9 Legal Careers You Can Pursue with a Law Degree
Most people go to law school to be a lawyer. Within this career, there are a wide variety of kinds of law to practice. However, there are many things you can do with a Juris Doctor (J.D.) outside of being an attorney. You don’t even have to leave the legal field and you may not need to even take the bar exam.
Jobs which prefer applicants to have a J.D. will list in the job description that a J.D. is an advantage or preferred. These positions often offer higher-than-average salaries. These kinds of jobs often can be found within the government, the business sector, and in the public interest arena.
In this piece, we share some legal career options for those who have recently obtained a J.D., or those who are considering going to law school but aren’t certain about becoming an attorney.
First, of course, you can choose to become an attorney. This necessitates passing the bar exam. The median salary for attorneys in the U.S. is $126,930. The top 10% of lawyers make more than $200,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is a high-paying and often rewarding career which can span many areas of law. This provides a wide array of choice for new lawyers entering the field.
Lawyers may work on environmental issues, real estate, criminal law, personal injury, contracts, insurance, constitutional law, business law, and so much more.
Further, lawyers may work as in-house counsel for corporations, in private practice, in public interest, or in government.
In-house counsel attorneys can work at both small companies and larger corporations. These lawyers work to advise the company on all of their legal activities. For smaller companies, there may only be one in-house attorney to advise. However, for larger corporations, there may be many in-house attorneys who each have a specific role and work on specific issues.
Another option is to work in private practice. You may choose to work by yourself, as a solo practitioner. Or you may work in a law firm. Law firms range dramatically in size. Some have just a few lawyers while others have hundreds. In general, new lawyers will join a firm as an associate and then work their way up to become a partner.
Public interest attorneys work, as stated in the name, for the interest of the public. Often these lawyers work to assist those who are of lower socioeconomic statuses. Public interest lawyers will join a nonprofit legal-aid society which works to provide legal counsel to those who otherwise couldn’t afford it. However, the nature of the work can vary widely. For instance, lawyers may work to resolve landlord-tenant disputes, they may work criminal cases, and they may even negotiate visitation rights for children.
Finally, lawyers may work for the government at the local, state, or federal level.
At the local and state level, attorneys may work in the offices of Attorney Generals, state agencies, District Attorney’s offices, Public Defender’s offices, and more. Attorneys may also work in the legislative or executive branches of state governments.
At the federal level, attorneys may work for the Office of Homeland Security, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Patent and Trademark Office, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Security Exchange Commission, and so much more. Attorneys may also choose to work within the military. Every branch of the military has a Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
If you have been practicing law for a few years (typically at least five), you may transition into a career as a judge. That said, many judges have decades of experience prior to accepting the role as a judge. The median salary for judges in the U.S. is $124,200.
Reaching the position of a judge is an incredible feat. It is one of the most desirable and most well-respected roles within the entire legal profession. There are many more attorneys than judges and the process of becoming a judge is incredibly competitive. Many who desire to have this role will never sit in that seat.
Those who do rise to the role of a judge oversee court proceedings, resolve disputes at the administrative level, oversee negotiations, and have immense influence on many court case outcomes. It is an incredibly powerful position.
3) Legal Consultant
Those with a J.D. may also choose to become a legal consultant. The primary job of a legal consultant, as it sounds, is to provide legal consultation. In other words, they provide legal advice for companies, organizations, or individuals.
Many legal situations are complex, and it can be helpful to have someone with legal experience to help you navigate the intricacies.
You may be thinking, ‘this sounds exactly like the role of an attorney.’ You’re right. However, there is one extremely critical difference. Legal consultants do not represent the person they are advising in any legal negotiations or in court. Their sole role is to provide advice.
You can act as a legal consultant without any legal experience. However, the more legal experience you have, the drastically better your chances of securing a job. Most legal consultants have years of experience prior to becoming a consultant. Some even keep their job as a practicing attorney but do some legal consulting on the side.
This is one of the most in-demand “J.D. preferred” jobs. The median salary for legal consultants is $82,178 however the top 10% of legal consultants (according to ZipRecruiter) make more than $137,000 annually.
4) Legal Professor
Those who graduate with a J.D. may also choose to become a professor of law. To become a legal professor, you typically need a J.D., years of experience practicing law, and, in most states, a teaching license. Many schools will also require legal professors to maintain their law license. Some legal professors will even continue to practice law while they are teaching.
This profession can be incredibly rewarding. As a professor, you work to build the next generation of future attorneys. With experience in law, you can offer direct advice to the incoming cohort of attorneys.
Legal professors make around $80,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For those who continue to practice law while teaching, the return on investment can be unmatched.
Becoming an arbitrator is another career option. An arbitrator works to settle legal disputes outside of a courtroom.
This is a lower-paying career than many of the other options on this list, however it can still be a rewarding position. The median salary of an arbitrator is $66,130 but those in the top 10% can make more than $130,000.
Previous experience as a practicing attorney, like many of the careers discussed here, can be helpful for the role of an arbitrator. However, it is not required, and you do not need to have passed the bar exam to serve as an arbitrator.
6) Judicial Clerkship
A judicial clerkship can also be a great option. Many recent law school graduates work in judicial clerkships prior to working as practicing attorneys.
You can find judicial clerkships at both the state and the federal level. Clerks are responsible for drafting opinions for judges and conducting research. These positions can be very stimulating roles.
You can also work as a paralegal. Paralegals do not need a J.D and they do not need to pass the bar exam. Like working as an arbitrator, this is a lower paying career within the legal field. The median salary is around $53,000 however the top 10% can make more than $85,000. Some people begin their careers as a paralegal and use this experience to catapult into other careers in the field.
The role of a paralegal is essentially to complete the legal tasks for an attorney which do not require the expertise of a J.D. For instance, they may investigate cases, write summaries, and organize documents within a law firm.
8) Law Librarian
Law school graduates can also work as a law librarian. Law librarians do not need to pass the bar exam but most do hold a J.D or a master’s degree in library science.
Law librarians are an essential role. They conduct legal research, provide research support, and work in operations management. Attorneys, judges, and paralegals are always in need of information. Law librarians help them find it, supporting both law firms, governments, and corporations.
The median salary of a law librarian is $56,000 however the top 10% make around $94,000.
9) Legal Publishing and Journalism
Finally, you can work in legal publishing. There are many media sources (print and electronic) which focus on legal news. For instance, many law students will be familiar with Westlaw and Lexis. Those who have an interest in journalism and legal issues may find this career to be a great match.