JDs Don't Have to Practice to be Happy

Published: Jun 30, 2010

 JD Alternative       Law       

For law students and recent grads who are understandably anxious about the legal job market, a couple of articles this week offer hope of a kind—assuming that you're prepared to give up your dreams of BigLaw and BigMoney, at least temporarily.

Despite challenging times for lawyers …

Vault Senior Education Editor Carolyn Wise highlights the bleak employment prospects for the class of 2010, based on recent NALP statistics. An Altman Weil study released last week, "2010 Law Firms in Transition," offers more dire news for the law firm-bound lawyer. The main impact of the Great Recession, the report concludes, will be a client-driven "focus on efficiency and productivity." Since law firms have little intention of reducing their partners' profits, this cost-cutting will likely mean that (a) firms will hire fewer entry-level associates, while (b) contract lawyers will become more popular, and (c) it will become more difficult for experienced associates to make partner.

… the law still provides a veritable "stew of opportunity"

Writing at the New York Law Journal, Katherine Frink-Hamlett, of Frink-Hamlett Legal Solutions Inc., outlines three alternative careers for JDs: procurement (a contract-related position that helps businesses acquire goods and services), compliance (ensuring that businesses comply with relevant state and federal regulations) and law firm administration (e.g., recruitment, development, marketing). Moreover, says Frink-Hamlett, working in procurement or compliance won't preclude a shift back into traditional law practice, though making the move from an administrative role would be more difficult.

Meanwhile, lawyer and positive psychology expert Dan Bowling suggests in an ABA Journal piece that, even if you're disappointed about the limited options at large law firms these days, you might be better off elsewhere anyway: "Indeed, Bowling says, a lot of evidence suggests that the least happy lawyers are associates in big law firms making a lot of money, although there's no ‘gold standard' study of the issue." Ultimately, happiness depends more on making career choices that suit your personality and tap into your character strengths than on landing at the most prestigious or high-paying firm. And, despite a colleague's conclusion that "pessimism correlates with success in law school," Bowling counsels students to remain optimistic: "Realize that law is a wonderful profession; it's a vibrant stew of opportunity."

- posted by vera