What Can You Do with a Law Degree?
Last month, iLaw President Ken Randall and I hosted an episode of “Live with Kellye and Ken” that focused on a hot topic for many who are pursuing, or considering pursuing, a law degree. To help answer the question “What can you do with a law degree?”, we turned to four law school deans — Benjamin Barros (Toledo), Mary Lu Bilek (CUNY), Dan Hamilton (UNLV), and Melanie Leslie (Cardozo) — along with Jim Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).
Here are some of the major points we covered during our discussion. As always, you can view the full discussion on our website.
Are employment prospects good for law graduates?
Mr. Leipold and the deans agreed that employment opportunities for law school graduates are robust. Dean Barros noted that his school’s graduate employment numbers are the highest on record. Mr. Leipold noted the healthy calibration between the job market and number of law school graduates, which has improved following the Great Recession. Additionally, new opportunities for graduates are created the more technology advances and jobs develop outside of the traditional tracks.
What are some important trends in this post-recession job market?
Mr. Leipold noted that lawyers serve both people and institutions and that, especially when it comes to serving people, there are many communities where legal needs remain unmet. In other words, there are still plenty of opportunities to connect with individuals and make a difference. Another trend is an increase in opportunities at small firms: Last year, 34 percent of new lawyers who went into private practice did so at a firm that had 10 or fewer lawyers.
What kind of career can you have with a law degree?
The deans agreed that a JD is a versatile degree that holds value for a variety of careers. Dean Hamilton mentioned that recent graduates from his law school have gone on to management jobs in the federal government, for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, at Churchill Downs Racetrack in Kentucky, and elsewhere. And Dean Bilek noted that it’s important not to think of legal education narrowly as “school.” Rather, it’s a path to a profession and to a lifetime of learning.
What about other types of law degrees, such as an LLM or a master’s degree?
An LLM degree typically comes after a JD for U.S. graduates and after an undergraduate degree in law for those educated in many nations. Deans Leslie and Hamilton said the more specialized the LLM program — in a field such as taxes or intellectual property, for example — the more value it holds. As for master’s degrees, there is explosive growth in these degrees for people who don’t intend to practice law but want to gain knowledge and expertise about laws that relate to their business. Examples of these would be master’s degrees that focus on data law and privacy, health care administration, human resources, compliance, and many other fields. (On LSAC’s website, you can learn more about these degrees and about legal certificates, which are another option for those interested in legal education.)
What is some good advice for law candidates and students who aren’t sure what they want to do with their JD?
Dean Barros recommended that students pick a tentative direction based on their interests because it helps provide structure in an environment where the range of opportunities and paths can be overwhelming. Still, Dean Barros noted that there are many possible good directions and it is important to keep an open mind and be willing to try something else if an initial choice does not seem to fit. Many students (and lawyers!) change their career pathways over time. Dean Leslie mentioned that it’s absolutely fine not to know what you want to do during law school, and that there are many “right” choices for each person. The JD is versatile enough to allow you to succeed in a variety of fields.
As always, it was an honor to spend time with these experts and get their opinions on the trends and opportunities we are seeing today. My sincere thanks to Mr. Randall and Mr. Leipold as well as Deans Barros, Bilek, Hamilton, and Leslie for taking the time to share their wisdom. And for anyone out there thinking of starting their journey to law school, LSAC is ready to help you take the first step. Feel free to get in touch with us to learn more.