You CAN'T Do Anything With a Law Degree

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Enclosed please find the single most important message I have ever attempted to impart on the masses. Namely, that there is ZERO truth to the sadly overused assertion, “You can do anything with a law degree!” Unfortunately the people who would benefit most from this advice are highly unlikely to be Bitter Lawyer readers. Nevertheless, it needs to get out now so it can ultimately trickle down to those who need it most, i.e. people who have not yet made the disastrously unalterable decision to graduate from law school.

I can still recall with chilling clarity the fateful day when my undergrad adviser tricked me into applying to law school (rather than the numerous other grad school options I was toying with at the time) by offering two pieces of tantalizing fruit from the Tree of Knowledge: (i) he emphatically insisted that a law degree would be perfect for someone with my wide-ranging interests (“You can do anything with a J.D.!”); and (ii) he handed me a photocopied page from U.S. News & World Report showing the average starting salary ($125,000) for law school graduates from regional schools. Fast-forward a few short years later, and I’ve been forced to bear endless amounts of shame, pain, and toil (I wish this last sentence was a dramatic flourish included only to complete the metaphor; sadly, it is not).

For the avoidance of doubt, let me make myself abundantly clear. A law degree is about as useful as a G.E.D. for anything other than practicing law (or working in an in-house legal department). On second thought, a G.E.D. might actually be more marketable than a J.D. because it opens up an entire realm of job opportunities for which a lawyer seeking to escape the law would be rejected on grounds of over-qualification. In other words, unless you are categorically and unconditionally certain that you want to spend the remainder of your life practicing law, do NOT go to law school.

I’ve spent the past few days having my face mercilessly rubbed in this abrasive reality because last Thursday I tumbled into one of those really awful rabbit holes wherein the overwhelmingly omnipotent hatred of my job made me feel as if I was going to lose consciousness and possibly even die at my desk. So I closed my office door, gripped my dully aching stomach with one hand, and used my free hand to search every single job opening in any category within a 50-mile radius on Law Crossing, Indeed, Simply Hired, Media Bistro, Journalism Jobs, LinkedIn, Career Builder, and Monster. Then I scoured the Jobs/Careers section on the corporate websites of any and every corporation with a nearby office.

The results of my exhaustive search? Absolutely nothing. I am literally the least qualified job seeker for anything outside of law in the entire United States. I have absolutely no idea what Excel is even meant to be used for, let alone how to use it. Any knowledge even remotely related to math has been completely eroded from my brain (I recently had to ask my secretary if 1/4 is bigger or smaller than 1/2). I’ve never managed anyone, reported to executives, or analyzed statistics. Forecasts, P&L statements, and general ledgers are all things I’ve thumbed through during doc reviews, but I don’t exactly understand what they’re used for, nor could I readily identify them.

In any normal (a.k.a. non-legal) industry, a person possessing such a dazzling list of non-skills would at least know how to handle basic administrative tasks, e.g. how to: (i) hold or transfer a phone call; (ii) operate a copy machine; (iii) print a mailing label; or (iv) send a fax. Not so in the Big Law Twilight Zone, where utterly unskilled new associates are able to take full advantage of receptionists, administrative assistants, paralegals, a copy center, and a word processing department despite being armed with little more than a couple of impractical degrees and a sharp tongue. Thanks to my combined liberal arts/J.D./Big Law pedigree, I’m about as employable as an annoyingly cerebral, overly precocious second grader.

Come to think of it, maybe the only time a law school graduate actually can do anything would be if he/she had an undergraduate degree in business. But then again, why the hell would you ever go to law school if you had the sense to study business in the first place?

Post image from Shutterstock

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  • JP

    Maybe your bad attitude has something to do with it…?

  • NMW Solo Attorney

    I’m confused – your headline claims that you cannot do anything with your degree, but then talk about your secretary – you have a job, when oh so many do not. You hate your job. Guess what, so does my husband, and he is not a lawyer. He works in the technology field. My dad didn’t find ultimate fulfillment in his employment, and either did my father-in-law. I love my job – and I am a lawyer. I wouldn’t trade it in for anything. Your job search included corporate positions, maybe it’s time to look for the jobs your advisor was talking about – small businesses, non-profits, or something that is not soulless.

  • Anna

    You chose the path of BigLaw (and are at least getting a decent salary) and so your daily work tasks may not be what you thought it’d be. I’m working in a small-size firm less than 5 years out of law school and I manage my own case load; supervise, interview, & hire law clerks; generate cases; take depositions; argue motions in court; and try and settle cases. To categorically state that a J.D. does not allow you to do anything is wrong.

    While I sympathize with you, there are things you CAN do to make yourself more marketable if you truly desire to find a new profession: instead of relying on secretarial & IT staff, go figure out how to mail a letter, make a copy, and use Excel; educate yourself on business financial statements by reading a book or two (or even some websites) on the topic; or practice some 2nd grade math problems.

  • Professor Blather

    It is deliriously funny that the two practicing attorneys who commented both utterly failed to exhibit basic reading comprehension skills:

    Newsflash, morons: the author’s point is that you can’t do anything with a law degree … OTHER than practice law.

    That “other” part is kind of important.

    Jesus wept.

  • Dr. Juris

    Having a law degree doesn’t preclude you from the realm of knowledge regarding basic math, using spreadsheets, or learning how to wipe your own ass.

  • southern bitter

    go practice using the copy machine. once you’ve mastered black and white, move on to color. There are 2 things to add to the resume. Ahh, the silver lining.

    then again, there’s always politics.

  • Frank G

    If this woman is attractive, there is always something better she can do with her mouth other than yap all day.

    • Catherine

      Funny. I presumed it was man’s blog

  • richard dernister

    Frankly, I sympathize with Law Firm 10. Law school is vastly overrated (I’ve been practicing for 40 years) and there simply are too many lawyers. Law has turned into just another skilled job, like being a plumber (who probably makes more than the average lawyer). Law school was interesting, but practicing law isn’t much of a challenge for most lawyers and obviously the degree itself is of narrow usefulness. On top of that, let’s be honest, law attracts some very obnoxious people, people you wouldn’t want as neighbors. So I’d disagree that Law Firm 10 necessarily has a “bad attitude”: it’s just that a law degree is useful only if you intend to practice law, and the practice of law is becoming less attractive. I assume Law Firm 10’s comments about allegedly lacking other basic skills are merely exaggerations to illustrate Law Firm 10’s point.

  • Juliette

    I have to say that as of this moment I do regret going to law school, or not so much the education itself, but the cost. So I apent over $200,000. what am I doing now? I am working back in Human Resources because I have not been able to find an e-level job in the Tampa area for a law firm that pays more than $40-$50,000. Yet I see computer programers right out of undergrad getting $100,000. I support a 1000+ IT dept., so I see their ridiculous salaries. Thank GOD, I have an M.S. in HR Management because it’s the only thing saving me economically right now. I guess I understand his point in that if someone asked me right now if law school, and wanting to become an attorney was worth it, I would say no. the experience was very anti-climactic, and I’m not a negative person, so that was shocking for me. I fought to kill the LSAT to get into law school, owe a fortune in student loans, finshed law school while having a newborn as a single mother with no family close by or support system, and then passing the bar while working full-time….and what am I doing now??? HR. I actually love HR, but even with 10 years HR experience, firms aren’t counting that towards considering me for an Employment Attorney. I get it, but it still stinks. The irony of it all for me, is that I am on a plane on my way to interview at a Municipal court….for an HR job. Don’t get me wrong, I think it will all work out for the best in the end, but I understand his point. Lucky for me I know excel and can analyze metrics, etc…I wish him luck, and BTW, you should just go to grad school and get an MBA. :)

    • Suzanne Hassan

      Hi Juliette

      I am really interested in hearing an insiders opinion on HR. I recently graduated in Law and looking to find work experience in HR and hopefully this September start studying my Masters in International Human Resources Management. Have you got any tips as to how i could even get experience? I dont know anyone in the field and am finding it hard to hear back when i email companies asking for work experience? Hope you can help me !

      Many thanks

  • rob

    The more I read your blog the more I am glad I went to paralegal school at a community college. Sure I don’t make the big bucks but I only borrowed 2k to get my degree and I get the perks of working at a law office. M-f 9-5 holidays off closed on bad snow days etc. I get to do all the office skills so if I was ever shit canned I could work any other office and I get to have a special corner of the law I specialize in and lawyers have to come to me for answers. The attys in our office are really just there to sign shit and get their ass whipped by defendants only to come back to be laughed at by me. O ya and I go home at 5 unlike attys. Since law is no longer high paying and jobs aren’t pleniful paralegal is a good low debt option.

    • Ellen

      But you will NEVER get any decent woman to MARRY you. That is the difference.

  • rob

    Wrong. I’m married to an opera star who is also an executive director for an up and coming opera company. She likes the fact I’m not buried in debt. Its the 21st century.

    • Ellen

      Well that is OK then. At least we knowe who weares the PANTS in your familey.

      I want a guy who will SUPORT me. I do NOT want to have to suport a guy who does NOT want to work hard. FOOEY on that! After all, I will be bringeing up the children. FOOEY on a lazey house-husband! FOOEY!

    • Hmmmm

      Have to go with “Ellen” on this one.

      “opera star…” connotes a slim, ballerina-like person but wait! It could be a heavy, “the fat lady sings” type person instead. And she’s the “executive director” also? And what else. Chief bottle washer? And the company is “up and coming,” meaning its not there yet or even close. So we have one paralegal, one star/director of undetermined weight and looks, proudly proclaiming their “no debt” status, probably taking the bus, reusing toilet paper, liberating paper plates from work and sharing a studio.

  • Katie

    You are unemployable because you have no skills at all. It has nothing to do with law school. You are an overindulged little brat who has no business being in the adult world.

  • Left it & loved leaving

    I love you Law Firm 10. You have validated everything I decided early-on regarding Big Firm life. I would be your perfect mate (exceptionally good-looking, athletic, former Small Firm 10 Litigator 5-years removed to writing good novels).

    But, I would have to give up my 10 wife. Sorry.

    Good luck. You’ll get your man before you’re 40! I have faith in you!

  • Lou

    Mate? I would mate with her but would not want her 24/7 as my mate! There is a big difference between sharing your life with a woman and just banging her bottom out!

  • Arshad

    I’m a tad tired from attending to some discoveries and a few bitchy letters. How do we know that 10 is female?

  • Cardrienne

    Good Morning 10,

    Take the time to access your skills, and passion, commit to volunteering in the fields that are potentially of interest to you. Have you considered a career in the Sponsored Research Field? My prior career with a prominent university in Boston MA included Pre-Award/Post-Award Grant and Contract Specialist and as a Financial Analyst. My Pre-award counterpart has a JD. We managed the Corporate contracts. You can transform this situation into a lucrative and personally rewarding career. You are intelligent, you completed the formal education for your law degree, passed the bar exam and I am sure you have other accomplishments to carry you through this season of disenchantment with your career. I am not sure what area of law you are in, however, underprivileged individuals are always looking for attorneys to guide with submitting complaints for discrimination. Establish a relationship with NAACP, MCAD interns conduct workshop on employment, housing and public place discrimination. Go on line and search the calendars of the various one stop career centers in MA. They offer free workshops that will serve as a guide. I attended many of them and they assisted me with exploring my passions and identifying new career Community Outreach focusing on youth development. Maxine Dolle (Google her) is the facilitator of an amazing workshop entitled Communication Styles in job search (at the Boston Career Link on Harrison Ave). I highly recommend it. Her partner Saundra Lee is the facilitator of “Find your Dream Career,”, Linked in and many others. I highly recommend them. Maxine is also a coach, this might be helpful for you as well. Cambridge Career Source also has exceptional workshops as well, most are free of charge and others require a nominal fee. Be open to traveling to various areas to invest in your future, if you necessary. It is worth the investment. Find your niche, Join supportive, encouraging networking groups and refrain from the opposite. It can be mentally, physically and spiritually draining. I believe in you. You can do it!!!

    Excellence…striving to do better today than you did yesterday.

    Peace and many, many blessings with your future endeavors.


  • Claire

    You think you have it bad???????At least you can make a living!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    But I agree, law Degrees are good for NOTHING and people need to be told.
    I have spent 7, I repeat 7 years studying law in Ireland. I got a 1.1 Degree in law, I have a Diploma and I’m finishing a Masters. I am now 26 and I cannot get ANY job. I have interveiwed for secretarial positions and not gotten a call back. I have had to jump through hoops at interview to WAITRESS. Don’t get me wrong, waitressing was great when I was sixteen, but I did not go to Uni to spend my life waiting tables. I can’t even get out of the country because I’m not “qualified”. But you can’t qualify as a solicitor if no one’s offering traineeships anymore! And the bar in Ireland costs 600 euro to sit, 13,000 to complete, plus accommodation and subsistence costs in Ireland’s capital (let’s round that off to 30k). EVEN THEN, your best prospect is to get out of the country and re-qualify in another jurisdiction. I am looking down a long black tunnel of arduous unpaid work, the bext years of my life were spent with my head in a law book and it’s all been for NOTHING.

    • Tammy

      This sounds terrible. You should find a decent guy and get married now.

  • Not clear

    I disagree with most of this. There are some truths: if you don’t want to practice law, law school is not the right choice. That does not take deductive reasoning skills.

    I am a few years out of law school (t3) and I ended up choosing between numerous jobs. Now that I chose one, I have offers rolling in all the time for others and numerous lateral interview opportunities. They are all for law because — and this is a real shocker — I spent time getting a law degree.

    Law school may not prepare you to be a secretary, which is what this post appears to be whining about. You know what does? Common sense. Pre-law school work experience. In-law-school work experience (did you just get clerk jobs the entire time and never had to take something else your 1L yr to pay the bills?) works as well. Did you rely on secretaries while you were working p/t jobs in law school, or were you one of those law students that didn’t work and just lived off loans and/or parents?

    I’m not sure if I really understand the anger here. Lots of stuff to be bitter and angry about in the legal profession. Not being able to menial tasks only asks: what the heck were you doing for the first 22 yrs of your life before going to law school?

    • deb

      To the moron who posted above: Full time 1L students are prohibited from working.

  • Smarter than you

    Its your own fault you don’t know how to use a copy machine or type into an excel spreadsheet. Good god. Didn’t you work at all in offices during school? You can’t do any other job than yours because you never tried to learn skills required to operate in virtually every.single.professional.setting. I have no pity for you.

  • Bruce Colwin

    Most companies looking to find a business development executive prefer a JD, for what that’s worth.

  • LalaAZ

    If you are employed please quit. Or, ya know, kill yourself because there are 100s of unemployed saps coming out of law school right now that would appreciate that job. You, sir, are a tool. Your message, however, was correct: don’t go to law school unless you are committed to being a lawyer because there are few jobs, fewer still that hire graduates from third and fourth tier schools and you will necessarily hate your first job. Push through the pain. It will be worth it when you are no longer a whiny, useless drain on company resources.

  • Mike

    But you run/own this website…which sells ads…which makes you money. What about the saying Law degree equals best business degree…?

  • Avocate2008

    You have a secretary and you’re complaining?

  • Miserable Too

    Nope – I 100000000% agree. As I sit here slowly going blind from staring at endless job positions that I will never get, I googled “I’m a lawyer with no job skills,” because THAT is me, too. But it’s 5:00 somewhere, so hopefully you drink your misery away too…. Good luck.

    • Pat C

      1000000000% ?? come on that does not make sense. You must of had some sort of math? Right????

  • Cc1021

    Seriously, this can be said of any profession albeit the vast majority of people who utterly hate what they are doing never gave themselves the opportunity to take the time to work in a field, any field prior to embarking on an arduous journey be it law school, mba, phd or what else there is that both takes time and a whole lot of money to accomplish. I managed to work for near ten years after high school before I completed my undergradute all paid by me and then went out to work in media, finance and communications before I decided to return to complete my studies in law. I am now doing so but I also have a plan and a vast background to fall back on. There are things one can do as a lawyer besides practice law but just like any field the transition is difficult if one does not cultivate a prior knowledge in the field they would like to enter into. So instead of pushing the younger generation to complete degree after degree allow them within reason to find their path and then to complete the mega degrees if they choose to and maybe this way we wont have an overpopulated legal profession, university professorships, the finance, banking etc industry but a more level playing field with people that are truly meant to do what they want to do as opposed to writing out bitter drivel to discourage a more thoughtful process.

  • Ernst

    I graduated from a top-15 rated law school. Worked in a family business for about 10 years after that, and then set up a small law office. I took a lot of appointed criminal defense cases, and did a lot of pro-bono work in other areas. And after a few years, probably a lot to do with the economy, I could still barely keep my doors open despite doing everything myself.

    So, I decided to move out of state, and seek out employment in another field. I’ve been rejected from everything to which I’ve applied so far, which includes about 40 nonlegal jobs. I just received an email today explaining that I wasn’t qualified to be a Reading Comprehension Tutor because I didn’t possess a bachelors degree in education.

    So, in all seriousness, I’m going to start applying for retail jobs and kitchen jobs. At 43 years old. Go me.

    • westla

      Agree with the original post and relate to Ernst.

      As the original poster suggested, the JD suggestion is often made to manipulate the career destiny of intelligent undergrads who are undecided on what to do after college. Although the intent is to help, the advice is very bad if you are not sure you want to be a lawyer. No one suggests “just go to medical school” or “just go to clown college” to someone with no interest in being a doctor or clown. She would not take the advice seriously and she should consider law school advice the same way.

      Going to law school is a commitment to limited career options, especially if you take out loans to pay your tuition.

      I went to law school for reasons other than knowing I wanted to practice law. When I started out at an old line firm (established in the 1920s) I learned that I hated lawyers and the practice of law. I figured out the minimum dollar amount I needed just to pay my law loans and live poor and applied for almost random want ads.

      Law school, a license to practice and experience as a litigation associate were all irrelevant to qualifications needed for non-law jobs, and were viewed negatively by employers looking for applicants with no-experience. No joke, an 18 year old with a GED has a better shot at an invitation to interview for an entry level loss reduction (aka security guard) job in a discount clothing store than a lawyer.

      That was the early 2000s and I remain unhappily in the stressed, inefficient, perilous and farcical practice as the only way to meet life’s financial obligations (student loans gave way to a family and mortgage and etc.)