Many of us are sad and dismayed about how little our law degree is ostensibly doing for us nowadays. Current law students see the depressing job market and wonder how they will ever pay off their student loans once they graduate. Recent graduates either battle with unemployment or jump from contract job to contract job. Many young as well as seasoned attorneys have that job … but they aren’t happy with it, and wonder “How did I get here?”
And many of us kick ourselves for even going to law school. We rip ourselves up for the decision. In hindsight, we feel that we should have gone for an MBA or taken that job in finance or explored what was happening in Silicon Valley. Or we should have just followed our passion and been an artist or a writer or a teacher (or bartender).
Many of us aren’t happy, and we specifically aren’t happy with our decision to go to law school.
It is true that a good number of us didn’t think that critically about why we wanted to go to law school. We just took the LSAT and applied and then got accepted and we … went. It’s just what we did. Many of us (myself included) likely spent more time critically considering the purchase of the latest electronic gadget or fantasy football draft than we did whether we should go to law school.
But not all is lost. There is value in your law degree, tons of value, and ironically, it’s often most realized once you’ve left law behind. Here are three main reasons why:
1. Many non-lawyers think you’re really smart. While you likely are surrounded by lawyers in your professional (and even personal) life and feel that a smart attorney is a dime a dozen, you’d be amazed at how respected lawyers (both those who practice law and those who don’t) are in companies, start-ups and other organizations. While lawyer jokes still do arise, they often come more so out of playful needling or grudging respect. Lawyers are still thought of throughout the business world as intelligent, reliable … and good to have on one’s side.
2. You can issue spot like no one else. Issue spotting is something that comes naturally to us. Whether we like it or not, many of us, when presented with a problem, quandary or fire-to-put-out, know how to instinctively take a breath, take a step back, and probe as to what the real issue is … thus identifying the right course of action to take in a situation. This is an invaluable skill, that many of us take for granted. What many lawyers don’t realize is that while business and corporate America is a lot of action, it’s also a lot of reaction. There are so many issues that come up on a daily basis (personnel matters, bad press, IT downtime, approaching deadlines) that being able to see the nuggets of a problem first and clearly is an essential business skill … that many non-lawyers do not have.
3. You are disciplined. We lawyers work hard. You may be hard on yourself and think you slack off or could push yourself more. But there aren’t many other industries out there that so consistently prepare its members to work as hard as it takes to get the job done. Work on Saturdays. Work on Sundays. Work late into the night. Respond clearly to every email. Ensure issues are resolved. Tie up loose ends. Make sure the client is satisfied and taken care of. While there are many over-achievers who are not lawyers, most lawyers are over-achievers.
I know it can be depressing nowadays with the apparent dearth of satisfying jobs out there. But be happy you have a law degree and may have practiced law for some time. Because once you take that law degree, and begin to explore how to properly leave law behind, you will not only work harder, you will also begin to learn to work smarter, you will not only be disciplined but you will also begin to learn to be courageous, you will not only be client serving but you also begin to learn to be entrepreneurial. And you will begin to realize that the universe of jobs extend beyond just the areas of Litigation, Transactions or Assistant Law Professor.
As you explore leaving law behind, get selfish, get confident, get bold. People out there in the (non-law firm) world are of course good at what they do (finance, marketing, coding). But they still can’t do all that you can do. When you think about what a lawyer does (issue spot, solve problems, calm clients, meet deadlines, write persuasive material, upsell services, retain close customer contact, lead teams, distill complicated terms into simple language, help people …) which company/ firm/start-up/government agency wouldn’t want someone who could do all of that, while being smart, disciplined and loyal?
Consider yourself ahead of the game already. A law degree is one of the best things you could have done … even if it compels you to not actually practice the law.