Monday, April 16, 2012

Taking the JD Off Your Resume - An Update

I recently saw a post on JD Underground recommending that applicants remove the J.D. from their resumes in order to try to land a non-legal job. I have a few things to say about this matter, so I thought it would make a nice segue into what I guess has become my annual update.

I can certainly empathize with this sentiment. The JD pretty much guarantees that you'll hear the inquiry "Why aren't you practicing law?" during every job interview you'll have from now until eternity.

The problem, of course, is that if you simply take your law degree off your resume, you'll have to come up with a method for explaining the three year gap. For the most part, however, the only "method" you'll have available to you is to lie through your teeth. I don't recommend this for a number of reasons. If you go down this route, it will definitely have to be some amazing fib (remember, you're covering up a THREE year gap) and it will have to be unverifiable (think background checks for new hires).

If you're not prepared and not unethical enough to claim you were independently building shelters for displaced tribes in Africa, you've got little choice but to leave your JD on the resume.

Here are a few tactics to handle this handicap:

1) Provide a brief summary of your background on your resume to tackle the subject head on. In your summary, include a sentence that reads something like "Recently obtained a J.D. for purposes of improving analysis and writing skill sets for application in a corporate role."

2) If you do land an interview, and the subject comes up (and it will), make a similar statement about wanting to go to law school because of the benefits it offers aside from practicing law. Also, mention the number of people who go to law school but don't end up working as attorneys - it was about 20% at my school PRE-recession. You can also note that law school doesn't really teach you to practice law; instead it helps you develop critical thinking skills. Not only is this persuasive, it's also for the most part, true.

3) On your resume, under education, don't put down "State University Law School, Juris Doctorate, May 2009"; put down "State University, J.D., May 2009). You'll be amazed at the number of people who have no idea what a J.D. is. Many will just assume it's a masters degree. Plenty will also be too embarrassed to ask what a J.D. is. It won't always work particularly if you're looking for work right out of school, but it can prevent a red flag from going up immediately in the minds of HR screeners, hiring managers, and recruiters.

Will these tactics always work? No, but they give you a better chance of slipping by the gatekeepers. Once you explain the potential benefits of a law degree, some hiring managers may even see it as a slight benefit.

Once you land a job and have some significant post-law school work experience, the J.D. will become less of a focus because your potential employer will a) be convinced that you're actually not interested in practicing law b) be more concerned about your recent work experience than your education.

In the interviews I have gone through since landing my first permanent post-law school job, the law degree has become more of a curiosity than anything else. Occasionally, the issue hasn't even been raised; if it has, I've had little trouble dismissing it as a detour on my path as a corporate prol.

I could probably get away with dropping it off of my resume given that most interviewers are usually too lazy to actually do the math and uncover the gap in my work history. I, however, have refused to do so.

Perhaps I'm violating my own words of caution regarding the sunk cost fallacy, but after wasting so much time in law school and going into considerable debt, I'm simply unwilling not to try to extract at least some value out of my J.D.

Now I'm not backing away from my long standing contention that a law degree doesn't qualify you for any position other than being an attorney - and it barely serves that function. I'm certainly not suggesting anyone should go to law school with the intent of going into a non-legal industry. That's just throwing money away.

Nevertheless, the J.D. is a graduate degree, and it's one that many people still believe is an indication of one's intelligence and academic prowess - rather than one's ability to sign a promissory note.

You're not going to get a financial analyst job - at least one that requires experience because a hiring manager thinks, "Gee, this guy doesn't know anything about finance and can barely open an Excel document, but he is well educated. I'm going to hire him over the other candidates with multiple years of Bloomberg experience."

If you are, however, a financial analyst with experience, and you also bring a law degree to the table, many employers will then be willing to give you some credit for your degree in the hiring process - at least if you can give an acceptable explanation for having the degree.

For example, I interviewed for a position a couple months ago where I think the hiring manager just interviewed me because she was thoroughly confused by the trajectory of my education. I think I offered a good explanation, and I ended up one of two finalist candidates for the role. I didn't get the job because the other candidate had a little more of the experience for which they were looking, but my J.D. didn't hurt me and may have helped a bit. (It was, of course, no substitute for the relevant experience they wanted.)

On a more positive note, I recently did take a new position where my J.D. may have actually helped. It's a more senior role with better compensation. While I had most of the skills and background for which they were looking, the job description said the company wanted someone with about a decade of experience and a masters degree. I haven't even been out college for 10 years. The hiring manager said I beat out a bunch of other strong candidates, and I have to believe that the J.D. did help cover some of the missing work experience and substituted for the masters degree.

Now before any LS apologists start whooping it up that the J.D. did turn out to be useful, let's get a few things straight. It's true they wanted someone with more experience and a graduate degree, but if I didn't go to law school, I could have easily gotten the experience (and if necessary a cheaper and more useful masters degree) in the same time it took me to get the law degree. I also would have done so without incurring the debt and other opportunity costs.

Furthermore, while it's a big increase in pay for me, I'm pretty sure I'm making less than they originally envisioned paying for this role - so the J.D. wasn't exactly a perfect substitute for the work experience.

So where do I stand? I will be in a senior, non-managerial position with a large corporation. I will make in the mid $60K's plus an annual bonus and benefits. This is roughly the equivalent of what an I.D. attorney would have made at a mid-sized firm pre-recession. It's probably on the lower end of what I would have reasonably been making right now had I not gone to law school, so it looks like I'm starting to right this craft.

I've also been able to knock out about $20k of loans since graduating - though there's plenty more to go, and I'm finally able to move out of my parents house - albeit with roommates.

I am very grateful that I seem to be in a much better position than many other recent graduates, and perhaps even a large swath of the population as a whole. Nevertheless, it definitely bothers me that I'll be paying for years for a degree I don't really need and that my career has been set back at least a few paces.

I was glad to see that TJ Law lawsuit is being allowed to proceed, and I'm sorry that the NYLS case was thrown out. It's definitely heartening to see that the mainline press and individuals across the political spectrum have acknowledged (and even protested) the scam. In the end, I really don't see how it can be sustained. When tuition hits $70k a year at private schools and graduates struggle to land $40k a year entry level jobs, you have to think somebody's going to blow the whistle and bring this game to a close - particularly now that the taxpayers are on the hook for any unpaid loans.

I wish everyone else the best on finding gainful employment and trying to rebuild their post LS lives. I've always been happy to provide advice via e-mail, and I've answered a number of inquiries since I stopped regularly posting. Feel free to reach out if I can assist you at all.

I'm also thinking of starting a new blog dedicated to the providing advice about the non-legal job search tailored to those with J.D.'s. I'll keep you posted. (Positive feedback for this idea will likely encourage me to move ahead.)

Thanks for reading - E.N.

19 comments:

  1. At least, fewer are applying to law school.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/20/business/for-lsat-sharp-drop-in-popularity-for-second-year.html

    We have helped spread the word, and attracted the attention of major news publications, professors and elected officials. In the end, the law school scam is unsustainable. Thanks for helping, in this cause.

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  2. Glad to hear that you're doing well and it's some good advice, I'm sure you could contribute something about being a non-attorney JD like so many of us didn't voluntarily choose to be these days.

    I've spent more time rehabilitating my mind and soul than I have my career as I simply went back to what I did pre-law school. Several excruciating years and several hundred thousand dollars later.

    Via con dios if you don't decide to continue blogging in any regard.

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  3. A Resume is not a legal document, but a marketing instrument. A sales brochure if you will. Now I am not saying to lie on a resume. That might come back and haunt you. After saying that, remember a Resume is not a Confessional. So, tailor your resume to illicit a + response, --an interview. That is its sole purpose.

    The NYT article stated that a Recruiter will spend less than 6 seconds to + or - a resume. Recruiters focused first on the last position followed by your employment for the last five years. Because of the current recession there are large gaps in almost every-ones resume.

    When I apply for non-legal jobs I am always asked why I am not practicing. First, I am not apologetic and whiny. Second, I keep my answer short and tight. Third, I say in words whereof, "Why should I spend 60 hours a week hopefully making 40K as a lawyer; when I can spend 40 hours a week making 80 to 90K doing this?" You never have a cover-up the fact you want a better job that pays more!

    theyuppieattorney.blogspot.com

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  4. I've been trying to find something like this. Lately it's been a full time job just to stay positive. Thanks for the advice!

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  5. Great topic and a very important issue as the underemployed JD gets resocialized in the workforce after law school.

    I will share a couple of my experiences and in fact I think I will carry my comment below over to my blog as a new post as well.

    In 2006 I had my JD off my resume and landed a job selling Insurance with an Independent Insurance Agency.

    A couple of months into the job I sat down in the conference room with the owner of the Agency, the Office Manager, and one of the VP's.

    In that meeting I told them that I had a law degree.

    Telling them was a mistake, because they all looked at me like I had two heads, and were sort of stunned into silence.

    After that meeting, everyone in the Agency of some 25 people was very strange towards me.

    Subsequently I have learned to not talk about my educational background, and I even let people I meet assume that I never even went to College.

    I know it all sounds crazy, but a lot of people act differently towards you when you tell them you have a JD etc.

    I will give one other example: An older man who worked as a general building contractor wanted to hire me back around 2003.

    He was friendly as could be, and invited me to have a beer in the bar of an Inn that he owned on Long Island's East End.

    As we were talking, I told him that I went to law school.

    Well, after that meeting his demeanor and attitude towards me changed.

    He was no longer friendly, and he just seemed uncomfortable.

    The following week I called him in order to follow up on his job offer, and he took several days to return my call.

    He did hire me, but at thirteen dollars an hour, which was lower than he had indicated prior to our meeting at the Inn.

    I worked for him about a week, and left when I found a different job; for it was Spring and there was lots of painting work to be found.

    Experiences like that taught me to not discuss my educational background in many settings.

    And so people might think: "There goes John. He's a nice, uneducated guy"

    But that is far better than: "What the hell is wrong with that misfit? He has a law degree. Why in the hell does he want to work here?"

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  6. As a soon-to-be law graduate with no job offers, I can tell you there is definitely an audience for a blog with strategies as to how to score a non-legal job with a JD. Career Services at my school has no interest in helping those considering non-legal positions at all because it looks bad for them. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Ditto. My career services gave me a book "what to do with your law degree besides law" Basically it said you can do everything BUT a law degree will hinder you from getting those jobs. The book also list all the jobs I could've done without a law degree.

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  7. As a soon to be graduating law school student who wants nothing to do with a firm, pleeaaaassssseeee dedicate a blog for non-attorney jobs especially in compliance work like in healthcare or even in the athletic departments.

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  8. As an attorney licensed in two states & D.C., I have been unemployed for 18 months. I was a judicial law clerk for a year after graduating in 2008. After that, I was laid off from a shitty small firm -- where I was forced to work 50-60 hours a week on a pathetic $33k a year. Talk about humiliating. Now, finally, I've got a new job selling cell phones in a mall, and I'll be paid more money than I was as an associate. I'm not gonna lie when I say that I am grateful for the job.

    Just want to say that I love what you're doing and I fully support your efforts to expose the law school scam.

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    1. Congratulations on your progress! As for how to explain the three-year gap in employment, here's what I did: since I worked while I was in law school, I just changed the position titles from "law clerk" to "paralegal" and everything turned out ok. Law clerk and paralegal are synonymous anyway. As far as references, I asked colleagues rather than supervising attorneys to provide references if they were requested. At this point, since it's been over two years since I left my last law job, I can now provide non-legal references, which means I can pretty much put my legal career behind me entirely now.

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    2. Yes please start a new blog! I would really appreciate your advice on finding a non-legal job.

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    3. WOW, I agree with everyone. I went to law school in lieu of getting an MBA because I was sold the dream that a law degree is better. Why is it better? It is flexible and provides greater opportunity. Instead of being either, it has been a nightmare. I knew my 1st year of law school that I did not want to practice law; however, I got caught up in the possibilities of having a law degree and the failure of dropping out was overwhelming. I wish I would have dropped out, but I was afraid that others would think I flunked out. Now, looking back on things, I realize I did flunk out because my JD is a big fat "F" on my resume. I have fluctuated on my resume, sometimes I put my JD and sometimes I don't. Although employers do not fully understand the plight of receiving a law degree, I will begin to put my JD on my resume. Why? I earned it and it does have value outside of the law. Now, I have to get an employer to see it my way :)

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  9. I worked for a lot of years as a paralegal, and wasn't getting jobs in the top firms because I didn't have a bachelor's degree, so I hopped on the wagon and got one. Then I decided that with all my law firm experience, why not try for the higher paying law firm administrator jobs? So that led me to get my MBA. For some insane reason, I let a colleague talk me into going to law school because we were tired of doing the heavy lifting when the lawyers were driving the BMWs and on vacation in the Caribbean. So here I am with multiple degrees and out of work. I've tried applying for corporate jobs, but so far, I only have a few nibbles. And because I am now in my 50s, I am typecast as a paralegal, law jobs are going to the younger and cheaper folks, and I can't even get a job flipping burgers. So YES please write a blog for those of us recovering JD'ers.

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  10. No idea why JD holders keep calling the JD a graduate degree. It's a professional degree and you have to complete just as many hours as it takes to get a PhD. The ABA also states it is equivalent to a PhD; and if someone teaches law they are paid the same as a PhD, which is more than what a masters degree education will demand.

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  11. I am in a similar situation in that, I graduated from LS in 2006. At the time, I was working as a Director of Operations at a great media company so I stayed there and forwent the Bar, etc. Well, In 2010 I was out of work, took, passed the bar in May 2012 then clerked for a judge. After that, I knew I did not want to practice (as if the long gap between 2006-2010 werent enough to know.) Well, now I get asked:
    1. Why the large gap in employment
    2. Why are you not practicing.

    Hindsight is 20/20, but I am concerned why I racked up 100k in student loans, dont want to practice, hell, even if I wanted to, there are ZERO jobs. I should have went to get an MBA instead.

    HOWEVER. The bright-side?
    1. Law school shows dedication and determination
    2. Law school shows you have analytical and research skills
    3. Law school can land you a better position than an MBA because corporations love having the business mentality blended with the legal backbone.

    The struggle continues. Dont be ashamed of your degree, tactfully mention it and know when to pull the card.

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  12. I completed my JD in May 2004. Couldn't find one of those non-legal "jobs" they enthusiastically promised to be there for me if I decided not to practice. So, I had another "great idea": real estate. Got my license in the fall of 2005. Did that till I couldn't continue to pay all the dues anymore without making money in return. Real estate market was just about to tank as well at the time. Signed up with a temp agency and got lucky enough to get a job testing databases. It was one of the most soul-crushing jobs I've ever had. But I was so thankful to be working, and the JD helped because they required a JD for the position, even though you really didn't use it on the job. Then I got laid off in the fall of 2010 due to a major reorganization. They shipped my job overseas. Now, I can't even get a job at Walmart, Cosco, Sam's Club, K-Mart, Sears, or any grocery store in town. Of course I've been applying to corporate jobs as a first priority as well. Not one phone interview. It's been almost three years. I'm going out of my mind. I stopped paying back my school loans and other debts because I simply don't have a dime. My credit is in the shit can. I can't even qualify for a cellphone. Thank you, law school scam. You have ruined my life completely. Before I went to law school, I had a good job with room to move up. I had very little undergraduate debt, and I was paying it off on time. I also had some savings, which was slowly but surely getting bigger. Thank you, law school scam. The one thing I am proud of is being able to dissuade two friends of mine from going to law school. Because of me they are now doing well in other work and don't have a mountain of debt to keep them up at night. Thank you, law school scam...

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  13. Any one else have any expireince not putting the J.D. on the resume, and eventually "come out of the the closet" at work?

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  14. Anyone have the expeirence of not putting it on the resume, and it eventually came out?

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  15. I now hold a JD and bar license and cannot find work. Went to a private law school..I feel like a loser because its so humiliating to have so much education and have to keep begging for a job ANYWHERE

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