The foundation of a legal career is a juris doctor. In virtually every state, individuals need to earn this degree before they can sit for the bar exam and become licensed to practice law. At the same time, many people choose to pursue a juris doctor without aspirations of practicing law. Additionally, some students may decide over the course of their studies that a legal career is not actually what they want.
Luckily, this degree is useful for a wide range of positions that do not involve legal practice. For many of these positions, having a juris doctor can give candidates a leg up when it comes to interviewing. This is because the degree provides a foundational knowledge of the law that can prove extremely useful even if the position does not require any sort of licensure to practice.
Some of the broad career paths that individuals with a juris doctor can pursue outside of legal practice include:
Many private agencies and government organizations employ legislative analysists. These individuals monitor the new policies established by all levels of government and analyze their impact on relevant processes and operations. Often, analysts focus on legislation in a particular field, such as healthcare or agriculture. Analysts are responsible for reporting on how new legislation will affect the parent organization and providing recommendations on how to adjust processes.
Typically, analysts devote a majority of their time to research and then meet with various government officials and executives. The job may also involve consulting with additional experts about specific topics. Usually, analysts have either a business or law degree. Many organizations prefer analysts with law degrees since they will have a broader understanding of the legal underpinnings involved in new legislation.
Legal consultants are contracted to provide advice to businesses, organizations, or individuals. Depending on the exact position, consultants can weigh in a wide range of different issues. Often, the job requires some sort of focus, whether that be employment, healthcare, corporate, or real estate law. Many people with a juris doctor enjoy serving as a consultant because they directly use their legal skills but in a way that is different from traditional firm practice.
Consultants will frequently bring example cases to their clients to help them better understand the issues at hand so they can operate more efficiently. Several pathways to becoming a consultant exist. Many people work independently as a contractor when they offer consulting services. However, it is also possible to join a legal consulting agency, such as Robert Half, which guarantees a steadier flow of work but can also have demanding hours.
Many prominent politicians have a juris doctor. Perhaps the most immediate example is former president Barack Obama. Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, and James Madison also all earned law degrees, as did Hilary Clinton. Overall, about a third to a half of all U.S. Senate seats have been held by individuals with a legal background. The percentage in the House of Representatives may be even higher.
In law school, individuals learn how to argue cases and persuade listeners, which is an incredibly valuable skills in politics. The problem-solving and analytical skills emphasized in law school also prepare people well for a career in politics. Also, it is worthwhile to mention that the connections made in law school can lead to introductions to the backers they need to have a real shot at winning elections.
People from a variety of backgrounds become entrepreneurs. Approaching entrepreneurship from a legal background can give people a distinct advantage. Law school promotes an analytical approach that can help people see problems from a different angle and come up with unique solutions. Furthermore, a background in law can help entrepreneurs navigate the tricky legal frameworks of starting and growing a business.
Founders often need to consult with lawyers to learn about the intricacies of law, but a juris doctor gives people the skills they need to do this work for themselves, which can save time and money. Many successful entrepreneurs founded their companies after a legal career, including Peter Thiel, the cofounder of PayPal, and Nina and Tim Zagat. This couple created the Zagat Survey after meeting at Yale Law School.
A number of prominent journalists have a legal background, such as Jeff Greenfield and Cynthia McFadden. In many ways, the job of a journalist resembles that of an attorney. Both jobs require an incredible amount of research, synthesis of information, and the ability to distill it into a clear, convincing message for audiences who do not have a strong background the subject matter at hand.
Both professions emphasize a responsible, logical approach to problem-solving and need to be both personable and persuasive. Since most journalists do not have a juris doctor, individuals who decide to go down this path may also have an advantage in their knowledge of legal precedents. This may help them provide in-depth coverage of events regardless of whether they choose to do so through print, television, or other media.