Consulting with a law degree
August 25, 2014 3:30 PM   Subscribe

What job do you have that uses your law degree but didn't require you to take the bar and, ideally, you're able to do it as a side gig?

If you have a (US) law degree, have not taken the bar, and will not be returning to school, what can you do? Ideally, it's a consulting gig that can transition from something PT to FT in the future. Open to considering a certificate of some sort. Assume several years of working in an office in an unrelated field.

Not a paralegal

May not be contract review (companies in my area do NOT hire
non-bar grads for contract review)

Must not require going back to school for another degree

Divorce/Court Mediation is not possible (the courts in my area will
not certify a mediator who is not a licensed attorney)

Taking the bar is not an option
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Planned giving (estate gifts, bequests, etc.) for a university or non-profit.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:35 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Civil servant? E.g., IRS agent if you studied tax, EPA if you studied environmental law? Lobbyist? Work in policy/advocacy in some context (ACLU, NRDC, ADL)?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:46 PM on August 25, 2014

You could probably be an arbitrator, however without some sort of niche experience/expertise I think it's very unlikely you'd get much work. Most arbitrators become arbitrators as a second career after serving as advocates in the types of arbitration they specialize in. It's really not an entry level gig, at least in my experience.

You can fashion yourself as a facilitator which to me at least appears to pretty much be a mediator without the title.

Your best bet would probably be to seek work in your former field and use your law degree as an extra you can offer to make yourself more employable or justify a high salary.
posted by whoaali at 3:49 PM on August 25, 2014

Compliance work, especially in the financial services industry. Often requires a knowledge of specific regulations or an ability to acquire that knowledge quickly. Generally will not require the bar.
posted by yogalemon at 3:55 PM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

I've got a friend who went to law school and started her career as an editor in the legal book publishing industry. I don't know if having passed the bar is a requirement (she took and passed the exam).
posted by tckma at 4:08 PM on August 25, 2014

I work with two amazing people who have law degrees and now work as proposal writers/grant writers & compliance experts on public health projects. Both of them took the bar and passed, but it wasn't a job requirement.
posted by mochapickle at 4:30 PM on August 25, 2014

If you have an interest and expertise in technology, there are many people working in legal technology fields.

A law librarian for a large law firm.

There are many non-practicing lawyers working for Thompson|Reuters, the parent of Westlaw.
posted by yclipse at 4:34 PM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lots of us in finance and planned giving.
posted by jpe at 5:24 PM on August 25, 2014

Law schools will have career counsellors on staff who usually have a legal background themselves. This can be a part-time or full-time position depending on the school. That seems like a good fit for a recent grad; alternatively, maybe speak to your former school's career counsellor for his or her suggestions!
posted by HoteDoge at 5:37 PM on August 25, 2014

I would say law librarian if this person also has an MLS. Beyond that, the only real option I see is working for some company that services the legal industry, such as Westlaw or Lexis. Basically, work of a clerical sort that is of use to lawyers but does not give legal advice or consultation.

As a practicing lawyer, it is pretty hard for me to imagine any sort of "legal consulting" that is not going to be the practice of law. You can see various state definitions of the practice of law here, but every one is going to say that giving legal advice is the practice of law. You don't get to practice law without a license, and I have to imagine that your state's bar takes the unlicensed practice of law very seriously. This is why recommendations like estate planning and bequests are hard for me to understand. Even if that weren't the unlicensed practice of law (and I can't imagine why it wouldn't be), I don't think anyone would hire an unlicensed person when they could hire an estates/gifts attorney just so they could save a few thousand dollars on their big transaction.

It is extremely unlikely that such an unlicensed person could be an arbitrator. The AAA's qualification criteria provide a good rule of thumb. While it generally not a legal requirement that an arbitrator be a seasoned attorney, they almost always are. In cases where they are not, they are going to be an expert in the field that is at issue in the dispute. FWIW, I have never known anyone who has had a non-lawyer as an arbitrator. I would never agree to it. (I don't know what a facilitator is)

For these reasons, the field of jobs for people who have law degrees but not law licenses is very, very narrow. It is assumed that everyone who goes to law school wants to practice law because law school is trade school. Since very few people would want "legal consultation" from someone without a license (even if it isn't UPL), the best choice is a vendor who provides support services to lawyers. I think I should also mention the challenge that the legal market will not recover any more than it already has from the 2008 crash. There are a lot more lawyers than there are jobs for lawyers, so if this non-licensed person is competing for a don't-need-a-license job against a licensed person, I have to imagine that the non-licensed person is at a severe disadvantage because this license is at least an objective marker of minimal legal competence. This person will also have to answer questions at interviews why they have a JD but not a license. Even if it is not a job requirement, interviewers will draw conclusions.
posted by Tanizaki at 5:38 PM on August 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

A friend of mine does compliance oversight for a police department.
posted by mibo at 6:35 PM on August 25, 2014

Compliance is where most of the JD-preferred-but-not-required jobs are.
posted by devinemissk at 7:15 PM on August 25, 2014

Seconding lobbyist. My sister is a lobbyist for a DC non-profit focused on her area of the law (environmental). She got the job before she had her license.
posted by BinGregory at 8:55 PM on August 25, 2014

I worked in litigation support/electronic discovery for years. A LOT of the project managers fit this description.
posted by trip and a half at 9:33 PM on August 25, 2014

Seconding the civil service. The upper levels of court administration where I work is full of lawyers, with and without bar admission (lalthough, as I've been reminded, the latter are referred to with "X has legal training", the former are referred to with "X is a lawyer"). Start with policy work, then get promoted.
posted by Mogur at 5:06 AM on August 26, 2014

One of my friends from school scored a part-time position with a legislator, reviewing (and writing) proposed legislation. The elected official, himself not an attorney, needed assistance in these areas.

For a position like this, you need to not only understand the law and legislation, but the politics surrounding all of that as well. I think she has a very sweet side job.

For all practical purposes, she is moving from law into political consulting.

Fair warning - she hates the idea that every two years her boss can lose his job, and as a result she is out as well.
posted by Colonel Sun at 5:26 AM on August 26, 2014

Nthing an administrative job in a government agency - back in the 2004 unemployment scene, a friend beat out massive competition for a job in the state's unemployment agency, specifically because he had a law degree. But of course there was a probationary period, and he failed it because his organizational skills were substandard. This seems to me to be true for a lot of bright people who sailed through academia, and lack of organizational skills may explain why some of these people fail the bar. Anyway, I'd say the bottom line is even if you get a job in part because your law degree gave you an edge, keep it humble, and work hard to conform to your colleagues' work habits.
posted by mmiddle at 6:26 AM on August 26, 2014

Not a side job, but I am a law grad who has not taken the bar. Before graduating I started working in federal contracting on the government side (job series 1102 on USAjobs). I've been at it for a few years now, and the quality of life is pretty good compared to a lot of the actual attorneys (excepting, perhaps, the attorneys who are also feds). We've had a number of private attorneys leave their practices to join us. Getting hired took a long time, but there are many opportunities in wide number of locations for this series.

Working for a legislator is also a good idea. I worked for a member of congress, and I had no connections. I just applied and was willing to work part-time at the start. The pay wasn't very good (this was pre-law school, not that you'd make a fortune as a grad), but it counts toward my service-comp date. Getting hired for that job was a relative breeze.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 6:33 AM on August 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Healthcare administration and/or HIPAA -- compliance type jobs
posted by davidmsc at 7:00 AM on August 26, 2014

I am a contract lawyer (meaning, I work on contract, not that I do contract law). I work remotely for an immigration attorney in a small firm. I do legal research and writing, essentially motions and briefs. Although I have passed the bar, this was not a prerequisite for the job, as the partner I work for puts his name on everything that I write. I work part time for an hourly wage.

Finding something like this is possible; look in the back of bar magazines and on their online job posting section. Post your availability there also. Contact law firms that tend to have fluctuating work levels; they're the most likely to need this kind of flexibility in managing employee levels. So, large firms won't hire you this way, but small firms will, as will those which specialize in things like taxes, legislation, or similar.
posted by Capri at 9:23 AM on August 26, 2014

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