The Juris Doctor is one of the most prestigious and recognizable distinctions that a person can earn. Law school graduates are masters of written and verbal communication, negotiation, detailed analysis, problem solving, and are cool under pressure. They encompass practically all professional industries, levels of government, and even branches of the military. Why are the years spent toiling away in law school easily transferable to positions of leadership across a broad spectrum of industries? Find out below.
How Many Presidents and How Many Lawmakers Have a Law Degree?
A majority of government officials have earned a law degree before running for office:
Currently, 25 men have earned a law degree and have gone on to serve as President of the United States, most notably, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. A legal background and mastery of the Constitution is very important when becoming president. Government officials need to have a mastery of the law and a strong moral compass when dictating policy.
The online publication Bloomberg Law reports that 54 percent of senators have a law degree while the figure is 37 percent in the House of Representatives. According to Chris Roberts, Executive Director of Institutional Advancement at Texas Law, “a good lawyer is like a good chess player, always considering everything on the board and thinking ahead by three or four moves.”
Lawyers must be able to make critical decisions by first weighing out the pros and cons, a skill that comes from practicing law and is vital to being a policymaker. Furthermore, government officials often come from a legal background because they know what it means to hold the public’s trust.
The number of government officials with a law degree has begun to decline due to a sharp increase in the number of open positions outside of politics. A law degree can now open the door to numerous possibilities across many industries.
What Options Are There With a Law Degree?
Upon passing the bar exam, lawyers can find work in numerous legal industries such as bankruptcy, environmental law, mergers and acquisitions, securities and capital markets, antitrust, labor compliance, estate litigation, entertainment… etc. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2018 median pay for lawyers was over $120,000. The highest paying legal jobs tend to be trial lawyers, intellectual property lawyers, tax attorneys, and real estate attorneys.
Law Degrees Are Becoming Increasingly Prevalent at Mezzanine Funds, Hedge Funds, and Private Equity Firms
There are many fields where law school graduates thrive but do not actually practice law. Law school graduates are a popular choice for distressed debt private equity firms. Employees at these firms need to have an extensive knowledge of how restructuring works and how to analyze legal writing, credit documents, and indentures.
Merger arbitrage is another popular field that law school graduates choose to pursue in the PE space. Merger arbitrage is an investing strategy in which a trader bets on whether an M&A deal will go through. A merger arbitrage analyst looks for red flags that would make the deal fall through including pending litigation and issues with the company’s financials.
These analysts need to have a good understanding of financial statements, SEC filings, and antitrust law. The space for law school graduates on Wall Street continues to grow as financial regulations increase in influence. By some estimates, law school graduates now make up over 30 percent of all PE firms.
Law School Graduates Are Now Thriving in Professional Sports
Many influential sports agents have earned a law degree. It is vital for a sports agent to a have background in contract law when representing a professional athlete. This also means the athlete can save on the expense of hiring an attorney to examine the legality of the contract.
An industry legend, David Falk earned his law degree from George Washington University in 1975. Falk would go on to represent many famous athletes including Michael Jordan. It was Falk’s vision that landed Jordan a lucrative shoe contract with Nike, a movie deal with Warner Bros. for Space Jam, and many more major endorsements that would end up making Jordan the first athlete billionaire.
Falk also negotiated over $335 million in contracts for Alonzo Mourning, Juwan Howard, Kenny Anderson, Allen Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo. In total, the legendary sports agent negotiated $800 million in contracts, earning roughly $32 million in the process. Falk’s mastery of negotiation and knowledge of labor laws were honed in law school and shaped him into the industry legend he would become.
Law School Graduates Garner A Lot of Interest From Compliance Firms
Law school graduates, especially in the corporate space, are a natural fit for the compliance industry due to their expertise on rules and regulations in various industries. Professionals in the compliance field are tasked with identifying risk and advising countermeasures. Compliance officers also advise businesses on rules and regulations and resolve compliance difficulties as they occur.
Lawyers who work for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Federal Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) work to protect investors, ensure markets are fair and transparent, and investigate white collar crime. Without their due diligence, consumer confidence in the financial system would not exist.
What Can You Expect to Learn in Law School?
The typical law school program takes around three years to complete and covers all facets of the law. Here’s an example of the law school curriculum at U.C. Berkeley:
First Year Students (1L): In their first year of law school, a student’s courses are typically predetermined. You will need to learn the foundations of the legal system before determining your specialization. Students typically cover a wide range of legal basics like Contract Law, Criminal Law, Torts, Constitutional Law, and Civil Procedure.
Many schools also require students to take courses in legal writing and Moot Court – a mock-trial contest – where students compete with each other to win court cases. The first year also serves as an added measure for Law Schools to weed-out substandard students. If a student struggles to learn the basics and they do not meet a specific GPA requirement, they may face the possibility of being kicked out of the program.
2nd Year Students (2L): As opposed to 1Ls, 2Ls gain much more freedom to pursue their interests. At this point of a student’s law school career, they have proven an understanding of the basics and are ready to move on. 2Ls are generally allowed to pick their own schedules and are no longer required to work in large groups.
These more advanced students will also typically work in smaller groups and have a much closer student-teacher relationship with professors. Law professors will have elevated standards for second year students and may expect more engagement in class. Classes may range from Administrative Law to Evidence in which students are required to apply the laws they have already learned to solve real-world problems.
2Ls may also begin to feel the added pressure of finding a high-paying job after law school. There will be more opportunities for on-campus interviews and students are also encouraged to apply for courthouse clerkship positions.
3rd Year Students (3L): In their final year of law school, students know what to pursue with their law degree. Many students choose to go on to the bar exam and become certified attorneys while other students choose to leverage their law degree into other fields. 3Ls are often able to take a wide range of electives and seminar courses in order to gauge their ideal career path. Advocacy tends to be a popular course for 3Ls in which students draft complaints and file discovery requests. Students also seek out externships to gain the real-world experience that employees look for on job applications.
Who Are Some Other Famous Law School Graduates?
David Stern: Commissioner of the NBA
Robert M. Cohen: Founder of California Pizza Kitchen
Margaret Thatcher: Prime Minister of the U.K.
Geraldo Rivera: News Reporter and Author
John F. Kennedy Jr: Magazine publisher and New York City Prosecutor
Mohandes Gandhi: Father of Indian independence
Nicolaus Copernicus: Astronomer who theorized that the Sun was at the center of the solar system
Niccolo Machiavelli: Philosopher and founder of modern political science
Nelson Mandela: Nobel Peace Prize winner and President of South Africa
The Future is Bright for Law School Graduates
As the world continues to change and industries transform, law school graduates will continue to hold a prominent role. Law school graduates hold positions at the highest levels of government and are now starting to dominate the financial space as well. Their mastery of high-level thinking makes them trusted assets for any organization. For many, law school is the start of a long and successful professional career, money well-spent.
By Tyler Dikun and Jim Notaris