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Dad was wrong; you can’t do anything with a law degree, job-seeking lawyer says

Posted May 15, 2014 7:03 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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As Jim Saksa was pondering whether to attend law school, his father offered what may have seemed like sage advice: You can do anything with a law degree.

Now Saksa is looking for a job outside the legal field, and he’s beginning to think his expensive JD is more of a hindrance than a help.

“In the last few months,” he writes in a column for Slate, “I’ve interviewed for jobs at a nonprofit, a think tank, and a PR firm among other places of business. I know from personal experience that the first question a lawyer will hear in a nonlegal job interview is, ‘Why don’t you want to practice law?’ My answer to that question always elicits, ‘Well, you know we don’t pay as much as a law firm, right?’ A law degree makes an otherwise qualified candidate look expensive, and often carries a rotten whiff of failure. And other than the New York Mets, no employer wants to hire an expensive failure."

Saksa spoke with Maureen Chu, an HR and operations manager in Washington, D.C., who believes a law degree is a competitive disadvantage for those seeking jobs outside the legal field. Generally, she sees such candidates as needing a high salary, without having the relevant experience.

“It’s lost time,” Chu said. “Whatever you learned in law school is not useful to what we need. So every other candidate has three years on you.”

Saksa says many law school grads have found success in other fields, but that’s not necessarily evidence that a law degree helped them. Lawyers who pursue careers outside the law tend to rely on skills separate from their legal training, he says. He adds that he spoke with many lawyers who love their careers, but none of them went to law school because “you can do anything with a law degree.”

“It turns out there are better ways of figuring out what you want to do with your life,” Saksa says, “than getting an outrageously expensive degree that detracts from your future employability.”

Slate says Saksa is a lawyer, writer and blog editor in Philadelphia.

Punctuation in headline changed at 8:10 a.m.

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