I don’t want to be a lawyer. What are some other things I could do that still use my law degree? – Claire, 22
Yes! Yes yes yes. Even if you want to be a lawyer, this is a nice question to ask yourself. Knowing all the things you could apply a law degree to helps to clarify which paths feel good and right for you, and which ones prompt an involuntary shudder. Sometimes you might think you want to be a lawyer, and then you realise you could be a non-fiction writer and suddenly a career in law feels like a lifetime of cold soup.
But you, Claire, 22, don’t want to be a lawyer! You’ve already had your soup realisation. I love it.
What else might you be? The honest truth is that no matter what work you do, you will use your law degree. A law degree is evidence of skill in a particular way of thinking, and of a capacity for disciplined work. That discipline and way of thinking – complex, methodical, reasoned, detailed, big picture – is a big beautiful feather in your bow no matter what you’re doing. Law is not like more technical disciplines where your education is more limited to the area you were taught. I daresay people with law degrees could do a great job at anything from captaining fishing vessels or running an art gallery.
But the answer “you could do anything” isn’t much use. An overabundance of choice is as paralysing as a single choice you know is wrong.
So. Let’s spitball a while.
You could use a law degree to work in public policy in any number of areas, in central government or local government, in universities, non-profits or think tanks. You could become a teacher or professor, in law or law-adjacent topics. You could use it to work in risk management or business development in non-profits, charities, or big insurance or telecommunications companies. You could use it to do regulatory and compliance work in a technology, innovation or engineering company. You could apply it in strategic and human resource contexts in any big employer. You could apply it to logistics management for international shipping companies. You could apply it to a career in the military.
You could be a speechwriter, researcher or aide to an MP or Council-member. You could do research and analysis work for any number of government and regulatory commissions, consulting firms, independent tribunals, research councils, or independent research and writing with funding from somewhere like the Law Foundation. You could work for international legal publishers (hi LexisNexis!) as an editor or content manager. You could become a writer or journalist specialising in legal or political topics, or in the legal aspects of other things like technology or environmental issues. Honestly, you could write on any topic and your legal training would help. Susan Cain, Gretchen Rubin, and Demetri Martin were all lawyers or law students once.
I could go on, but the point here, of course, is that you are limited only by your imagination and the technical requirements of other skilled professions. (You probably couldn’t use your law degree to become a radiologist for example, or at least not without going to medical school too.) If there’s an area – like health, or theatre, or human rights, or business – that interests you, set your sights there, even if the specifics of your role may be hazy. And regardless if whether the area or type of work are clear to you, your best bet may be to find an organization or person you want to work for, leaving figuring out what exactly you might do for them as Step 2, instead of Step 1.
The beauty of having a law degree but knowing you don’t want to be a lawyer is that some of the most interesting work happens at the intersections of things. What cool work might come at the intersection of legal training and a management position at a research lab? Or working in a consulting firm in a team that focuses on the arts? Or, you know, going to medical school and become a radiologist who is also trained in law?
Outside of legal practice, a law degree is an impressive token that represents (among other things) intelligence and discipline. I’m not saying if you take your little token along to any old job interview your interviewers will reel in awe and offer you a super-salary on the spot. I’m just saying that your law degree has inherent value to employers far beyond law firms, and might get you an “in” to unexpected places. You can get creative about where you try.
Embrace your intersections. Take your law degree wherever else interests you, and you won’t be able to help putting it to use.
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Katie Cowan is a former commercial litigator who now runs a legal consulting and coaching practice, as well as writing for the Law Society’s “Law Talk” magazine and presenting her own podcast, The New Lawyer, available at thenewlawyer.co.nz. Check out her website for more details at: symphonylaw.co.nz. Katie’s recommendations and opinions are her own, do not represent the views of LexisNexis or its affiliates and are of a general nature. None of Katie, Symphony Law Limited or LexisNexis are responsible for any loss or damage suffered by a party as the result of following this advice, so please seek independent professional advice before relying on it. Please click here for full website terms and conditions.