10 jobs you can do with a law degree
The non-legal career options for law graduates and established lawyers are increasing. Here are 10 possibilities in case you want to make the move.
By Kate Allman, LSJ journalist
Australian law schools have copped a lot of bad press recently. Media reports say they are churning out far more graduates than there are graduate legal positions and charging students through the nose for a “generalist degree” that may not lead to their employment as a lawyer.
However, contrary to these bleak reports, data suggests that a law degree places you in good stead to secure employment in a variety of career fields. According to Graduate Careers Australia, 74 per cent of Australian law school graduates obtain full-time employment within four months of graduation. This is higher than the national average for graduate employment which is 69 per cent.
Established lawyers looking to move into jobs outside the law also have many doors open to them, according to Laura Talintyre, a director in legal recruitment firm Cicero.
“I know lots of lawyers who have moved into very successful careers outside the law,” says Talintyre. “Many of them end up in the Big Four accounting firms or in management consulting. They work in diverse fields and are generally paid very well.”
A law degree teaches you to think critically, solve problems, research, communicate, work in teams and distil large, complex rafts of information into succinct (well, most of the time) writing. While these skills are important in almost any job, here are 10 careers that value law graduates highly.
Talintyre says the “Big Four” accounting firms in Australia (PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, Ernst & Young and Deloitte) are increasingly trying to poach top-tier lawyers for their own growing legal services arms. In 2016 the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) legal arm grew to 18 partners and is apparently chasing a target of 25 partners and 100 lawyers by the end of the 2016/2017 financial year. Moving to an accounting firm has the added bonus of expanding your skill set, as most firms will require (and pay for) you to obtain the Chartered Accountants qualification.
Many lawyers make excellent journalists because of their attention to detail, natural scepticism, writing skills, and knowledge of Australia’s complex political and legal system. Waleed Aly, Andrew O’Keefe, Liz Jackson and Annabel Crabb are a few Australian examples of well-known journalists with law degrees.
Many lawyers drift into legal recruitment because of their knowledge of the legal industry and contacts. Talintyre says it’s almost impossible to work in legal recruiting without a law degree. “You need to know what you’re talking about, in order to be relevant and recognise what the candidate or firm wants,” she says. “I’ve heard of recruiters trying to place banking and finance lawyers into construction law firms. It can be awkward and frustrating for the candidate.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and independent Senator Nick Xenophon are among the many Australian politicians with law degrees. Skills learned in law school such as argumentation, advocacy and an understanding of Australia’s political system are very useful in Parliament.
5. Management consulting
Top-tier management consulting firms like Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey & Company and Bain & Company often encourage law graduates to apply to them because a law degree teaches you valuable critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Experienced lawyers are also hired for their experience in communicating with wealthy, professional clients.
6. Judge's associate
While not entirely outside the law, judge’s associate positions are well paid and allow you to hone your legal research skills in a different capacity to that of a lawyer. If you don’t mind reading cases or researching (a lot), the salary is often high compared to that for graduates in law firms.
7. Human resources
A move into human resources (HR) makes sense for many lawyers as it requires an ability to apply employment laws and mitigate risks relating to the employees’ health and safety.
8. Wealth management / investment banking
Legal knowledge comes in handy for wealth managers seeking to circumvent banking laws and loopholes to the advantage of their investors. Lawyers who have worked in large firms also tend to “get” banking and finance – they understand how the corporate world works and know how to manage and bill time effectively.
It used to be that law graduates would need to spend three years in the police force to become a police prosecutor, but since 2008 graduates in NSW have been able to apply for an Accelerated Prosecutors Recruitment Program.
Law graduates are taught to argue and influence decisions, so if you feel strongly about a cause, why not use those skills in public interest advocacy? The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) in Sydney lists positions online and is good place for graduates to start.