You got into law school, obtained your JD, passed the Barrister and Solicitor exams, completed your practical experience requirement, and have been called to the bar. Congratulations! You are now a lawyer in Ontario. Whether you articled or completed the LPP program, the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) has determined that you possess the skills, talent and knowledge to practise law in Ontario.
Perhaps you are a newly minted lawyer about to launch your legal career or have been practising in a specific area of law for a few years and want to make a change.
No matter what stage you are at in your career, you have likely taken a step back to ask yourself: Do I truly want to be a lawyer (i.e., practise law)? If the answer is no or if you are unsure, have you ever considered: What else can I do with my law degree?
The Numbers Don’t Lie: Supply and Demand in the Legal Job Market
Reality check: Let’s look at the supply of and demand for lawyers in Ontario’s legal job market. It’s no secret that the current market is tough, especially for junior lawyers. A major 2016 study on the future of jobs published by the Ontario government revealed that the demand for lawyers was about to plummet, due in large part to the sluggish pace of growth of the Canadian economy.
Sorry, there’s more bad news: As the demand for lawyers continues to shrink, the supply of new law graduates has sharply increased. From 2007 to 2017, the number of first-year students at Ontario law schools rose from 1,234 to 1,549. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of graduates from Ontario law programs increased by over 60 per cent. Further, the number of foreign-trained law graduates looking for work has also soared. In 2007, 199 international students had their law degrees accredited in Canada. By comparison, in 2013, 730 students received accreditation.
There are over 50,000 lawyer licensees currently in Ontario. Between 4,000 and 5,000 candidates complete the licensing process in Ontario each year. The Ontario government’s study concluded that there will be 1.6 licensed lawyers for every one new practising position. At this rate, the number of new law graduates will outpace the number of new lawyer jobs by close to 16,800!
An Exercise in Self-Reflection
As you begin contemplating your career, consider asking yourself the following questions:
- • What are my goals in life? Make a list of those goals.
- • What do I want out of my career and life?
- • What makes me happy?
- • What did I study or do for work prior to law school that I really enjoyed?
- • Why did I apply to law school?
- • In what type of environment do I thrive?
- • Could I possibly want to be a traditional lawyer in the future?
- • Will I be happy if I decide not to become a traditional lawyer?
Transferable Legal Skills
You have gained valuable legal skills in law school and legal practice. Your research skills, writing talents and critical thinking abilities are top notch and highly valued in many other careers.
You are able to read, comprehend, synthesize and simplify large amounts of information and apply complex legal theories to detailed fact patterns. Your problem-solving, analytical thinking, presentation, negotiation and conflict resolution skills translate well to business. As a lawyer, you are uniquely positioned and qualified to market and sell products such as legal software and artificial intelligence solutions to lawyers. In addition, you can apply your expertise in a specific area of law, such as estate planning or contract law, to a relevant position within a bank or insurance company. You may also be a potential fit to become a recruiter for executive or legal roles.
Alternative or “Non-Traditional” Career Paths for Lawyers
You likely know about in-house positions, contract lawyering, due diligence, document review and legal research jobs. But what else can you do with your law degree while still utilizing your legal training?
The good news is that there are many different options to consider and pursue. You are a member of a rare breed and many employers would relish the opportunity to recruit such a highly trained individual into their business or organization. You may even be surprised to find that some of these alternative paths may be more lucrative, have better work-life balance and offer career advancement opportunities to take on leadership roles and develop a diversified skillset.
The Canadian Bar Association published a valuable article entitled “Career Alternatives for Lawyers”. In the article, author Janice Mucalov profiles a number of the most common alternative career paths.
Consider expanding your job search to include some of the following areas:
Arbitration and Mediation
Arbitration and mediation are logical fits for lawyers, especially litigators. Labour unions, hospitals, school associations, universities and government agencies hire professionals with strong communication and dispute resolution skills. Former practitioners also train individuals in providing alternative dispute resolution services.
Banking and Financial Services
Did you study business in undergrad? The combination of a commerce degree and a J.D. is a powerful and unique set of skills to bring to the financial services industry. Areas to consider include risk management and assurance, regulatory compliance, trading documentation negotiation, privacy officer, corporate ethics, trust administration, and tax or banking law.
Education and Academic Administration
If the academic aspect of the law has always appealed to you, consider becoming a law professor or member of the law school administrative staff in the areas of admissions, alumni relations, career services or law libraries. You can even teach in paralegal colleges; a Master’s degree in law (L.L.M.) is not required. Your law degree also positions you well for other non-teaching roles, such as a student affairs director or an ombudsperson, at either a law school or university.
Government and Politics
Many politicians have law degrees. Put that political science degree to work! Consider competing for an elected or appointed position at the municipal, provincial or federal level. Become a political advisor, policy analyst, campaign manager or lobbyist. A career at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade could lead to an opportunity to become a foreign affairs advisor or diplomat. Other jobs to consider include consumer or human rights advocacy, immigration services, or positions at the RCMP or CSIS.
Legal and non-legal executive search and human resources are fields that are replete with J.D.s. There is also the opportunity to be part of or lead a law firm’s student and associate programs team, finding summer and articling students and a pipeline for new associates at a law firm.
Legal and Management Consulting
Law is a thinker’s degree. It translates well to the strategy work that is performed in management consulting. Many consulting firms have started to hire JDs, in addition to the traditional MBAs, as consultants. You can consult for law firms in office management, marketing and client development. Are you proficient in legal technology and AI? Put that knowledge of legal software to work as an information technology consultant. Depending on the area, you may also be well suited to act as an expert witness or a voir dire consultant advising on the strategy of picking jury members.
The skills of a lawyer are valued in the not-for-profit sector, as an executive director or CEO of a non-profit entity or as a board member.
If you have an interest in the arts, consider a career in talent management, contract administration, music licensing or as a manager of legal and business affairs.
Writing, Editing and Journalism
The lawyer’s research and writing skills, possibly in combination with an undergraduate degree in English or journalism, are well suited to jobs as a legal correspondent or reporter for a network, newspaper or magazine. You can also write content for law firm websites, contribute articles for legal publications or work as an editor for bar association newsletters and law, business or accounting publications. Other careers in journalism, such as a writer, editor or publisher, are also worth consideration.
If you are curious about exploring more options, Life After Law.com, a Toronto-based recruitment and counselling firm, specializes in placing lawyers in careers outside the traditional practice of law. The firm also provides a list of transferable skills and a list of non-traditional careers for lawyers.
Every lawyer is unique. Each of us arrived at law school for different reasons from different academic backgrounds and with different goals in mind. Therefore, our career paths in law will not look the same. Some of our career paths will be traditional, some will be non-traditional and some may not involve the practice of law at all. And that’s okay! Keep your law license active and remain in good standing with the LSO to keep all options open. Do your research, learn about these alternative careers, speak with a recruiter, talk to lawyers who have successfully made the switch and be open to the possibilities that lie ahead. You just may thank yourself for it.
About the author
Alexandra Mealia is an associate, trading documentation negotiator at RBC Capital Markets.
An earlier version of this article was published by the OBA Young Lawyers Division.