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JD detours: Alternative career paths for lawyers

Alternative Careers

When you decide to go to law school, you may have grandiose dreams of a fast-paced and exciting legal career. You may envision being an advocate for basic human rights or handling million-dollar clients for a huge, reputable firm. As you work your way through law school, however, the way you see your legal career may shift. Many law students change direction when they discover a new area of the law or specific niche of interest. Other students learn that perhaps being a traditional attorney isn’t the best option for them, after all.

If you find yourself in this position, it’s important to know that your law degree is still incredibly valuable. Law school changes the way you think and equips you with highly specialized analytical skills. Your new take on the world and the way you process information can help you in a number of different fields. Your legal education can provide a great foundation for a career other than that as an attorney.

Studies have found that approximately one out of every five students pursues an alternative career path after law school. There are many different careers that can benefit from your law degree. The job that’s best for you will ultimately depend on your most valuable skills and what you want to do.


You don’t necessarily have to leave law school to find a job after graduation. You may find that you love legal education and want to jump right into academia. This might be particularly attractive if you spent some of your time in law school as a research assistant or teaching assistant. As a professor or instructor, you can pass your passion for the law onto the next generations of students.

If you do want to teach, law school may not be your only option. Most colleges and many high schools across the country have dedicated legal courses. Your law degree can help you stand apart as an extremely qualified candidate. While you won’t be teaching law students, you will have the opportunity to inspire young people who may be interested in a legal career.

Policy advisor

The government is responsible for creating, administering, and enforcing policies across the country. In order to do this well, the government relies on smart and informed policy advisors. Your legal education can be very helpful in this capacity. You’re already familiar with the law, and you also know how to do research, analyze data, and convey information in a persuasive manner. These are all skills that will be incredibly helpful in a role as a policy advisor.


Law school involves a lot of persuasive writing. Maybe you’ve always had a special place in your heart for the written word. Many law students turn to the field of journalism for work after graduation. Investigative journalism requires a strong foundation and background in whichever issues(s) you choose to tackle. A law degree can certainly be beneficial if you choose to cover legal issues as a journalist.

Content writer

A love of writing doesn’t mean that you have to enter a newsroom. Digital legal marketing is one of the nation’s fastest-growing industries in the nation. Legal marketing relies heavily on quality legal content. Attorneys don’t have the time or energy to write their own website content, advertising materials, and blogs. However, they certainly want the content that’s published in their name to be well-written and informed. You went to law school and have the same fundamental education as these attorneys. You’re familiar with the law and know how to research the issues with which you may be unfamiliar. As a result, you’re in the best position to offer the content they want and need. If you have a knack for writing, a freelance content position may be a good option for you.

Project manager

Law school teaches you a lot about organization, multi-tasking, and how to pay attention to detail. If you were involved in school organizations or groups, you probably have a newfound appreciation for working with others as a team. You may have even gained with a group in a leadership position. These skills can all be invaluable to a project manager. Businesses around the globe rely on project managers to ensure that projects are done correctly and in a relatively timely fashion. You can use the time-management, leadership, and organizational skills you picked up from law school and thrive as a project manager.


When you elect someone to a public office, you would hope that they have, at the very least, a fundamental understanding of government and the law. However, a surprising number of politicians do not have a legal background. Your legal education can put you in a position to be an excellent elected official and politician. Not only do you have a firm grasp on the law, but you’ve also spent at least three years honing your negotiating skills. You know how to take an argument and make it a successful one. As a politician, these skills are invaluable.


Many legal disputes can be resolved with the help of a skilled mediator. If you were particularly fond of family law or business law, you may want to consider a role in alternative dispute resolution. A good mediator will understand the law and be able to help adverse parties move toward a mutually-agreeable resolution. In law school, you probably learned a lot about negotiations and how to argue effectively. You may have even taken a course in dispute resolution. These skills will provide a great foundation for a career as a mediator. In fact, many mediators are actually retired or former attorneys.

You don’t have to have the title “Attorney at Law” to be successful after law school. There are a multitude of career options that involve the law in some way. You can put your degree to use and find a career that suits your needs, desires, and lifestyle. It can help to speak with current or former attorneys if you’re thinking about an alternative career path. They may have valuable experience or insight that can help guide you through the process of finding a way to apply your legal education to a non-traditional legal career.