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You probably have heard the old adage, “You can do anything with a law degree.” While that is technically true, what matters most to law students considering a career outside of practicing law is whether a J.D. actually will provide a leg up in a job hunt. In fact, there are a variety of career paths called “J.D. Advantage careers” for which a law degree gives a job applicant a boost. J.D. Advantage careers are best defined as jobs for which legal training is not strictly required, but the J.D. does make you a more competitive candidate and enhance your ability to perform the role at a high level. These roles do not require bar licensure, though licensure and/or LLMs may be a plus to employers.

 

So far this summer the Career Development Office has met with 19 Richmond Law alumni who shared how they found success in different J.D. Advantage career areas, including legal operations, data analytics, grant writing, financial services, government affairs, public policy, risk management, cyber security and data privacy, compliance, cannabis law, and nonprofit management. Here are the top three pieces of advice they shared for embarking on a J.D. Advantage career:

 

  1. It is okay if you do not know exactly what you want to do with your law degree… for at least a little while. Setting career goals can feel overwhelming, but take a deep breath, talk to your career advisor to make a game plan, and know that you do not have to figure out everything all at once.

 

In your first year of law school, start researching and networking right away to understand the types of careers out there, and search for summer roles that will help you develop a broad set of transferable skills. In other words, as a 1L you do not need to set a goal to achieve a specific job title or even a specific type of role within an industry. Finding success in J.D. Advantage careers instead begins with understanding yourself and getting to know the array of jobs out there that combine your interests and strengths. For example, several alumni we spoke with suggested researching job postings within potential career areas of interest to see what lights a spark for you or makes you think, “I’d love that and I’d be good at that.” You might be surprised at finding jobs out there that you didn’t even know existed.

 

2Ls should continue networking, start to narrow possible career paths, understand the best geographical areas for the career areas you are exploring, and search for summer roles where you can build practical skills. As one alum said about the importance of internships, “having a J.D. and legal knowledge is not enough; employers need to know you can do the actual work.” By your 3L year you should have a handle on what you are passionate about and your talents. Begin applying for positions that combine your strengths with what you love to do.

 

  1. Stay open-minded and flexible because all kinds of career stepping stones can lead to professional success and personal fulfillment. Also, get comfortable with the idea that often there is not a straight line to achieving the career of your dreams. Many of the alumni we spoke with said they never set out to achieve the specific job they are happily in now. Instead, they let their strengths and passions guide them to a variety of different positions or projects that culminated in their current role. They trusted that if they said yes to different kinds of opportunities, they would better learn how their interests and talents combine, and gain clarity about what is the best next career move. Plus, adding value wherever you can in your workplace demonstrates drive and initiative, qualities that can help you successfully climb a career ladder. While it may feel scary to not always know at the outset where each career step will lead, saying yes to a variety of opportunities can help you build a broad skillset that ensures you remain marketable, and helps you to build a large, supportive network.

 

  1. Do not think of J.D. Advantage jobs as second-best employment. Students sometimes feel anxious about what others will think if they do not want to practice law. One alum shared the mindset she uses to quell that anxiety: she routinely asks herself as she navigates her career path, “Who do I want to be?” instead of “What do I want to be?” That kind of thinking means she consistently stays true to what makes her happy professionally and personally, rather than chasing the perceived prestige of a particular job title only to find out she feels unfulfilled in that role. Another alum shared that she wished she could tell her younger self, “have the courage to do what makes you happy, do not get caught up in people pleasing.” Her message is similar to the first: don’t pursue a career path just to make someone else happy or fit with someone else’s narrow idea of the best way to use your J.D.; think instead about what is the right fit for you. The bottom line is that as a law student you are acquiring a wide-range of skills that will set you up for success, and there is no such thing as “second-best” if you are in a job that provides sufficient remuneration, personal satisfaction, and professional fulfillment.
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