Law school: not just for lawyers

career advice
By Ian M.

What do Mahatma Gandhi, John Grisham, Barack Obama, and Gerard Butler all have in common? They are among the many holders of law degrees who go on to highly successful careers outside of the legal profession. While many might think that law school is just for lawyers, huge numbers of JD holders never even practice law. But, despite what you might think, these figures haven’t left their expensive degrees go to waste. That’s because legal education imparts some of the most valuable and sought after skills in the modern job market and can prepare students for roles as life-long leaders. Here’s how:

Law school is fundamentally about appreciating–and tolerating–ambiguity.

One of the first things you learn in law school is that there’s rarely a single “correct” answer. Legal cases hinge on a huge number of interacting parts: statutes, prior decisions, procedural matters, and the facts at hand. At each turn, a well-trained student of the law can identify both sides of the dispute and how they interact with one another. Learning to navigate these ambiguities can teach you to be comfortable with uncertainty, a valuable skill in any profession. Business leaders have to be able to be able to imagine the world through the eyes of the person on the other side of the negotiating table. Artists give voice to the rich variety of human experience. Teachers have to hear their lessons as their students will hear them. By teaching students to see and appreciate the complexity that pervades all aspects of life, legal education prepares students to generate more comprehensive and creative solutions to problems in any profession. 

Law school is a crash course in project management.

Legal education isn't just about learning the law—it's about learning to juggle a wide range of tasks under strict deadlines. Between attending classes, reading cases, writing papers, and preparing for exams, law students quickly become adept at managing their time, setting priorities, and working efficiently. These project management skills are directly transferable to many other careers. Whether you're coordinating a marketing campaign, organizing an event, or leading a team on a complex project, the discipline and organizational skills honed in law school will serve you well.

Law school teaches you that conflict can be productive.

At its core, the legal system is about resolving disputes. In law school, students are trained to see both sides of an argument, to understand different perspectives, and to advocate for a position with passion and precision. This doesn't mean being combative—it means appreciating the value of differing viewpoints and the potential for growth through dialogue and debate. In any profession, disagreements arise. Embracing conflict as a productive force, rather than avoiding or suppressing it, can lead to innovative solutions and stronger team dynamics.

Notice that all of the skills above aren’t just useful in the professional world–they can be a boon in your personal life as well. Seeing both sides of a situation is a skill that can be translated into richer and deeper relationships across the board, as people learn to appreciate your ability to see from their perspective. It’s equally important to be able to respectfully and productively disagree. 

So, if you’re considering going to law school, it’s worth thinking about how your legal education might prepare you for other parts of work and life. Doing so can help you make the most of this exciting experience!

 

Ian is a third-year student at Yale Law School. He previously graduated from Stanford University, where he studied Philosophy, History, and South Asian Studies. He graduated with Distinction, Honors in the Program in Ethics in Society, membership in Phi Beta Kappa, and received the Stanford Alumni Association’s Award of Excellence.

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