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College 101: Other Careers in Law

I’ve been interested in the law for a long time. When I was a kid, I watched courtroom dramas and stuff like that all the time. So, when I went to school, I decided to be pre-law. However, I’m having some doubts about that choice now. I don’t like the reputation lawyers have, and I find some of the other people on the pre-law track abrasive. The high stress of law school and a legal career are starting to feel like they might be a little much for me. I’m not sure I want to stay in school for as long as it will take to become a lawyer, and I don’t know if I have what it takes to focus on cases for as long as lawyers do, or to handle details as minute as they must.

Now, I kind of feel like I’m at a loss. I’m less and less sure that I want to be a lawyer, but the law still interests me. Also, nothing else I can think of is drawing me to a new major or a new career path, so I’m not sure where I’ll go next if I leave this dream behind. Experts, can you help?

It’s easy to get stressed out as you think about big career choices. Our job- and career-related decisions have a way of feeling all-consuming, all-important, and final. Yet we know that, according to statistics, it is quite common for people to change jobs and change careers: on average, a person will change careers between five and seven times! Of course, some people change careers more often and others stick with one occupation throughout their adult lives. However, almost anyone can change careers--even lawyers, who study hard to achieve their degrees, can end up working in business or politics or in other capacities with loose relation--if related at all--to their legal backgrounds.

In fact, lawyers (and former pre-law students who decide not to go to law school) can be in high demand, because the law touches all sorts of businesses. Legal know-how is important in businesses like finance and accounting, say experts at a firm that provides accounting and auditing services in New Jersey. You could work in virtually any type of business as a lawyer--or as a non-lawyer who has supplemented a pre-law background with a degree or training in another job-related specialty. You could also go into academia: plenty of lawyers spend their days teaching future lawyers about law!

You will have the option to do other types of work besides practicing law whether you choose to go to law school or not. Of course, it’s not necessarily the best idea for you to head to law school with the explicit goal of doing something other than practicing law. As you begin to consider other possible careers, you’ll want to consider what the most efficient track for you would be--and it may not be law school.

So what alternative career might be right for you? Well, according to one Ann Arbor lawyer, there are plenty of ways to work in and with the law without actually being a lawyer. Legal assistants and paralegals are necessities in law offices, and their schedules and academic backgrounds may be a better match for your priorities right now. You could also start your career in a law office without a degree before pursuing one and becoming an attorney later on, if you are sure by then that law is the right place for you.

Court reporters in West Palm Beach say that their work is another option: their record-keeping and helpful legal research tools are created with the help of talented professionals. And then there are other types of “court reporters”--the ones who work for media outlets. A legal background and a journalism degree could help you land work on the courtroom beat for a newspaper, television channel, or website.

Or, of course, you may decide that being a lawyer is right for you after all. We don’t have to feel passionate and excited about our careers and potential future careers all of the time, after all. Perhaps you should reexamine your feelings about law by job-shadowing a lawyer or reaching out to an attorney. You should also remember that there are many types of lawyers, and therefore many types of jobs in law. You could work with wills and estates, for instance, says a probate lawyer in South Carolina, or you could work in a whole different area of law. You could work for a huge law firm with large numbers of attorneys on staff, or you could join a small practice or even strike out on your own. You could work on your own, or as part of the staff of a large corporation--or you could work for the government or even, in your free time or after your retirement, on a volunteer basis. Some lawyers don’t see much of the insides of courtrooms, while others are there every day. You should take some time to research the different types of law that you could focus on and get to know the different cultures that surround those sub-groups of lawyers--you may find one that suits you a whole lot better.

As you take a step back from a dream you’ve been focusing on for so long, the choices may seem daunting. There is no shortage of careers out there, and while the great number of choices is a good thing, it can also feel overwhelming. Take a deep breath and then take advantage of the resources that your school offers. Speaking to career counselors and academic advisors might help you begin to narrow down your career possibilities once again. They may help you find a path to a happy career--whether that means heading to law school or remains to be seen. You still have time to make this decision with wisdom and care, so try not to stress: plenty of your peers don’t know what they want to do in their careers, either. Don’t make any rash decisions and work with advisors and experts to develop a new plan before abandoning your current academic track. We’re sure that, whatever you decide, you’ll be a success and enjoy a long and happy career.

“I finished law school in ‘56, but I was working two jobs.” - David Dinkins

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