What Can You Do with a Law Degree?

A Juris Doctor or J.D. is a foundational law degree for aspiring attorneys. In most U.S. states, without it, it is impossible to sit for the bar exam and become licensed to practice law. Whether you choose to put your education to use within a government agency or at a boutique law firm, a J.D. program—often lasting three years—prepares you for a broad array of legal careers through courses on civil procedure, constitutional law, criminal law and more.

A J.D. might also be useful outside of typical legal settings like the courtroom. In those cases, J.D. holders need to know how to leverage their education within a specific industry. Alternatively, those who wish to specialize in a particular area of law can earn a Master of Laws (LL.M.) after completing a J.D. program. By contrast, Master of Laws (LL.M.) programs generally take a year to complete.

Learn more about traditional law jobs and non-lawyer jobs with a law degree in the following paragraphs. 

J.D. Preferred Career Options 

Earning a J.D. isn’t only for the practicing lawyer. With a J.D. degree, there are a number of preferred jobs that offer career advancement opportunities and above average salaries. J.D. advantage jobs can be found throughout the business sector, government, and the public interest arena.

What is a J.D. Preferred Job? 

A J.D.-preferred job or J.D.-advantage job is a type of job for which a passing score on the bar exam isn’t required.

So, employers will usually consider an individual who has a J.D. but hasn’t passed the bar exam. A candidate’s knowledge of the law, acquired through a J.D. program, and/or experience in a law-related capacity are what is deemed useful within the available role. 

Here are some J.D. preferred careers to consider: 

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

Certified personal accountants (CPAs) are responsible for preparing and examining financial records. A CPA makes sure that all personal and business financial records are accurate, and taxes are paid correctly and on time. A CPA must also understand and assess financial operations to make strategic recommendations to clients. This helps businesses and individuals identify ways to increase revenue, reduce costs, or improve profit margins. 

CPAs can work as sole proprietors or within large financial institutions. Regardless of practice setting, a background in law can be beneficial. A CPA with a legal degree can leverage their knowledge of state laws and regulations when completing their daily tasks. Half of all accountants in the U.S. earned an annual salary of more than $71,550 in 2019, according to the BLS.

Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

A CFO works to maintain the financial well-being of a company and provides financial projections and accounting services. This position can be found in both the public and private sectors. CFOs have likely gained financial and business skills through their past education and experience and fine-tuned them in their J.D. or J.D.-MBA program.

CFOs may tend to the various accounting and finance departments while ensuring the company is in good financial standing. In many large companies, the CFO works directly with the CEO and other executives. For smaller companies, the CFO may also be responsible for heading many administrative functions such as legal and human relations. Although the BLS doesn’t provide information on salaries for CFOs exclusively, we’ve collected the median annual salary for financial managers in 2019 at $129,890

Human Resource Managers

HR managers work within a company to manage employee relations, policies, internal programs and best practices. An effective HR employee must be a strong communicator and good at relationship building. That person will also be detail-oriented and organized. Having a background in law can help an HR professional as they often employ, enforce, and communicate a company’s legal compliance directives. 

The BLS reports that the median annual wage for HR managers in 2019 was $116,720, and the job outlook for this type of position is growing at a rate of 7 percent. That’s two percent more than the average growth rate for all occupations from 2018 to 2028.

Insurance Adjuster

Claims departments of insurance companies are just one of the many professional settings where you might find an insurance adjuster. The person in that role investigates insurance claims and determines if the insurance company should pay a claim and for how much. To do this, they may conduct interviews with witnesses, consult hospital records or police or inspect property damage to determine liability. 

Other adjusters can also represent policyholders and aid in the preparation of an insurance claim. As of 2019, the median annual pay for claims adjusters, appraisers, examiners and investigators is $66,790. The highest 10 percent of adjusters earn more than $100,400, according to the BLS.

Negotiation and Conflict Resolution (Mediator)

A mediator guides conflicting parties through negotiation with the goal of settling on a mutually agreed upon solution. Some mediators work within the court system, while others can find positions within the private sector and carry out negotiations without ever having to stand before a judge. Insurance and finance industries are examples of where a mediator can work. 

Unlike arbitrators, mediators cannot make any binding decisions. They focus on reaching an outcome amicably. Pay for mediators varies by industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), annual salary for arbitrators, mediators and conciliators in 2019 ranged from less than $37,420 to more than $123,730.

Tax Attorney 

Tax attorneys can fill a multitude of roles. They represent individuals and use trusts, gifts, and various tax planning structures to reduce the burdens of income taxes and estate taxes. They can also represent clients if problems arise with business ownership and lawsuits involving the IRS. On top of that, tax attorneys may be responsible for helping small and large businesses set up new enterprises and understanding taxation laws. According to 2019 BLS data, the median pay for lawyers is $122,960.

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Law Degree Jobs without Passing the Bar Exam 

To qualify as a J.D. holder, you must complete three years of law school. Once you have completed this step, you will be able to sit for the bar exam to become a traditional practicing lawyer. However, some students forgo taking the bar and are able to find jobs for lawyers and legal experts who don’t want to practice law. 

From financial advisors to law professors, there are numerous positions available for individuals with law degrees that do not require passing the bar exam. However, J.D. holders may opt to further their education and earn a Master of Laws (L.LM.), which will help them specialize and advance in the career of their choice. 

Here are some positions to consider if you want to work in the legal field, but don’t intend to take the bar exam:

Business Development Professionals

In this role, the main goal is to build a company’s market position and increase its exposure. This is done by identifying, defining, developing and managing business deals and relationships as well as managing contract negotiations and working closely with a company’s legal counsel. 

Business development professionals work hard to align strategy with their company’s long-term goals and objectives. This position involves creating opportunities for new business ventures and it can also tap into much of the J.D. toolbox. Employer, industry and location all play a part in how much a business development professional earns.

Compliance Careers

Legal degree candidates can focus their career on compliance. which focuses on ensuring entities comply with laws and federal regulations. A compliance analyst performs a company’s internal audit and assesses any risks associated with it. This analyst also keeps all the records of the company and monitors any legal work. The 2018 median salary for compliance officers was $68,860.

Financial Advisor

A financial advisor’s ultimate goal is to help clients to reach and secure financial peace. They do this by directing people to set goals and develop a financial plan to manage retirement funds, school savings, estate planning, or even large purchase buying. Financial advisors can work within large firms or be sole proprietors.  

In 2019, the median annual pay for the highest 10 percent of financial advisors was more than $208,000, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $42,950. That’s around $3,000 more than the median annual earnings for all occupations, according to the BLS. 

Law Professor 

If you have a strong academic background, have gained expertise in a specific legal field through your L.L.M. education, enjoy writing legal articles and teaching comes natural to you, then you may want to consider a career as a law professor. Law professors are needed at colleges and professional schools. According to the BLS, professors who teach law classes and are also engaged in research, earned a median annual salary of $113,530 in 2018

Legal Writer

Legal writing is a form of technical writing that is utilized by many of the professionals within the law landscape. An effective legal writer is apt at communicating facts, conclusions, intentions, and can correlate cases or documents in an easy to understand way. Legal writers are needed in the courtroom, and for textbook writing. 

Legal writers can also find positions creating legal-related articles for publications, legal web content as copywriters, or even as corporate writers writing press releases and presentations for law offices. On average, technical writers make around $72,850 a year, according to 2019 BLS data. 

Patent Examiner

You don’t need to be a practicing lawyer to work within the U.S. patent or trademark office. A bachelor’s is the minimum educational requirement. This profession also calls for discipline, focus, and above all, reasoning. A patent examiner reviews legal documents, files paperwork, writes legal office actions and researches invention information. Pay for patent examiners varies widely.

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Alternative Careers for Lawyers

There are a variety of alternative careers for lawyers. Transitioning from one career to the next and using your law degree is one way to redirect your professional trajectory, use current skills in a new industry, and refresh or challenge your perspective. Second careers for lawyers may start off by earning a masters of legal studies (MLS) degree in a particular specialization before committing to a job in that area. 

Learn about some alternative careers for lawyers and law school graduates below: 

Journalist

Some of the same qualities required to be a stellar lawyer in the courtroom are also needed for journalism. Analytical, research, and people skills are crucial for a journalist. During your J.D. studies, you’ll learn how to weave together logical conclusions or assumptions from limited information. When you become a journalist, this lesson will come in handy. 

Reporters and correspondents held about 42,800 jobs in 2018, according to the BLS. Many of them work in the private sector, for newspapers, broadcasting companies and publishing houses. The 2018 BLS data on reporters, correspondents and broadcast analysts reports an earned median annual pay of $41,260. While the BLS expects jobs for this group of professionals to decline by 10 percent from 2018 to 2028, it is important to note that the industry is evolving and expertise or experience in areas like digital storytelling, website design and coding could make you more marketable. 

Legal Consultant 

A legal consultant is similar to a management analyst, in that they propose ways to improve an organization’s efficiency. Legal consultants also provide expert and professional legal advice to businesses or individuals.

Depending on the consulting focus, a legal consultant can advise on a number of important matters such as corporate law, real estate law, employment law and medical law. A legal consultant can work on their own or belong to a consulting services firm. In 2019, half of all management analysts earned more than $85,260. Pay for this position could be higher or lower depending on the type of consulting offered and employer. 

Legal Marketing Manager

Law firms are often looking for sophisticated marketers who can take their marketing and business development initiatives to the next level. A legal marketer will work on tasks such as public relations, advertising, client relations, networking, or attending professional organizations to increase exposure. 

A J.D. may provide an understanding of the client’s market and that can be a differentiator when competing for marketing jobs within the legal field. On average, advertising, promotions and marketing managers earned $135,900 in 2019, according to the BLS.

Legal Technologist

Companies rely on law firms and in-house counsel to help them boost their competitiveness. Many legal technology positions require a J.D. holder who understands the current digital legal landscape, can provide legal services and has the ability to establish credibility during product pitches to potential customers. 

Earning potential for legal technologists can change from industry to industry, employer to employer and city to city. 

Politician

J.D. holders can enter the world of politics. A legal education can help a politician understand and navigate the nuances of the legal system and deepen their understanding of past and current laws. The analytic and deductive skills learned in law school easily translate over to politics as problem-solving, critical thinking and reasoning. The median annual wage for those entering the political office varies depending on the state, position, and tenure.  

What are the non-legal jobs with a law degree?

There is a lot that you can do with a law degree besides being a lawyer. Careers in consulting, marketing, or journalism are just a few professional tracks to consider. A non-legal career is a great option for J.D. graduates who want to leverage the skills they earned during their law school years. With legal careers in both the public and private sectors, having a law degree may help you land a non-legal position of your choosing. 

There are various careers you may pursue with a law degree, whether you become a lawyer or otherwise. When considering the career options a law degree can afford you, note that job outlook, legal industry trends and global events matter just as much as professional goals. In other words, increased use of technology, an economic crisis, a pandemic or even a terrorist attack may impact legislation, practice and even demand for lawyers. 

Learn more about Online and Hybrid J.D. Programs in the U.S.