Here are the responses we received from last Saturday's post asking our readers why they wouldn't consider an applicant with a JD for a job with their company. Thank you for the responses as well as others who gave us some insight into your own job search. Thoughts? I'd like to write about my thoughts in a later post but would like to hear from all of you first.
In my department I hire "Contract Analysts". These are non-lawyers who negotiate and draft contracts and budgets. The pay scale for these positions is $40,000 to $60,000. I am scared off by lawyers because I don't think anyone would want or could afford to accept this salary-- don't lawyers expect to earn $100K? The work is also very repetitive and clerical in nature. It doesn't have any room to grow. Cut and paste, all day. The Contract Analysts work with our outside counsel who "rubber stamps" their work, but truth be told, an experienced Contract Analyst is way more knowledgeable than an outside attorney who is less familiar with our business model and needs. I also had a very bad experience with a law intern from a TTT school. It took us months to train him. There was such a disconnect between the reality of our business needs in contracting and his "theoretical" approach to law. Compared to the hard-boiled Accounts Receivable clerks that we've trained to become Contract Analysts, he was a sissy. He might have been adept at discussing Legal Realism and the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, but he lacked the Glengarry Glen Ross killer business instincts.
When I was in law school 10 years ago, the career services department started to push non-legal careers with a JD. They did this of course, because they knew that most of their graduates, especially the ones in the lower half of their class would have difficulties getting a job. Today, the law school I attended has doubled their tuition from the time I graduated, is now 4th tier status and has a current enrollment of 1,000 students. Like Mikka in the above post, I too have worked in non-legal positions in which I did not even disclose my JD on my resume because it would have immediately overqualified me so I only disclosed my B.A. I am now currently looking for work and have a resume listing my JD and another resume only listing my B.A. I use the JD resume only when I need to.
Archangel said... I have worked a few non-legal jobs in the past.
I've never been an employer, but I have the feeling that it is a real concern from the employer side whether the employee will leave when the economy picks up. You see a lot of comments by lawyers about how they'd love to just have a job, any job. But they don't really go and say something preposterous like "I'd like a job, and even if I had a shot at something better in the future, I will stick with your company because I am a loyal person." Either that would sound disingenuous or just maybe the employer will think this person means it at the time, but will change their minds. The truth is, nobody can promise they won't leave their jobs for a better one if a better one came along. While you can argue that a better one will never come along (the economy will never get better or even if the economy gets better, attorney hiring will not grow fast enough), the employer cannot take that chance.
That being said, I don't think a J.D. is necessarily more of a black mark for "over-qualified" than any other graduate degree. Someone with a M.S. in computer science can't exactly shift gears and be viewed as a great catch for a job at something unrelated to computers. The employer will probably thing the M.S. would leave as soon as he got a computer-related opportunity.
As for me, lord only knows why my non-legal employers didn't have any fear about me leaving. Most likely, they knew I was going to and they just expected the churn, as I am no longer with them anyway. One thing that seemed to be a positive was that they viewed me as reliable and smart. So once again, I don't think the J.D. does this any more than say a Master's in Computer Science or whatever. But they seemed to have viewed a Bachelor's as pretty much garbage. Many people do nowadays; it is equated as the high school diploma of decades past. So a grad degree raises you in that sense.
Also, while attorneys themselves may view the profession as not that strenuous, there is no doubt that outsiders still view it as very professional and high status. I've had bosses who were doctors (the medical kind) and also PhDs and they seemed to feel that I was up to snuff when assigning me various tasks because they thought I would be smart enough to figure things out. (I worked with drug trials for a while).
One of my PhD bosses even joked around about how smart I was and that I learned very fast. I told her that she was the smart one and the reason why I learned fast was that she was a good teacher. She said straight to me that if she were smart, she would've been a lawyer. LOL. So yea, there is still that image that lawyers are smart. Once again, it might hurt in that someone might see you as "overqualified." But I think it could help too.
Long post over.
I am an unemployed loser now, but many moons ago I was a middle-manager in the financial industry with a voice on hiring decisions. I would actually prioritize resumes with weird degrees and different life experiences, on the belief that smart, hardworking people from any background could learn our business, so why not have interesting people around? But unfortunately I think I was in the minority.
Film Co. Lawyer said...
Well, as someone who was VERY lucky to become an entrepreneur & will be in the position to hire people for jobs maybe I can give some guidance. I work in one of the hardest fields to break into; it makes getting a job in BigLaw looking like a cakewalk.
The simplest reason I would be hesitant about taking a JD is lack of true interest in entertainment. I did acting & singing w/enough natural ability at both that I would have pursued both of these professionally if I hadn't gone to law school; in fact, I have opportunities to do that today since I'm not consigned to just being "the lawyer." We don't want people working w/us who lack creativity and the passion it takes to have a successful film/TV show/performance.
Another issue is too many lawyers. Unless you're creating an in-house legal department, a small company needs one person w/legal knowledge (bonus points if that person is a lawyer). In the companies I'm at, I'M the legal person handling day to day stuff; I've acquired trust & loyalty. Quite frankly, you're not going to trump a lawyer who's worked w/someone for years or proven they are passionate about the business + will be there in good times & bad. In short I'm top dog & if you want to be a top dog someplace, you're going to have to prove you deserve it. Set aside your pride, don't give attitude & make yourself as irreplaceable as possible. Cut into someplace where a lawyer's already present & watch your career tank before it begins.
The last big problem w/transitioning to my area w/a JD is personality. Lawyers have a personality type that generally doesn't appeal to creative people; basically, they're too abrasive, uptight & out of touch. If you can hang out and blend into an industry event, you're going to go farther in working w/creative people.
Those being said, if I got an intern candidate who had a JD I might give an interview just to find out why they want to work in my company. Having a JD landed me an Exec Assistant position w/my company that eventually led to my becoming a partner. Being a lawyer + good timing also got me into a new TV company where my knowledge is valued & people listen to me. I think you're an idiot if you'd stick by a company you don't own unless you're getting actual proof that you are valued. It's why I wouldn't waste my time if I weren't working w/the owners or having my contributions taken seriously; yep, I'm a HUGE supporter of self-employment.
Look at the people who enjoyed law school the most - the professors and law partners you've come across - and ask yourself if you'd ever want to see these people and work with them on a daily basis. If you threw up in your mouth a little, that is what employers feel like when they look at a resume with a JD. The stereotypes are unfortunate for graduates in a recession but they apply to a lot of the boring, anal turds who succeed in law. The awful personalities that help a lawyer succeed is a turn off to the rest of the world.
I'd recommend taking any traces of a law degree off of your resume if you're looking for entry-level work. If they ask about the three year gap during an interview then you can choose to tell them about your law degree or lie. Otherwise, don't mention it and pray that no one asks. Employers will think you're insane or a failure in law if you have a JD and want an entry level job that only pays $30,000. Some employers have given lawyers a chance in the past and found out that law school graduates are educated to do little else besides write legal memos and draft contracts. A college graduate with the right degree and a few good internships probably knows how to do more than a law school graduate.
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