Among the alumni ranks of the University of Texas—Austin's School of Law are cartoonists, service dog trainers, and wind farm employees, which might explain why it has a Non-Practicing Advisory Council within its alumni association.
"We have a significant percentage (some think maybe up to one third) of alumni in nontraditional careers," says Tim Kubatzky, the school's executive director of development. "There is no single path that takes them there, and many have spent at least some part of their careers in law firms or practicing solo or serving as corporate counsel."
According to Kubatzky, the movement amongst J.D.s toward nontraditional jobs is not a new development. "The current economic situation has prompted more law school graduates to be creative in using their legal educations," he says.
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But according to a recent post by Staci Zaretsky, an editor of Above the Law, morale in law school career services offices is at an "all-time low." The post cites an Alternative Careers Handbook published by the University of Arizona's James E. Rogers College of Law, which mentions "Fidel Castro, dictator" as an example of a prominent J.D. working in a nonlegal profession.
"I was being a little snarky in my piece considering the fact that, according to NALP [the Association for Legal Career Professionals], only 68.4 percent of 2010 grads were able to land jobs requiring bar passage," Zaretsky says. "I can only assume that law school career services offices are feeling the effects of the employment rates."
[Read about U.S. News urging law school deans to improve employment data.]
Many law school career services departments address alternative or nontraditional careers on their websites, and a Google search for "career" and "outside of the legal profession" restricted to .edu websites yields nearly 65,000 hits. Some of those departments, like that of the Virginia Beach-based School of Law at Regent University, connect alternative careers for attorneys to the economy.
"As the legal profession has become increasingly more demanding and entry-level hiring more competitive, many law students are considering other alternatives," according to the Regent website.
Typically, 10 percent of Yale Law School alumni work in a business setting five years after graduating, according to a 64-page Lawyers in Business guide the school publishes. And, jobs in management consulting, investment banking, and venture capital can earn young associates annuals salaries of $100,000 to $300,000, the guide states.
According to employment statistics on Drake University's School of Law website, 16 percent of the Des Moines, Iowa, school's alumni work in business fields nine months after graduation, and the website of the Boston University School of Law says 17 percent of its 2009 graduates working in law and business began their careers in academia and while 6 percent worked in business.
[Learn about alternative careers for burned-out lawyers.]
Sometimes, a school's relationship with a nonlegal employer can create opportunities for students, according to Sandra Mans, assistant dean of the career center at Albany Law School. A large financial services firm started by an alumnus hires one to four Albany graduates each year, she says, and 68 alumni currently work at the company.
"Other recent graduates are pursuing accounting firms, legislative positions, investor services, publishing houses, compliance and claims jobs, and court analyst roles," Mans says. "Salaries at these positions range from $43,000 to $105,000."
Milan Dalal, who holds a J.D. from Boston College Law School, landed a job at a prominent Boston law firm, where he says starting annual salaries are $160,000—well above the high end of Mans's range. But he left the firm after a year to accept a job as legislative director ($76,000 annual salary) in the office of Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).
Many Capitol Hill staffers are J.D.s, according to Dalal, who says his position fulfills his passion for public service and offers him the perspective of "literally writing the laws that others will then apply." Though annual salaries for jobs such as his could start at $60,000 for J.D.s, Dalal encourages aspiring public servants to earn a J.D., because he says it can help people rise more quickly through the ranks of seniority.
Vada Dillawn, principal and founder of the Austin, Texas-based firm Dillawn & Clark PR, says she was surprised to find that public relations was a field where "the skills of advocacy, creative story telling, and good writing skills rule."
Dillawn, who holds a J.D. from South Texas College's law school, says her legal background helps her navigate copyright and patent law topics and advise a Malaysian client on U.S. trademark law. And she's also found the field to be profitable.
"Billing rates per hour start at $125 and go up, which is very comparable to billing rates for new attorneys in Texas," she says.
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