Most aspiring lawyers expect to follow a defined path when they pursue their jurisprudence degree. They head to law school, graduate, and then find a place at a private firm or government office. Later in their career, they might even land a seat on a judge’s bench, later in their career. Regardless of the specifics, newly-minted lawyer’s work remains firmly within the bounds of legal offices, corporate meeting rooms, and courthouses.
But what if a law student finishes their degree, explores their options — and realizes that the limitations of legal practice aren’t quite their cup of tea?
Newly-minted lawyers’ divergence from law practice is more common than most aspiring lawyers might think. According to the American Bar Association, only 71% of the J.D-holding class of 2014 were employed in long-term, full-time positions that required or preferred a degree in jurisprudence. This statistic indicates that over a quarter of law school graduates are pursuing careers in a capacity beyond the traditional bounds of a lawyer’s path.
Research suggests that they may even be happier and more secure by doing so — one Gallup report commissioned by the nonprofit AccessLex Institute in 2018 found that “Fifty-five percent of the JDs who didn’t practice law reported that they had a thriving financial well-being, compared to 43 percent of the respondents who were practicing lawyers.”
There is no shame in choosing to pivot your career away from legal practice; in fact, it may even help you grow your career in new and profitable ways.
I say this from experience. After earning my degree in jurisprudence, I realized that my interests lay more in finance and entrepreneurship than they did in the legal field and decided to make a pivot. I began working in portfolio management in the private banking sector, and gradually garnered more responsibilities in project management and financing. I was able to obtain roles at top banking institutions, including UBS, Dresdner Bank, and BNP Paribas on the strength of that experience.
As the years passed, I climbed the ladder into upper management — I became the CEO then, later on, the President of the Board of Directors for the Centrex Group, a well-known energy firm. Now, I serve as the founder and CEO of WETEC Consulting, a Dubai-based firm that centers on project management and financing.
The lesson here? Having a law degree can prepare you for a career in far more fields than law alone — particularly finance and corporate leadership.
Law-trained candidates are often sought-after by financial companies that intersect with compliance, legal, and tax interests. It is worth noting that major firms usually refuse to give legal and tax advice as a means to avoid liability from displeased clients; however, some smaller, boutique firms do offer consulting services in those fields. In those advising roles, a jurisprudence-trained financial operative could be invaluable.
Candidates with legal training are also valued in the financial sector for their ability to screen communications copy and project work for potential problems before counsel needs to step in, thereby saving the company time and money. These employees are also valued for their high-level communication skills, making them top-choice candidates for management and leadership roles in the long run.
Want to break into finance? Here’s what you do.
Start talking to your connections. If you know someone who is currently working in the type of role you think you may want to have, ask them about their experience. Get a sense of what you would be doing day-to-day so that you can determine if that type of job is one that interests you.
That said, pivoting may not be quite as easy as looking for jobs in a different field — you may need to undergo further training to qualify for the role you want. These requirements change depending on the position at hand and the country you live in, so do your research before you start pursuing a promising opportunity.
All this to say — you never know where your next big break will be, and the opportunities you seek may not be along a lawyer’s traditional career path.
Be open to growth; you’ll see the returns tenfold.