02-09-2011, 05:44 PM
A different perspective
Adaptive Marketing for J.Ds: How Iíve Learned that We ARE the Product
by J. Richard Lindsay February 8,2011
Even current law students who spend just a little time searching the Internet have heard the frequent complaints from beleaguered attorneys and recent law school graduates who believe that their six figure investment in a law degree is failing to bring them a fair return. Granted, some of this sentiment can be squarely placed on the economy and the lack of jobs for new attorneys; however another wrinkle is the fact that the J.D. is not being used as flexibly as it could be. According to the Law School Admissions Council, 86.6% of law school graduates in 2008 were employed in the legal field. Note that there may be a slight overlap between those in the business sector and those in a category casually declared "other government." Letís assume for a moment that about 80% of those law school graduates chose to practice law. Sources indicate that over 40,000 students graduate with a J.D. each year. This floods the market, and new law schools continue to pop up. Perhaps it is time for an entirely new strategy for todayís law school graduates.
There is a concept known as adaptive marketing. Itís a basic idea that means merely tailoring exiting products for new uses. This concept was the impetus behind many of the ways we use baking soda today. Once merely a household cooking ingredient, over time manufacturers began marketing it for a host of other uses. Another example is the beeper. Sadly, I can honestly admit that I once owned one of these little widgets. It had a lovely plastic case and a flashy chain that only a teenager could appreciate. I paid nearly $15 per month plus the pager itself. At the time, it seemed like the only logical use for one was the management of a teenagerís social life. However, with the invention and popularity of the cell phone, I have neither carried nor seen a person carry a "beeper" in many years. To remain existent in the global market, pager companies now market almost exclusively to hospitals, emergency service providers, small foreign markets, and various trades. They adapted to stay competitive.
So how could this concept possibly apply to law students and law school graduates? As law students, we may not think of ourselves as anything but lawyers in training; however we are far more than that. While we are told that we are being trained to think like lawyers, we have to remember everything that the statement entails. First, we are being trained to critically analyze complex problems and return an answer, a solution or some formulated opinion that will make everything "better." Now, it is true that this is what clients want from their lawyers, but it is also what practically every non-legal business, industry, or government agency desires as well. They all want employees with excellent writing skills, verbal command of the language, and problem solving abilities. Law degree anyone? For those who do well in law school, these skills cannot be trivialized. As a current third year law student, I have embarked on my own job search. Much to my surprise, I have encountered several forms of employment in areas where I never thought a law degree would have applicability. I was wrong, and by adapting my skill set to a broader marketplace, I have discovered numerous outlets for which my degree could be put to tremendous use. Here are some examples that I have found along the way:
Veterans Service Representative
Each year the Department of Veterans Affairs hires hundreds of people for representative positions. Many states hire for similar positions as well. The job requires someone to perform client interviews, meet individually with veterans to resolve problems, draft recommendations, and analyze claims. Sound familiar? Though only requiring a bachelorís degree, the position is highly coveted. Thus, having an advanced degree stands to make you more desired from an employerís perspective. Of course, this position is truly best suited for veterans. Depending on education and experience, it can pay between $45-60K per year. For students in small regional schools where starting salaries are lower, this could be a great option. Plus, government employment brings terrific benefits.
Again, here is a federal job with literally hundreds of openings at any given time. The position requires a bachelorís degree with 24 credits in business, law, accounting, and a few other areas. 24 credits in law? Any J.D. is immediately qualified. These jobs require the same type of negotiation and writing skills as a transactional attorney. Plus, there is no court, no billable hours, and perhaps best of all, you can work anywhere the federal government is willing to let you without the burden of having to take a new bar exam each time you move. In time a person can earn well over six figures and have a couple months of personal time off each year. Not bad. Also, this job offers limitless mobility and promotional opportunities. Even more important, the skill sets gained as a contract specialist make one in great demand in the private sector should one desire to head that route.
Did you have some special skill before law school? Were you a science or engineering major in college? Do you have an interest in health law? If you can answer yes to any of these, there may be several research opportunities that do not involve the traditional law firm setting. For example, there are currently several available positions for state governments where a new graduate could actively research tobacco control laws or alcohol and domestic violence trends. These are one or two year analyst positions that require full time research. Although a law degree may not be required, one posting that I came across mentioned that "legal training or experience a plus." Again, as law students you have several years of legal research training that arguably make you more qualified and capable than many professionals without such a pedigree, yet the vast majority of applicants for such positions are those with only an undergraduate degree.
I realize up front that this is probably not why you went to law school. But have you ever thought about spending some time in public service? Some states are so desperate for teachers that they are paying moving expenses and signing bonuses. Yes, you may be paid a bit less than you hoped, and you may not reap the glamour of the courtroom in your first year, but you will receive a paycheck, benefits, loan forgiveness, and lots of time off to pursue other interests such as networking or writing. It may take a year or two, but then you may develop a niche in education law.
The last sentence above is the true essence to adaptive marketing with a J.D.; take a non-legal job for a year or two and develop skills and experience in that field. For those who say this would hurt oneís career opportunities, I suggest they look at what many law grads are doing for money while waiting to find their first attorney job. Somehow, I canít imagine teaching looking worse on a rťsumť than serving coffee as a barista. Some states will let you work and be paid while completing certification courses. If you donít have the luxury of living with parents and spending a year unemployed, this may be a great option.
These suggestions may not be per se ideal for everyone, however they all demonstrate that there are more ways to utilize your law degree than the traditional route of working at a law firm or hanging your own shingle. Treat your path to becoming a lawyer like starting a business, because you are the product. Selling that product requires capital, time, experience, know-how, and support. These are skills not taught in law school. So, find a way to make money, raise your resources, draw on your own strengths, and promote your brand when the time comes. If that means adapting yourself to a changing market, then so be it. If you are hell-bent on being a lawyer or nothing else, keep pushing and youíll get there eventually, even if you might have to adapt a bit at first.