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.
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