Many people pursue law school because of a desire to make a difference. Maybe you’re drawn to the idea of helping people with individual legal problems, or perhaps you want to fight for big policy changes.
But once you graduate, you may decide that pursuing a traditional legal path isn’t for you. While it can be a challenging decision to make, the good news is that there are plenty of jobs in the social-impact space where your law degree can be quite useful.
In an earlier article, we offered expert advice on what to do when you change your mind about your graduate degree. Since about a quarter of law school graduates end up not practicing law, we thought we’d take a deeper dive into how to refocus your legal career.
High School Teacher
Law school teaches you a lot about how our government functions, making it excellent training for a career teaching at a variety of levels. Of course you can always teach law school, or even undergrad, but you may also want to consider teaching at the high-school level.
Many high schools have government, criminal justice, or other law-related courses. Some schools also have extracurricular activities focused on civic engagement, such as the Center for Civic Education's We the People program.
If you’re interested in becoming a teacher, many states won’t require you to go back and get an education degree. To be sure, you should check with your state’s board of education or your local school district.
Likewise, if you have an interest in education but not in working in a classroom, there are options for you to work behind the scenes creating lessons rooted in law. There are plenty of nonprofit organizations that offer curriculum around a variety of social-justice areas, such as civic engagement, immigration law, and civil rights. Check out Teaching for Change, Street Law, and Southern Poverty Law Center, to start.
This is probably the most obvious choice, especially if your desire for obtaining a law degree stemmed from an interest in public policy. Whatever your passion—environmental justice, women’s rights, immigration—there is an organization out there advocating for change. Try typing "legislative" into the Idealist.org job search and you will see hundreds of job postings for organizations across the country. Having a law degree will make you more competitive for these positions.
Pro Tip: If you'd prefer to work in the public sector, there are plenty of jobs with elected officials and government agencies at all levels.
Nonprofit Executive Director
Running a nonprofit organization requires a fair amount of knowledge about the law. As a director, you would need to know about federal laws pertaining to nonprofit status and tax exemptions and labor and employment laws. You would also need an understanding of the legal fiduciary responsibility of a Board of Directors.
If you were someone who enjoyed learning about regulations in law school and have an interest in the nonprofit sector, this may be the direction for you. Check out 3 Tips to Consider if You Want to Become an Executive Director of a Nonprofit here on Idealist Careers.
If you pursue this path, you’ll likely need to obtain more education and perhaps a certification. But the skills you learned in law school will likely help you as a therapist. In law school you were taught to be analytical and to listen to your clients, and if you’re motivated by wanting to help people, then providing therapy to them is another great option.
Another bonus is that there’s actually an emerging field of therapists who specialize in working with stressed-out attorneys. What better training is there for helping someone who is unhappy working as a lawyer than experience as a lawyer?
Foreign Service Officer
Interested in international relations? Consider pursuing a career as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. State Department. There is no specific degree requirement to pursue this career, but having a law degree and the knowledge about international law can certainly boost your chances.
As a Foreign Service Officer, you’ll likely utilize some of the same skills as a lawyer. You’ll research and write reports and negotiate with government officials.
Think about the skills that you learned and what you enjoyed most about law school when you’re determining where to take your career next.
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About the Author | Samantha Fredrickson has worked in communications and nonprofit advocacy for more than a decade. She has spent much of her career advocating for the rights of vulnerable populations. She has degrees from the University of Nevada, Reno and New York Law School.