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Alternative paths really do await new law grads

By J. DeVoy

In the next two weeks, ABA-accredited law schools will spew forth graduate more than 40,000 newly minted J.D.’s from their doors.  While some are puzzled about how to pursue a legal career, others have realized they do not want one.  Still some, the most rational and mercenary of the bunch, are open to the right non-law opportunity.

Often, the transition from law school to a non-legal career is difficult.  Employers, who have a distorted view of lawyers’ financial upside, can’t believe anyone would forego the riches of law to work for them.  Rightly, others may view recent graduates as a flight risk waiting for a more desirable opportunity — especially in this economy.  There’s also the ultimate issue that a law degree doesn’t confer any definable skill, but is a rough measure of one’s critical thinking and cognitive ability.

Still, for those serious about the transition, there is hope.  One Legal Satyricon reader agreed to share his story by e-mail.  Graduating into the recession of the early 1990s, our humble reader graduated into circumstances not unlike those faced by recent grads, and without the benefit of Above The Law or another conduit for the legal zeitgeist.

His story began like so many graduating 3Ls’.  Eventually, it ended in directing and creating movies.

Following my second year of law school I was a summer associate at a firm I just loved — a decent-sized firm in a secondary legal market, which had other offices in the state.  The firm was well-regarded, but known for its humane atmosphere and treatment of associates.

However, the year that I interned with that firm became the very first year in that firm’s history that it hired none of its summer associates. So, I was out in the cold. Had they offered me a position, I would have jumped at it, and chances are I would have stayed in law. Because they didn’t, however, I was suddenly forced to re-evaluate certain things.

Fortunately, I had also been into writing since college. Eventually I was offered a recurring gig with a niche magazine, mostly writing about movies.  Since I had some friends in LA, I moved there after law school.

When you do enough reporting on movies, you get offered jobs in production — from PR to craft services to being a PA, etc. I took every job I could, and I can honestly say that I’ve done nearly every job there is to do on a set.  I also got into film distribution, where I learned what they were looking for and how much they’d pay.  From there, the logical progression was to begin producing. Then directing.

It’s an interesting path I took.  Some of my law school classmates are wildly successful. Others are in Federal prison.  (Whoops!)  Me, I’m doing exactly what I want.

Law students tend to quickly forget the merits of working one’s way up in an organization, even a law firm.  With humility, hard work, commitment and resourcefulness, anything is possible.  Before blowing up Bear Stearns’s hedge fund and getting charged with Federal Crimes, Matthew Tannin attended the University of San Francisco Law School.  What makes our reader’s story more compelling is that he, too, graduated into a down market with no revival in sight.  Yet, it paid off.

Still, some students would prefer to be lawyers.  After going to law school for three years and presumably beginning bar preparation shortly, it’s an entirely rational decision.  But if the goals of ego aggrandizement, financial security and, most importantly, self-satisfaction, are not wedded to the practice of law, the ways they can be fulfilled are endless.

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