Professor Paul Horwitz on PrawfsBlog posts a few promising ideas for improving law schools. His suggestion for a “course on career paths” interests me most after having had recent conversations with friends in law school who do not wish to pursue law as a career. Let’s read Horwitz first and schmooze later:
“1) A course on career paths, something Cassidy reports is frequently offered in MBA programs. This would serve two purposes, at least. The first is the one Cassidy suggests: to prepare students for increases in job mobility over the course of professional careers. The second would be more immediate: I often hear from students who are interested in pursuing particular professional paths but feel their school gives them too little information, and too late, about what to take, and/or that the course schedule is organized in a way that makes it difficult to pursue a targeted curriculum. I think students can and should change their minds about what they will do as lawyers even during law school, let alone having to deal with some mobility after law school, so too much microtargeting too early can be problematic. But we should at least make their choices and options clearer, and make sure that the course calendar makes those options real, not just hypothetical.”
First, I think we have to face some facts. There are more than just a few of us at law school who do not plan to pursue law as a career. GASP. Calm down. That’s not necessarily the end of the world. Also, there are more than just a few of us that entered law school wanting to practice who then realized it wasn’t the right fit. Again, not the end of the world, though wouldn’t it be interesting to find out why this happens and whether there’s some connection to the way legal education is set up today? Generally, most of us are facing a massive obstacle course in figuring out what the heck we want to do with our lives. That’s what life is about, and professional schools are one way to help us get there.
One common complaint I’ve heard from us “don’t-wanna-practice-law” law students is, well, no one has a clue what to do with us at school. I go to talk to a professor or career counselor and say, “Hey, I want to drop out and transfer to another program” or “Hey, I don’t want to practice law, what are my options?” and well, they convinced me to stay and did not have much in the way of telling me how to find the non-law job. I don’t really think they can be expected to respond otherwise, as their description is as a “law school career counselor” with expertise in finding “law jobs”. As for professors, they likely have more connections in the law world and are pretty disconnected from the non legal working world (and probably are ill-equipped at advising a student on how to get the foot in the door outside the law bubble).
So, I’m thinking a “course on career paths” needs to start including at least a week or two on “non-law” career paths within the syllabus. I mean, how many times have you heard “Your law degree opens up doors to anything, not just law jobs” (and this requires an entirely different posts, as this statement itself is filled with holes). Regardless, whether it is true or not, main thing is, we have to accept that a whole lotta JDs don’t end up practicing law, and law schools have yet to figure out how to best serve this population of their schools.
I think that we could use some established and structured guidance at our schools in the form of official guidance counselors, official “non-law path” career counselors, actual counseling for law career development (not just the first job out), and courses on career paths. We also could use some mentorship at our schools on how to frame our arguments to future employers on “why not law when a law student” as this likely will be a question:
“Why spend 3 years at law school to decide not to practice” with a follow up of “and, how can we be assured that you won’t return to the practice of law?” Further, can’t we have an alumni network of JDs who ended up not practicing law who are willing to give us their advice on how to pursue the non-legal path after getting the JD? Same goes for those looking for the law jobs. Students need to tap into alumni, and we need a way for alumni to tap into us.
If you do want to practice law, there are a ton of different types of law jobs out there. It’s a giant cornucopia (though an incredibly exclusive one these days). But, how to figure out where to go? So far, not much in the way of guidance at school. Also, considering that our generation is likely to switch jobs more often than we upgrade our iphones, maybe it’s time we get guidance on how to navigate a future where we will be facing constant transition, uncertainty, and change.
If you do not want to practice law, wouldn’t it be helpful to have a resource at school that can help you pursue your dreams outside of the legal field while teaching you to use your JD as a selling point in your pursuit? We need some spin doctors. Spin spin spin!
And, as a side note, while networking is great and all, what I’m trying to emphasize here is not another “here’s how to network” conference but some programs that encourage students and help them take an introspective look. The what do I want to do? (You know, that step that comes before the how do you do it). The what do you want out of life? The what do you want out of your career? And, then, we can ask whether it is law related, and if so (or If not), the how to do you get there?
Law Schools out there: Do you have any resources of this kind for us, and if not, could you please find a way to get them to us? I’m not asking for coddling or hand holding. I’m asking for just a little bit of an MBA type of acknowledgment that the world is vast, our careers are uncertain, and we all have different dreams.