There’s really only one thing you can do with your law degree: Be a lawyer.
Kind of weird coming from a lawyer career coach, I know. But hear me out.
Take a minute to think about how many law grads you know who went to law school without a g.d. clue as to what they wanted to do. You know, besides wanting to “avoid a bad job market” or tack on additional exploratory years -- and debt -- to their I-never-really-knew-what-I-wanted-to-do liberal arts degree.
I’m willing to bet the balance of my law school loans you came up with at least a handful of said JDs in less than a minute. Shit, maybe you’re one of them. (Not judging.)
Or maybe you knew you wanted to be a lawyer since you were a kid. So off you went to law school and into the legal profession, only to find it’s not really your cup of (Long Island iced) tea.
Many of us were hoping to enter a profession that would provide us with an intellectual challenge, prestige and a cushy salary. Some wanted to be lawyers in order to please their parents or prove they could make something of themselves. Still others brought a genuine desire to help the greater good.
But why am I telling you what you already know?
I want you to understand that virtually no one knew exactly what they were getting into when they enrolled in law school. NO ONE.
Unless you were somehow a lawyer before attending law school, there was no way for you to know what practicing law would be like. You had a rough idea based on internships, what professors told you (most of whom never worked outside academia) and all those anecdotes from lawyers who warned you about the suckitude of the legal profession.
Unfortunately, the only way for you to find out if law is your calling is to become a lawyer.
This phenomenon isn’t unique to the legal field, though. It’s true of any profession. Nobody can truly know if they’re meant for a particular vocation until they try it for themselves.
So why are lawyers so damn hard on themselves when they realize law is a bad fit?
For better or for worse, you believed that going to law school would make a lawyer out of you. Not just any lawyer, either. A successful one. One who embodied the ideals you held as an eager law student. It’s no wonder the thought of dropping the attorney title -- let alone leaving the practice of law -- shakes you to the core.
Ultimately, it strikes a particularly sensitive nerve because you’re a high achiever who’s always accomplished what you set out to do.
But now that you’ve reached the promised land of lawyerdom, you’re uncharacteristically dissatisfied with your achievement. Probably because the benefits you associated with becoming lawyer haven’t materialized.
When you acknowledge being a lawyer doesn’t encompass everything you had hoped or expected, you understandably go through a grieving process of sorts. Whether or not you actually received the benefits you imagined, you’re now giving up the possibility of realizing your idealized career as a lawyer.
And when there's grief, there's usually a shame spiral lurking nearby.
You feel you’re a failure. Because you’re not able to “hack it” as a lawyer. Because you let your family down. Because you work in a job that doesn’t allow you to help people in a meaningful way. Because people will think you’re a quitter. Because you still don’t know what you want to do.
Because even though you achieved your goal of becoming a lawyer, you almost wish you hadn’t.
And you really don’t want to be one of those people who doesn’t even “use” their JD.
But what if you already use your law degree in everything you do?
Think back to law school orientation when they told you that your mind would never be the same. That law school would turn your brain into an analytical machine the likes of which no lay person would be capable of (nor interested in) understanding.
Sure enough, your legal training forever transformed you.
You hardly notice that you mentally rewrite ambiguous sentences as you read mainstream publications. Seriously, were there no editors involved?!
You can barely stand to watch bullshit legal dramas or movies. Even the likes of Spielberg couldn’t bring sexy back to the practice of law.
You also find it perfectly reasonable to challenge underlying assumptions of even the most innocent arguments. Beware young children, sweet elderly folk and anyone you overhear in Starbucks, the grocery store, the elevator...let’s be honest, pretty much anywhere.
You’ll always use your law degree, even if you’re not a lawyer.
So stop worrying about whether or not you’re “using” your law degree. You couldn’t undo your legal training if you tried.
Instead of fixating on what you can do with your JD, focus on the meaningful work you’d like to do notwithstanding your law degree.
To be clear, the goal isn’t to quit tomorrow and do something other than practice law. The object is to identify what you were looking for in a job when you decided to go to law school. Armed with that information (and your first-hand experience as a lawyer), you can create a plan to actually get what you want out of your career.
Whether that’s an intellectually stimulating job, financial security, prestige, a 9-5 gig -- only you know what you’re ultimately seeking. You might be able to find it by tweaking your current job arrangement. Or dedicating extra time to your family or a long-forgotten hobby. Or maybe you’re convinced a year spent traveling around the world to clear your head is the only remedy. (I’ve seen it happen...through envious eyes.)
Although you may be just as overwhelmed now as you were when you started law school, you now have the experience, perspective and luxury of hindsight to decide if practicing law is what you’re truly meant to do. And if it isn't, at least you've got an idea of where to start looking.