What can I do with a J.D.?
If you are like many candidates considering law school, you may not yet be certain what area you would like to practice. Or you may have developed an idea of your expected career path after law school based on little or no exposure to the practice area you have decided on. In fact, many entering law students do not know what they would like to do with their law degree, and many others change their minds after they begin law school.
The Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree is one of the great generalist degrees available in a graduate or professional program. At UK Law, the faculty encourages you in your second- and third-years not only to take courses in the area where you expect to practice, but also to take a broad course of legal study. If you take a number of the courses basic to being a well-rounded attorney, with some selected course work in the area where you may expect to practice, you will be better prepared for the complexities of legal practice, and for any desired change of direction over the course of your legal career, than if you focus too closely on only one area of specialty.
While some candidates may apply to law school without planning to practice law after they graduate, the fact is that most law school graduates will practice law in some setting for at least the first 3-5 years after law school. A majority of UK Law graduates decide to go into private practice, which is practice with a law firm. However, private practice encompasses a wide range of opportunities, from hanging your own shingle in a solo practice, or practicing with a small firm in your home town that has a general practice, to becoming an associate with a large law firm (100-1,000 attorneys) in a major city and working in a specialized practice area. About 55-70% of any given UK Law graduating class will go into private practice as their first job out of law school.
The second most frequent choice is to clerk for a state or federal judge, a very prestigious position selected by 10-20% of each UK Law graduating class. Most of these clerkships are temporary positions, for one or two years after graduation, that give you the opportunity to work closely with a trial or appellate judge and learn how courts make their decisions. Other likely career choices include working in-house in the law department of a major corporation or accounting firm, working in a government agency, joining the Judge Advocate General Corps in some branch of the military, working as a criminal prosecutor, or a career with a public interest or public defender organization.
Law school graduates who do choose a non-legal career, either upon graduation or after a few years in legal practice, frequently use their undergraduate background, work experience, or other interests in combination with their law degree to design a satisfying career. Some of the possibilities include working in business, banking, higher education, nonprofit organizations, hospitals, the media, and the arts. The problem-solving skills, analytical skills, organizational skills, writing skills, and knowledge of the law gained in law school can be of value in almost any career.