14th December 23:34
Discovering a law degree's downside
Sending the wrong signal in bad times?
Leigh Jones / Associate editor nlj.com
November 24, 2008
When Dina Allam graduated last spring from Ohio State University with a
joint law and master of business administration degree, she thought the
combination would catch the eye of employers who could appreciate a mix of
****ytical skills and business know-how.
But after months of looking for a nonlawyer job that would put all that
education to work and help pay off some of the nearly $85,000 in student
loan debt, Allam began to think she'd made a mistake by going the law degree
"People don't see the value in the joint degree. They think I'm confused,"
In hindsight, Allam said she would have forgone the juris doctor degree and
pursued just the MBA. But at the time she started law school, she was
convinced that a J.D. diploma could open doors to a wide variety of job
"They made it sound like there were so many careers you could go into," said
Allam, now a client engagement manager with Wipro Technologies in Columbus,
Ohio. "I definitely think all the interviews I had were because I was in
business school and not because I had a law degree."
Law schools and placement professionals frequently tout the versatility of a
law degree as a path to alternative careers. But even in good economic
times, the advantage of a juris doctor degree in landing a job in another
field may well be overblown.
With student loan debt at an all-time high and law schools churning out
about 44,000 degrees each year, graduates looking for nonlawyer jobs are
finding that they often are priced out, overqualified and undervalued.
A specialized world
The upshot for many is that, while they appreciate the knowledge they
gained, they find that they are no more marketable - and sometimes less -
than if they'd avoided the law school ordeal altogether.
To be sure, current employment prospects for the vast majority of all
graduates are bleak. In October alone, the legal sector unloaded 1,000 jobs,
according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In the past 12 months,
some 14,700 lawyers, paralegals and staffers in the legal sector have lost
their jobs, the BLS found.
And in a tight job market where all types of employers have reams of résumés
from which to choose when filling an opening, a law degree can look like
baggage they'd rather sidestep.
"The world is a much more specialized place now," said Stephen Seckler,
managing director in the Boston office of BCG Search, a placement firm.
"Going to law school gives you a certain set of credentials that really
aren't valuable for anything other than practicing law," he said.
The percentage of law graduates obtaining jobs in professions other than the
practice of law has declined slightly in the past five years. Last year,
5.1% of law graduates took jobs in other professions, compared with 5.8% in
2002, according to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).
But precise information about the number of law graduates who take nonlegal
jobs is difficult to come by, said James Leipold, executive director of
NALP. Graduates who enter alternative careers are harder to track, he said.
"They're much less likely to self-report to their [law school] career
services office that they're working at Woolworth's," he said.
For those law grads looking for nontraditional work, dozens of books and
videos and countless articles are out there proclaiming the relevance of a
law degree to entrepreneurship, public relations, human resources, teaching,
writing, sales and more.
But having a law degree from Texas Tech University School of Law put Teye
Kutasi in an "in-between position," she said.
"People didn't know what to do with me," said Kutasi, a lobbyist with
management consultancy Floridian Partners in Miami.