Changing Careers After Law School (and Why You May Have To)

By Pam O’Brien · June 22, 2023 · 5 minute read

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Changing Careers After Law School (and Why You May Have To)

After years of law school, internships, landing a job at a law firm and working to climb the ladder, some lawyers decide they’re ready to change careers. But, they might wonder, how easy will it be to make a switch?

Fortunately, pivoting after law school may be easier than it used to be, and there are some great alternative careers for lawyers out there—if you know where to look and how to position yourself.

Reasons Lawyers Might Consider Making a Career Switch

It might seem surprising that a lawyer would want to make a career change, after all the years they’ve spent studying and preparing, but it’s not actually uncommon. While TV and film can make it seem like practicing law is a thrilling blend of opening and closing arguments and life-changing verdicts passed down by a jury, there are plenty of mundane tasks in the mix.

In some cases, legal work can be relatively dull. Instead of high stakes court cases, it can be a lot of reading, research, and paperwork. Sometimes the work can be isolating as a lot of time is spent working alone.

Beyond that, lawyers can face a ton of pressure at work, which can lead to a stressful day-to-day work environment. Lawyers have a lot on their plates: tracking deadlines, handling client demands, staying on the partner track, keeping up with the changing laws and regulations, and more.

Not only can the stress of the job be exhausting, getting the job done can require long hours. And at most law firms, lawyers are measured by billable hours. Not how many hours the lawyers actually work, and not the quality of the work, but how many hours they can bill to a client.

Combine that with the fact that oftentimes a lawyer’s schedule is out of their control, dictated by the courts or bosses at a firm, it’s no wonder some lawyers are interested in trying something new.

A career in law, or even a career change to a lawyer, might be worth it for a great paycheck. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual pay for a lawyer in 2021 was $127,990 per year—which means half of the lawyers out there are making less than that. And when you’re dealing with law school debt, that could make for a difficult financial balancing act.

Some law school graduates may decide they could make a decent living and enjoy themselves more in a different profession. And so, they might choose to become a second-career lawyer.

So How Can You Prepare Your Exit Strategy?

Leaving a career as a lawyer can be a huge decision. If you’re considering making a career switch — whether you’re considering a career change to law or a career change out of law — you might want to think about preparing an exit strategy. Here are some ideas for planning ahead as you think about making the jump from lawyer to the new career of your choice.

Aggressively Paying Off Student Loan Debt

If you have solid credit and a good job (among other factors), you may qualify for a better interest rate and/or terms with a private lender.

Having a lot of student debt hanging over your head might limit your options. Student loan refinancing could be a good choice for those who have higher interest, unsubsidized Direct Loans, Graduate PLUS loans, and/or private loans.

When should you refinance your student loans? Now might be the right time if you have solid credit and a good job (among other factors). Those things could help you qualify for a better interest rate and/or more favorable terms with a private lender that might help you get out from under that student debt faster.

This student loan refinance calculator can show you how much refinancing might save you.

However, it’s important to be aware that federal loans carry some special benefits that are not accessible if you refinance them into a private loan—such as income-driven repayment. Make sure you won’t need to use these federal programs before refinancing.

Recommended: Student Loan Refinancing Guide

Creating a Budget and an Emergency Fund

Lawyers tend to make pretty decent money right out of the gate (the problem typically comes later when income can start to stagnate), so it may be wise to avoid spending those years letting your lifestyle rise to the level of your income. Instead, put together a budget that allows you to save for the future.

Another wise idea is to start building an emergency fund. If you think your salary will take a hit should you leave the law, that fund could help tide you over until you firmly establish yourself in your new career.

Using Your Time as a Lawyer to Make Connections

As a lawyer, you’ll likely come into contact with people in a variety of different fields. Building professional relationships and keeping them going could pay off when you start putting out feelers. When you approach them, be courteous and respectful of their time, and if you decide to ask someone for help with your new career path, be clear about what you want—advice, an introduction, or a lead on a job.

Recommended: Law School Loan Repayment and Forgiveness Options

Planning Ahead

Try moving your focus from what you don’t like about your current job to how you might transfer your knowledge, skills, and passion to a new career. Lawyers can make good researchers and investigators, compliance professionals, business analysts, real estate professionals, executives, and entrepreneurs. Some go into law enforcement. Others might end up in the media or communications.

Can You Have a Non-Legal Job With a Law Degree?

It’s absolutely possible to make a career change to a non-legal job if you have a law degree. In fact, a law degree can speak volumes about your knowledge, skills, and work ethic. It can help to show that you’re analytical, organized, and good at project management. Plus, you’re aware of the potential legal ramifications of business decisions, which can be very helpful to almost any company.

Probably the biggest hurdle for most people is simply giving up the idea of being an attorney. But if you can open your mind and look at all the other options, you may find something that makes you even happier.

When you’re ready to make the new-career move, refinancing your student loans could help you get your student debt under control so you can more easily move forward. SoFi offers loans with low fixed or variable rates, flexible terms and no fees. Plus, you can find out if you prequalify in just two minutes.

Check your rate and learn your options for student loan refinancing with SoFi.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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