Wednesday, December 2, 2009

J.D.? What J.D.?

I've had a good time bashing the law school industry and the economic ruin it has imposed on its hapless victims (namely me). While this is part of the blog's purpose, my main focus is to explore the options available to those of us trying to escape the clutches of the industry before we get sucked in even further.

I'm, therefore, implementing a self imposed moratorium on law school bashing until probably next week. Look for the next several posts to be about my personal job search or job search strategies overall.

Today, I'm going to address a decision most law school graduates need to make when they decide to put their legal career aspirations behind them: Should they even bother disclosing that they went to law school?

This is a painful decision. Just as many current law students hold out hope that the legal market isn't as bad as the JD Underground crowd claims it is, law school graduates are wedded to the idea that a law degree MUST count for something? Surely, we didn't waste $150k for academic edification! We have graduate degrees from William and Mary, GW, Baylor, Villanova, Pitt, and Pepperdine - those are good schools, right??? I mean, we're even Juris DOCTORATES! Who wouldn't want someone with doctoral degree working for them?

I'm still not 100% convinced that the J.D. is the kiss of death on any resume for a non-legal job, but the more I investigate it, the more it seems like it's not the sort of thing you want to advertise when hiring is slow as it is.

Remember, certain elements of the population still regard lawyers as professionals almost akin to medical doctors. If you were hiring for an entry level jr. account manager or systems administrator position, and you got a resume from someone with an MD, what would you think?

Here's the three suspicions I think most employers have when they see a J.D. on a resume (particularly with mostly legal experience/internships).

Loser: Why is someone who is this well educated and trained in an entirely different profession looking to get into our industry? He's only qualified for entry level positions, but lawyers are professionals who make a lot of money. He must have really fouled up either in law school or in practice. He's probably here because he got crummy grades, couldn't pass the bar, or no law firm wanted to hire him. If we wanted to hire losers, there's plenty of anthropology majors out there looking for jobs that we could pick up.

Flake: Let me get this straight - This guy invested a small fortune and three years of his life into going to law school and studied for and passed the bar, and now, he wants to make his living dressing up as an anamorphic mouse - Sorry, buddy, Chuck E. Cheese is no place for flakes.

Liar: So you've invested three years...etc. for "intellectual enhancement", but your life long goal has always been to be an assistant manager at a Food Lion? Son, I may have a GED on the wall, but don't think everybody is as dumb as somebody who fell for "versatility of a law degree" line.

Okay, maybe my lame humor isn't for everyone, but the point is there are some serious hurdles someone with a J.D. needs to overcome when applying for non-legal jobs. Nobody want to hire somebody who just couldn't hack it in his chosen field. Employers are also going to be wary of somebody without any real direction in their career (or life), and it's certainly a real concern that an "overqualified" is just going to jump ship if something better (like a law firm job) becomes available.

There seem to be two options for dealing with these concerns: address it directly or leave the J.D. off of the resume.

Addressing it directly allows you to spin the the degree in your favor. Usually this will be done via a cover letter (unless you've been put in touch with a potential employer directly). You can emphasize "critical thinking skills", your public speaking ability, and writing/research experience which is useful to many employers. Still, you should have obtained those skills in college and could have found better avenues to enhance them besides going to law school. You still have to answer the question of "Why did you go if you didn't want to be an attorney?"

(Remember, employers don't want flakes, so you didn't ever want to actually practice. *wink* *wink*)

Based upon the guy from the "Barely Legal" blog to which I linked in a recent post, here's the only line that works. (This is worth the price of admission, kids.)

I went to law school not because I wanted to practice, but because I wanted to mature both intellectually and personally before commencing/continuing with my career.

You may then want to include the aforementioned residual skills you picked up in law school. Throw in a few classic lawyer jokes to show you're not a brother of the bar, and with any luck, you may be able to convince an employer that you're genuine in your desire to work in a field other than law.

Now, will some employers look at this justification as being as flimsy as the el cheapo, K&G suit you're wearing to the interview? Sure, but I can't think of any other response that's going to avoid the three previously mentioned pitfalls.

If you respond with - I couldn't get a legal job, so I figured I'd try this. I changed my mind about the law. It turns out I don't like being an attorney. I would practice law, but I don't want to pass up the opportunity to sell annuities to gullible seniors. Etc. - I just don't think it will wash.

The other option is to take the J.D. off the resume. Not only is this painful, it can create some new problems. For one thing, what exactly have you been doing for the past three years? For another, if you have most legal internship experience, your work history may tip off an employer that something is askew.

The best way around this is probably to list your education and experience as "relevant" education and experience. This will allow for some gaps on your resume (though three years is still a stretch) because only relevant information is being provided and prevent you from getting busted for concealing something from potential employers.

This can still be problematic if you don't have much work history or many skills that aren't law related. After all, you can't expect to be taken too seriously if all you have on your resume is an undergraduate degree, some college activities (being secretary of the College Republicans or Feminist Majority in 2002 isn't going to impress anybody), and working summers at the GAP. Fortunately, I don't have this problem, but readers if you have a work around for this, let us know in the comments.

If you're have trouble getting anyone to respond to your resumes for jobs for which you're qualified, you may want to try removing the J.D. You'll probably have to eventually come clean in an interview, but at least you've gotten your foot in the door, and you can make your case to the interviewer in person.

Look for my next post in which I'll discuss how I have approached (and plan to approach) this issue.

Readers, if you've successfully bailed out on the law industry, let us know what worked for you in the comment section. If you have a particularly lengthy (but successful) strategy, e-mail me at esqnever (at), and I'll be happy to post it on the blog.

1 comment:

  1. In terms of getting around your experience, the best is to just re-characterize it. In your case, you can just say you did internships, or that you worked as an assistant, at these organizations. For example, I worked for in house counsel at a company, and just convey that as an internship. Leaven things up by saying you temped at various offices or travelled around the world.


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