Can't Find a Legal Job? Be the Next John Grisham or Fidel Castro, Law School Guide Suggests

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Finding an entry level legal job after graduating from law school can be a tough gig, as many know from personal experience. So the University of Arizona’s law school has put together an alternative career handbook (PDF) and suggests that students keep their minds open to other options.

But the introduction page seemingly might imply that aspiring to be the next John Grisham, Geraldo Rivera or Colonel Sanders is a realistic goal for would-be legal eagles. The first name on the guide’s list of celebrities, entertainers and other internationally known individuals with law degrees? Fidel Castro, whose career is listed as “dictator.”

However, the intro page, which was featured today in an Above the Law post that also added a photo of Castro, is intended to be taken as a humorous introduction to the serious business of finding an alternative career with the help of the handbook, Mary Birmingham, who heads the law school’s career and professional development office, tells the ABA Journal. “It’s supposed to be lighthearted and get their attention.”

For most law grads, alternative careers are more likely to be launched on the business side of corporations or with public policy think tanks than in the entertainment industry, she suggests.

“Have we had people who have started their own businesses or become authors? Yes. Maybe one every three or four years [someone] does something completely different. One left law school and started her own fashion company in New York City.”

To get started, a student needs to think about the skills and interests he or she has and consider both what would be a dream job and what is realistic, Birmingham says. Looking at company websites to see what the businesses actually do outside of the legal department and considering how the student’s abilities might promote that work can be helpful, she notes.

Flexibility, including a willingness to move elsewhere for a job, can be key, she says. At the same time, though, it’s also important to develop a long-term goal and stay focused on that, too, “following your dream about what you want to do but realizing there can be different paths, like sailing a boat,” tacking back and forth rather than following a straight line.

“Everyone knows that it’s an incredibly difficult market right now. There’s no question about it,” Birmingham says. But students need to keep their minds open to possibilities, since opportunities can suddenly drop into your lap but need to be recognized as such.

When they graduate from college, young people often are convinced they can do almost anything, she says, and thus may be able to convince others, too. Yet somehow, by the time they graduate from law school, many have lost confidence.

Especially when selling their legal training for a nonlegal or quasi-legal position, law students need to make clear why a lawyer would be looking to do x and do it well, she advises. “It’s important to get back that ability to think almost as an entrepreneur.”

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