in the business.
Median Salary: Varies depending on role, district, geographic location, etc.
Law graduates recognize how service to others and leadership are central to the legal profession. Politics is a great arena for people with these skills because politicians, like lawyers, spend countless hours identifying issues and strategizing ways to resolve them. A career in politics also requires advocacy and persuading others to support their platforms — a characteristic that lawyers know well when litigating or arguing with their opponents to settle matters. Politicians also have a deep fundamental understanding with legislative measures, which for a lawyer is second nature.
8. Policy writing/policy development.
Median salary: $62,000 (Payscale)
If traditional journalism does not appeal to you, don't worry! There's a great overlap between the law and policy. Policy writing is still a great choice to use your legal analysis and aptitude for writing to advocate for political causes, draft legislative opinions and dissect complex legal jargon. Many policy writing roles (in addition to other policy roles) can be found at think-tank organizations, nonprofits, lobbying companies or government offices.
9. Professional career coach.
Median salary: $58,000-$79,000 (Chron.com)
Professional career coaches are individuals who are certified to provide counseling and coaching to people interested in their career development. Often, that involves reviewing resumes, interview prep, finding ways to overcome any behavioral, psychological or cognitive issues and teaching candidates to become more confident and efficient. As ambitious and driven individuals, lawyers can certainly impart much of their wisdom to others looking to grow their careers.
10. Nonprofit organizations.
Median salary: Varies depending on the type of nonprofit work and level of experience
A career working at nonprofits is not only fulfilling but extremely necessary in our current legal and economic environment. Nonprofit work can range from engaging in alternative dispute resolution to implementing federal laws pertaining to nonprofit status and tax exemption to more roles related to social impact and justice. With an abundance of nonprofit organizations, there's one for every interest.
11. Risk management.
Median salary: $69,000 (Payscale)
Securing a risk management role with a legal degree may require some experience with the legal or insurance industry, but ultimately, these jobs involve assessing risk, recommending and implementing preventative measures and devising strategic plans to minimize costs. Negotiation, communication and analytical skills are key for a successful career in risk management.
Whether you're a current law student, pre-law or a practicing lawyer, there are plenty of career options available for a successful career that does not involve late nights in the office, intense billable requirements and “traditional” routes. The alternative careers outlined above can be fulfilling careers where a legal degree is highly beneficial.
Pooja Shah is a freelance writer in NYC. Please visit her webpage for more of her work.