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Alternate Paths for the Indecisive Prospective Law Student

Making choices is hard. I have spent hours of my life perseverating about whether to get egg whites or veggie patties on my Subway sandwich. I have paced the aisles at Ross (Dress for Less!) trying to decide if a pair of socks was really me. I inch my way through life, no decision too insignificant to merit massive amounts of analysis and second-guessing.

When it comes to picking a career, you can imagine how stressed out I get. I feel like phoning a friend when I have to decide whether to upgrade to a combo meal. A career choice potentially involves hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt and decades of my waking life.

This is one of the reasons that, in my indecisive mental wanderings, I often return to law school as a possible next step. People always say that you can do anything with a law degree. Not all JDs become lawyers. And having a law degree on your resume, apparently, can help you get entry into any number of professions. This sounds great to me. Having choices means you’re not stuck, means you can change, means freedom. I like that a lot.

But what are these alternate pursuits that people keep alluding to? Are they viable? Of course, I can’t offer any authoritative conclusions here, but here’s what I’ve found in the course of my own research:

1) Government and Policy
If you’re interested in working in or with the government, having a law degree will be an undeniable asset. There are plenty of examples of lawyers-turned-politicians, but JDs also fill out the ranks of government administrators, policy analysts, public advocates, and lobbyists. Some practice law before transitioning to government work, while others never practice law at all.

2) Non-Profit Management
Non-profits have to navigate a myriad of legal issues: from contracts to regulatory compliance to international law and human rights. A JD can help those working in the non-profit sector to effectively fulfill their missions and advance quickly in their careers.

3) Journalism
It makes sense that lawyers make good journalists. The law underpins so many of our social structures; firsthand legal experience helps journalists to understand the dynamics they cover. Also, many of the skills that you learn in law school – synthesizing complex ideas, writing quickly and clearly – apply equally well to journalism.

4) Courtroom fiction
John Grisham has to retire someday.

5) Social Work
As a social worker, your job is to help clients navigate the complex challenges they’re facing. It’s about connecting them to the right resources, championing their interests, and sometimes, advocating on their behalf. There’s a ton of overlap between the social work and the law, and many schools offer great joint programs.

6) Being a big hotshot who thinks that she’s better than us just because she got a fancy degree
Getting a JD is one of the best paths you can take if you want to be a fancy big city woman who’s apparently too good for this town now that she has some goddamn letters after her name. Even if you don’t go on to practice law, if your goal is to show that you’re too good for us simple folk who raised you and you want to go through life looking down your nose at where you came from, you should definitely consider law school.

These are just a few possibilities. It’s worth noting that there are some skeptics when it comes to non-legal career paths. But there’s no denying that a law degree, at least in theory, leaves you open to many professional options, which is not even to mention the diverse opportunities within the legal field.

So if you’re like me and aren’t sure exactly what you want to end up doing, a law degree might be a good fit. Eventually we’ll still have to make commitments. But I guess that’s part of adulthood. Per the late, wise David Foster Wallace:


“I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable — if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.”

-A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again