6 Creative Ways to Use a Law Degree
By Dan Billings
Recent law school graduates are discovering that employment at law firms is getting harder and harder to find. Since 2001, employment rates for law school graduates have hovered between 66% and 74%. After spending over $100,000 on a Juris Doctor (J.D.), this is a disconcerting number. This brutal reality leads many jobseekers to explore other options.
As Terrence Kole discovered in the comedy series Kole’s Law, a law degree and passage into the bar does not always solve your unemployment woes. With the help of his friend and sister, Kole, like many other out of work attorneys, starts his own law firm. Although this is a practical and effective solution to a difficult job market, there are many, much more creative, ways to put a law degree to work for you.
Kole’s Law – Dick Kole
According to the American Bar Association, 34% of United States House of Representative members and 55% of United States Senators are lawyers. What’s more, President Barack Obama is a lawyer as well, graduating from Harvard Law School in 1991. Due to the technical aspect of drafting legislation, lawyers often excel at interpreting legal jargon as well as communicating the broad strokes to their constituents.
In 2010, in his campaign against Sen. Russ Feingold, Ron Johnson argued that, as a manufacturer and accountant, he had a different perspective than the many attorneys in the Senate. He pointed out that having so many lawyers in the Senate would be useful if there was a lawsuit to settle, but argued that current issues were about the economy. Nevertheless, many lawyers with a drive to public service remain in office – some proving very successful in this capacity.
John Grisham worked as an attorney for ten years (and also served as a member of the Mississippi legislature) before selling over 250 million copies of his many bestselling novels. The Firm, his first bestseller, became a movie in 1993 starring Tom Cruise as Mitch McDeere. This was just the first of many. Other lawyers have had similar success – such as Scott Turow’s novel/film Presumed Innocent, and Brad Meltzer’s conspiracy theory investigation series Decoded.
After receiving a law degree from Brooklyn Law School, now-journalist Geraldo Rivera was hired as a news reporter in New York City. Over the years, he developed a talk show and became a correspondent for Fox News. Similarly, after graduating from law school, ABC’s Dan Abrams started out reporting for Court TV during the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Abrams later found himself on the steps of the Supreme Court, during Bush v. Gore decision, offering a new perspective – a legal point of view. Abrams currently works as a legal correspondent for ABC News and a substitute anchor on Good Morning America.
Having legal expertise in the journalism business has proved invaluable as the line between entertainment and news is blurred. A law degree provides credibility and gravity to an otherwise frenzied business.
4. Baseball Coach
In 2011, Tony La Russa led the St. Louis Cardinals to their eleventh World Championship. But in 1978, he was just another graduate student accepting his diploma at Florida State College of Law. That same year, however, he set his sights on baseball – beginning his coaching career with the Chicago White Sox at one of their minor league affiliates. After winning the World Series this year, he announced his retirement as one of the all-time winningest coaches in professional baseball history.
5. Television Writer
Known for creating legal television shows such as Ally McBeal, The Practice, and Boston Legal, it’s no surprise that writer David E. Kelley has a law degree from Boston University. Conversely, it’s no surprise to his fellow law students that he is a writer. While a law student, he was a member of a sketch comedy troupe made up of fellow law students.
Kelley practiced law for a few years, before becoming a full-time writer for Steven Bochco’s L.A. Law, starring Harry Hamlin, Susan Dey, and Corbin Bernsen. After his stint there, he would go on to become one of the leaders in the genre. His most recent series Harry’s Law, starring Kathy Bates, can be seen on NBC.
Standing your ground in front of a judge and jury takes a lot of courage. Similarly, only the brave can perform stand-up comedy with only a mic and a sense of humor. This is what Greg Giraldo learned early on in his career. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Giraldo spent about one year as an associate at a large law firm before making a career change. He went on to perform on many late night talk shows and was a regular on The Howard Stern Show. He’s also performed at several Comedy Central Roasts and served as a judge on the reality show Last Comic Standing.
Kole’s Law – Livin’ Large
Kole’s Law – The Terrence Kole Affair
Dan Billings lives in Mt. Prospect, Illinois. When he’s not running and listening to BBC podcasts, he’s reading comic books. He likes to consider himself a successful funny man, but that may only be true compared to the other legal writers that he spends his days with. On occasion, he writes on his own personal blog at rockthewesternworld.com.