Making Your Own Way: Exploring Nontraditional Career Options with Your J.D.

Do you ever find yourself wondering what other options are out there for someone with a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree beyond working as an attorney for a law firm, business, government organization, or as a judicial clerk? You are not alone! While law schools often focus on preparing you to work in these types of jobs, there are also nontraditional opportunities that you could pursue. Some of these may require a little more work on your part to find, but taking the road less traveled does not have to be scary and is not necessarily impractical. Making your own way is possible by utilizing the resources and support you already have around you.

Post Graduate Legal Fellowships

Most people associate fellowships with the typical masters or doctoral program, but there are a number of paid fellowships for postgraduate law students looking to break into a special interest area of law. The advantage of legal fellowships is that they typically allow you to work in an area of your choosing. They are normally sponsored by a law firm and are setup to last for one to two years. Many of them are in in the public interest area, but if you have a specific interest you should begin researching sponsoring firms or organizations that align with that interest and create a list of potential opportunities. You can also check with your college or university’s office of graduate fellowships office for additional help with your search.

Nonprofit Organizations

Whether a legal nonprofit organization like Earthjustice, a legal aid organization or a service-oriented nonprofit organization like the United Way or American Red Cross, the nonprofit route provides many options in both the legal and non-legal areas. Legal nonprofit organizations provide opportunities to work directly with clients and/or on a variety of legal issues. Service-oriented nonprofit organizations offer an even wider variety of jobs from general counsel to outreach and public relations. Opportunities can include anything from managing an organization to working in a specific area such finance/accounting, human resources, research, or event coordination. Job listings for these types of opportunities can often be found on-line, on both general, and specialized job sites or on an individual organization’s Web site. This type of work can be very rewarding, especially if you have a passion for the individuals or causes.

Fundraising and Development

Often it slips the minds of students that there is an entire field of fundraising and development work that can benefit greatly from a legal perspective. This includes nonprofit organizations as well as colleges, universities, booster organizations, religious organizations, foundations, and philanthropies. Available work includes nontraditional opportunities for contract review, fundraising, sponsorship development, research, policy analysis, risk, fiscal responsibility, real estate and constituent services. These opportunities offer great flexibility in exercising legal knowledge and judgement and provide a chance to work in different cross-sectional areas. As with other nonprofit jobs, job listings can be found on job sites and organization Web sites.

No matter what you decide to do with your law degree, you will find that law permeates any area you might choose. So branch out, combine your search with your own interests, and look into areas you may have not considered. Also, do not forget to network, talk to people in positions that interest you, and take advantage of the resources to which you currently have access. Moreover, have fun and follow your passions!

Student Ambassadors for College of Law Lauryn Collier, Class of 2017

 

Foundational Law Courses AFTER Your 1L Year

The courses taken during the first year of law school are intended to introduce students to a wide range of legal concepts in order to prepare them for more specialized courses in their second and third years. If a law student assumes that their 1L courses are all that they need before they begin to focus on their intended practice area, they are in for a rude awakening. To really have a good legal foundation, students should consider taking some other foundational law courses that may benefit them, even though they are not required to take them.

Let me start by pointing out that few law students know for certain when they enter law school the area of law they will be practicing after they pass the Bar Exam. This is a good thing because this allows students an opportunity to explore various areas of law with an open mind. The down side is that students only have two more years to select the courses they think will best prepare them to become legal practitioners. My strategy was to consider a well-rounded set of course options and professors who I thought would best prepare me for a variety of legal positions and make me a more competitive candidate for future employment. I was not able to take every course that I wanted to take, but I believe that the following options would greatly benefit anyone as they prepare for their legal careers.

  • Administrative Law – It surprises me that Administrative Law is not a required course at Florida State. There are countless opportunities for an attorney to practice administrative law. The demand for individuals with this type of legal expertise is growing every day. For me, Administrative Law also filled in a lot of gaps and helped me better understand how the law works. Administrative regulations are everywhere, and nearly everyone who practices law will come in contact with an administrative proceeding at some point in their career. At Florida State, students have the opportunity to learn from Professor Mark B. Seidenfeld, who is regarded as one of the top administrative law authorities in the United States.
  • Evidence – Evidence is necessary for a basic understanding of court procedures. I do not need to belabor the point for this course, but if you do not take Evidence, you will wish that you had. Florida State Law has some great professor who teach Evidence, but Professor Charles W. Ehrhardt, author of Florida Evidence is the foremost expert in the State of Florida, and almost all attorneys in Florida who deal with evidence have a copy of one or more editions of his book.
  • Criminal Procedure – All first-year law students at Florida State take Criminal Law during their second semester and gain a basic understanding of criminal statutes and how they work. Criminal Procedure more precisely analyzes criminal law within a constitutional framework and Professor Wayne A. Logan was one of the most outstanding professors I had while I was in law school. Criminal Procedure is obviously a must for students interested in practicing criminal law, but I found it to be incredibly beneficial for me in my everyday life. So, if you want to know what your rights are anytime you are approached by a police officer, I recommend taking Criminal Procedure.

There are several other courses that I could recommend, such as election law, family law, and employment law, but my recommendations would fill up many more pages. Whatever your plan is for law school, do not focus on just the courses in your interest area. Instead, think about how each course you take will benefit you, both while in law school and in your future legal career.

Student Ambassadors for College of Law Alex Sarsfield, Class of 2017