Sunday, May 17, 2015
At Attorney at Work, we read the answers of five lawyers who have pursued various careers. Here are excerpts from each.
There is a singular and grossly misinformed idea that once you get a law license, failing to use it strictly to practice law means that the degree has no value or you somehow didn’t live up to the value of the degree. But this is a false and limiting belief. A law degree is as valuable as you make it. I chose to use it multiple ways: to practice law and also as a stepping stone to what I will most likely be doing for the rest of my career — helping other attorneys create and build their own solo and small firm practices through the Solo Practice University platform. At the end of the day, I would not have been able to do any of it without my law degree.
My law degree has been extremely valuable to me. What’s most valuable to me, however, is how that law degree enabled me to get in the door at two top international law firms and secure a clerkship with a Superior Court judge in Washington, D.C. It allowed me to get the practical experience that jump-started my career.
The value of a law degree is often determined in relation to what it can get practicing lawyers. It can be very tangible and measurable: A clerkship. A BigLaw job. A high salary. A career path.
Or more intangible: Stature. Ego. Self-worth. Exclusivity.
When we leave the law behind and stop practicing, the value of a law degree in the non-lawyer world may be no less important. But the value can just be a bit more difficult for us to ascertain.
When I decided to leave my law partnership and change professions, I had to convince someone else to hire me. The persuasive skills I had developed as a litigator helped me make the arguments, for example, that what I had done as a lawyer would be relevant and useful in my next role. I did this twice — first to become the executive director of an angel-investor group and then to become a tenure-track professor, which is my dream job. When I interviewed with the angel-investor group, for example, I explained that my experience working closely with corporate counsel at some of the world’s largest companies had given me the confidence and comfort I needed to work with wealthy and powerful investors. It wasn’t entirely true, but I am a strong believer in faking it until you make it.
What I’ve learned from time, my experience and the experiences of others I’ve observed over the years and interviewed for JDCOT [JD Careers Out There] is that, if you’re going to pursue a nontraditional path with your J.D., then the degree may hurt you more than help you at the beginning of your career. But once you can combine some professional experience with your special skill set from law school and let people know what you bring to the table, doors will open and you will excel. Then, like me and so many others, you can go from frustration and wishing you’d never gone to law school, to being glad you did as you reap the benefits.
You can read their full responses here.