The practice of law is a difficult and complex profession, best for those who have certain skills and personality traits. If you're looking for a different type of career, but want to use these same types of skills, plenty of other professions fit the bill, including: accounting, insurance adjusting, lobbying, auditing, and working as an actuary or a legislator.
What Do Lawyers Do?
Lawyers, also called attorneys, are professionals who engage in the practice of law. The practice of law includes filing and litigating lawsuits, preparing legal documents, negotiating deals, prosecuting criminal cases, defending criminal cases, and writing and arguing legal appeals. Most importantly, lawyers give legal advice; they assess the client’s situation, needs and the law; and they provide the client with their thoughts as to the best course of action for their particular case.
Types of Law Practice
Lawyers can practice either civil law or criminal law. Criminal law is any law that relates to indicting, charging, prosecuting or defending an individual accused of committing a crime, as well as dealing with sentencing, appeals, and other post-conviction or post-acquittal actions. Civil law is any law that isn’t criminal, which includes personal injury, bankruptcy, estate planning, probate, tax, commercial litigation, divorce and custody, employment law, labor law, and any other law that is not criminal.
Sometimes, criminal actions will arise out of civil actions, and vice versa. If someone lies on her bankruptcy paperwork when filing a bankruptcy case, she could be charged criminally with perjury. If someone is charged with accidentally killing a person in a car accident, the victim’s family may also sue him for wrongful death in a civil case.
Lawyer Education and Exams
The practice of law is for lawyers only. Non-lawyers can get in trouble for engaging in the practice of law when they’re not attorneys admitted to practice law in the state where the activity takes place. Most states require attorneys to graduate from law school and obtain a Juris Doctor degree. Upon graduation, they must sit for and pass the state’s bar exam. Some states, such as California, will allow individuals to sit for the bar exam without obtaining a JD first, but in either case, passing the bar exam is required.
Legal Jobs: Non-Attorney Jobs
There are jobs in the legal field that can be held by non-attorneys or attorneys who cannot or don’t want to engage in the practice of law. Attorneys may also take these jobs as a learning experience or to gain professional experience and insight. Paralegals and judicial law clerks comprise the most common of these types of jobs.
What Is a Paralegal?
A paralegal is a non-lawyer who works with attorneys to assist in various tasks. Paralegals may end up performing a lot of tasks similar to those of an attorney, including interviewing clients, performing investigations and research, drafting legal documents, writing briefs, and preparing pleadings and correspondence. Paralegals may also perform administrative tasks.
Paralegals differ from attorneys, however, in that they cannot give legal advice and cannot sign pleadings or appear in court on behalf of a client. A degree is generally not required to become a paralegal, although many law firms prefer to hire paralegals with degrees. Attorneys may be hired as paralegals for a variety of reasons.
Judicial Law Clerks and Law Firm Law Clerks
A law clerk is an attorney or law student who assists either a practicing lawyer or a sitting judge with performing legal research, writing and administrative tasks. Judicial law clerks often assist the judge in reviewing the evidence and the law and writing judicial opinions. Judicial law clerks usually are already attorneys or are recent law school graduates who are awaiting their bar exam results. Some judicial clerkships are limited in scope and last one to two years, while some judges take on career law clerks.
Law clerks at a law firm are typically law students who are trying to gain valuable work experience before graduating. Law clerks at law firms perform many of the same duties as paralegals while they learn how lawyers operate in a real law firm setting. In many cases, law clerks may get hired as attorneys by their firms once they graduate and pass the bar exam.
Related Careers for Law School Graduates
A law school graduate’s decision not to practice law is not uncommon. Law school graduates may decide that practicing law is not the right fit for them, or they may struggle to pass the bar exam. Lawyers who don’t practice law may engage in occupations related to that of a lawyer, such as law librarians or judicial law clerks. Alternately, they can enter fields that use their skill sets but aren’t directly related to the law. Non-practicing lawyers may do well as project managers, grant writers, lobbyists and politicians.
Of course, there are many jobs that require skill sets similar to attorneys but do not require a legal education or degree. Lawyers and non-lawyers alike may pursue careers in these fields, including CPAs, auditors, actuaries, insurance adjusters, lobbyists and legislators. These types of jobs all require many or all the same skills as the practice of law, such as analytical thinking, investigative, writing, advocating and speaking skills.
Certified Public Accountants and Auditors
Accountants and auditors are professionals who work in the financial industry and prepare and analyze financial records. Auditors are often accountants. Accountants may become Certified Public Accountants, which requires them to take the CPA exam, which is just as grueling as a legal bar exam.
Accountants perform a variety of work duties, much as lawyers do, that requires strong attention to detail and a facility with numbers and figures, as well as an understanding of many areas that overlap with the legal field, such as tax law, real estate law, business law and other areas that relate to finance. Accountants may also be experts at business valuations.
Accountants vs. Auditors
Auditors are often also accountants and perform similar functions, except that their work is primarily investigative and involves the review of documents and assessments of financial issues. Accountants may prepare and file tax returns, for instance, while auditors would not.
Both accountants and auditors may examine financial statements, prepare tax returns, maintain financial records, assess the financial health of a business, and prepare financial statements such as cash flow statements, profit and loss statements, and other statements that report a business’s financial picture.
Forensic Accounting Analysis
Forensic accounting is also a common task. It involves deep analysis of a company or person’s financial records to follow the flow of money to discover, prove or prevent fraud or other financial crimes. Lawyers involved in fraud investigations will often hire forensic accountants as experts. Indeed, lawyers are sometimes also accountants.
Actuaries Provide Information to the Insurance Industry
Actuaries are professionals who analyze risk and provide data to the insurance industry as well as to the financial sector. They help develop and revise insurance policies and even retirement plans. They may work closely with accountants, lawyers, financial analysts and insurance underwriters.
Actuaries compile and assess statistics and calculate the probability of events that may require insurance coverage, such as illness or accident. They design and test insurance policies and investment plans based upon the data they analyze so that the plans protect not only the policyholders and plan participants, but also the insurance companies and plans.
Insurance Adjusters Investigate Claims
Insurance adjusters also work with the insurance industry, but on the other end of the spectrum, they often get involved when a claim is filed. Adjusters investigate insurance claims by reviewing the alleged property damage and any police reports or medical records. They may interview witnesses and consult with other professionals, including accountants, attorneys, engineers, doctors and law enforcement.
Once the adjuster completes the investigation, they turn their findings over to an examiner, who approves or denies the claim. If the claim is approved, the adjuster may negotiate with the claimant to settle the claim amount.
Insurance Company Adjusters vs. Public Adjusters
Adjusters who are available for hire by private citizens are called public adjusters. They are available to people and businesses who want an adjuster to work on their side and maximize recovery. Public adjusters do not work for insurance companies, but instead are paid by the claimant to independently investigate the claim. Public adjusters have skills similar to lawyers’ skills in some ways, as they must make an investigation and persuade the insurance company to pay their clients more money on the claim.
For example, an insurance company adjuster may investigate a house fire and conclude that the damage was only worth $10,000, even though the policy limits go up to $100,000. While a public adjuster cannot change the limits of the homeowners policy, he might be able to negotiate the higher payout based upon external factors. A public adjuster hired by the homeowner might conduct an investigation of the same house fire and determine that the damage was much more significant. That adjuster would then advocate on behalf of the homeowner to get as much of the policy limit as possible.
Lobbyists and Political Communicators
A lobbyist is a person who lobbies for a position with the legislature, either at a state or federal level. They take up a cause, such as free speech or human rights, and they fight to get laws enacted that further that cause. They engage in communications campaigns to persuade politicians to vote on legislation that aligns with the interests they represent. They may meet with local, state or federal politicians, or they write them letters or memoranda explaining what a proposed bill says and why the politician should vote for or against it.
Lobbying requires many of the same skills as practicing law, including persuasion, research and writing, and advocating and understanding the law and how it works. May lobbyists are lawyers, but a law degree is not required. Every state has its own laws as to how lobbyists are allowed to work.
Legislators and Elected Representatives
Legislators are those in the state and federal congressional bodies who write and vote on laws. Their positions are elected in accordance with state and federal law. Legislators include state and federal senators and representatives.
In 2005, former attorneys made up 64 percent of the U.S. Senate and 41 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives, although these numbers have declined. In 2019, only 49 percent of U.S. senators are attorneys, and lawyers comprise a mere 33 percent of the House. Furthermore, as of 2019, 25 of the 45 U.S. presidents have been lawyers. The way lawyers are trained makes them good candidates for these positions.
Good attorneys have excellent problem-solving skills, organizational skills and strong analytical thinking skills. They are usually good writers, researchers, investigators, speakers and advocates. These types of skills translate well into non-attorney legal jobs as well as jobs outside the law. Individuals can find jobs similar to that of a lawyer without actually being an attorney.
- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Lawyers Do
- NALA: What Do Paralegals Do?
- Accounting Today: CPAs vs. Lawyers
- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Actuaries Do
- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics: What Accountants and Auditors Do
- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2018 23-1012 Judicial Law Clerks
- National Conference of State Legislatures: How States Define Lobbying and Lobbyist
- LawyerEDU.org: Lawyer Core Skills and Values:
- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics: Claims Adjusters, Appraisers, Examiners, and Investigators
- Princeton Review: Lobbyist
- Bloomberg: Maybe Washington Does Need More Lawyers
- Legal Language Services: Which US Presidents Were Lawyers?
Rebecca K. McDowell is a creditors' rights attorney with a special focus on bankruptcy and insolvency. She has a B.A. in English from Albion College and a J.D. from Wayne State University Law School. She has written legal articles for Nolo and the Bankruptcy Site.