Let’s Talk Law Degrees

May 29, 2020 | by Terri Dill Chadick

What Can You Do With a Law Degree?

When I help students decide what they might want to do with their law degree when they graduate, I think in terms of six buckets of jobs:

  1. You can work for a law firm. This would include opening your own firm (usually not the best idea right out of law school) or work for an established law firm. Think Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird or TV shows like Suits or Better Call Saul. Experienced private practice lawyers have a great deal of independence and the money they make is directly tied to the amount of legal fees they (or their firm) collects. If you’re someone who enjoys being in charge and has a head for business, a private law practice may be just the right path for you.
  2. You can work for the government. The government is full of lawyers. Instead of representing individuals or specific organizations (like a lawyer in a law firm), government lawyers represent citizens generally or the government agencies themselves. Government lawyers often take on a huge amount of responsibility early in their careers, so if you want to hit the ground running right after you pass the bar exam, you may be a government lawyer in the making.
  3. You can work for a corporation or other business. While it generally takes 4+ years of legal experience to become an in-house counsel, new law graduates work throughout corporate America in roles where having a JD provides them a distinct advantage. They work in analyst, manager, and specialist roles helping corporations navigate issues such as privacy, ethics, contracts, compliance, and so on.

    We have an amazing experiential learning partnership with Walmart (and many other companies), that provides our students a stepping stone into these types of jobs. Our students serve as externs at the Walmart corporate headquarters on various teams such as those focused on privacy, international, real estate, environmental, health and wellness, and legal operations. No other law school can offer such a wide variety of experiences with the Fortune 1 company!
  4. You can be a public interest lawyer. Public interest lawyers can be found in many different types of organizations. For example, legal aid organizations and public defender offices represent individual clients who cannot afford a lawyer. Impact litigation groups focus on bigger litigation (like class actions) that can make a broader change. Policy organizations don’t represent clients but work on issues from a policy or legislative perspective. If you want to make the world a better place, public interest work could be the perfect way to begin your career!
  5. You can work for a judge. So, technically, this is a type of government work, but we consider this as its own category because it’s such a great way to start your legal career. You get to observe a wide variety of legal arguments and presentation styles and learn what persuades a judge (or what doesn’t persuade a judge) and why. You also gain a mentor that will be valuable throughout your legal career.

    One thing to note: a judge’s chambers (where you would be working) is a quiet place without much activity. That being said, if you are someone who loves to research and write, and perhaps you enjoy a quiet contemplative workplace, working for a judge could be a great fit for you.
  6. You can work for a law school or other educational institution. You may think that only law professors and business law professors have law degrees at your school, but that’s not the case. Every university has a general counsel’s office with lawyers who advise and represent the university in all types of matters. You can also find people with law degrees in the international programs office helping students with visa issues; in the Title IX or Equal Opportunity offices working on discrimination and sexual violence issues; and in the research departments helping with patent and licensing issues. Many other departments hire lawyers as well. If you can’t bear the thought of saying goodbye to campus life, maybe you won’t have to!

So there you have it! While I have many more examples of jobs for JDs than those I shared with you, I hope this list gets you thinking about what to do with your law degree.

What is My Role in the Process?

As the Director of Career Services at the University of Arkansas School of Law, I am passionate about helping students launch their careers. There’s power in a law degree, and our students use their degrees to become leaders, help those who need it, and bring about change in the world. It’s such an amazing thing to watch, knowing that the law school helps provide the knowledge and the tools to do those things.

I highly encourage you to reach out to our office with any questions you may have. We are always here to help!

Terri Dill Chadick is Director of Career Services and a graduate of the School of Law.