3 Reasons to Get a Law Degree… Even If You Don’t Plan On Practicing Law

3 Reasons to Get a Law Degree… Even If You Don’t Plan On Practicing Law

If you ask most people why they think students generally decide to attend law school, you’ll probably get a fairly consistent answer: In order to become lawyers and practice law. It seems pretty logical and, for the most part, it is correct; the majority of students who enroll in law school will end up practicing law, at least for part of their post-law school years. As opportunities in law-adjacent fields have grown over the years, however, a steady contingent of law school graduates has continued to pursue work outside of the traditional litigation and transactional roles filled by many lawyers. In short, there are growing reasons to get a law degree. 

This isn’t to say that everyone who goes to law school and doesn’t end up practicing law sets out with that as the end goal. Often, the economy, keen competition for finite legal jobs, and disillusionment with the practice create a certain number of law school graduates who are no longer active as attorneys. But aside from those either unable or eventually unwilling to practice in more traditional legal roles, a minority of grads enrolled in law school with no intention of practicing law in the first place.

If not to become active attorneys, then why do these students decide to attend law school? What are some other reasons to get a law degree? Several pools of related career opportunity drive many of these non-practitioners:

1. Academia

A majority of law school professors have JDs, so obtaining the degree makes sense for those hoping to enter the legal academy. Law school teaching positions, however, are extremely competitive, and a large percentage of those in the profession obtained their degrees from a just a handful of select schools–Yale Law School is particularly notorious for having an academic bent. Those entering law school with the ultimate goal of teaching in some capacity at a law school should be well aware of the realities of the profession before deciding to commit three years to obtaining the JD. Additionally, although still not strictly required, law school hiring has increasingly looked toward candidates with additional advanced degrees as well (particularly PhDs in related disciplines).

Related Content: Earning Your Spot at a Top Law School

2. Politics and Government

One need only look to the composition of the US Congress to know that law grads often enter the realm of politics. Although not as dominant as they once were, law grads nonetheless still fill more than 200 of Congress’s 535 seats. Non-practicing attorneys also populate statehouses and capitols throughout the country. Outside of elected positions, government affords a host of other agency and administrative positions in which a legal background can offer distinct advantages.

3. Business

Although not as obvious a path as that offered by business school, law school can also serve as a stepping stone to certain careers in business–particularly for those who enter law school with previous related experience. It is not uncommon to find non-practicing attorneys in elevated positions in consulting firms or corporate compliance. Those with a more entrepreneurial spirit may also find benefit in a legal education, particularly if they focus their studies on the legal concepts and frameworks immediately applicable to startup endeavors.

A legal education offers a host of skill enhancements applicable to a wide range of industries and professions. The ability to analyze complex problems, argue logically, and write succinctly and persuasively may benefit those who don’t end up practicing in a variety of roles. 

However, despite teaching a general skillset employable in a broad range of contexts, law school should not be thought of as a catch-all graduate program. It is not a place to explore vague interests or figure out what to do in life generally. Especially as you think about writing your own application, keep this idea in mind. A law school’s admissions office will be asking: Why does this person need a JD? Why now? Make sure you clearly and explicitly answer those questions. 

Although all students applying to law school should have a very clear idea of why, exactly, they want to spend three years of their lives and potentially hundreds of thousands of their dollars earning a JD, this holds particularly true for those who don’t plan to practice law once they graduate. Often, there is a better, cheaper, and faster path to the career that many non-practicing attorneys end up pursuing.

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