Alternative Careers? Not So Important For US Law Students

A survey of US law students about how they choose law firms for summer associate roles has found that alternative career paths are not seen as an important factor. It also found that few students are listening to advice from their law school professors in this area.

The survey by the Law360 arm of LexisNexis found that having the chance to one day have an alternative career path at a firm was the least important factor when picking where to do your summer associate stint. In fact, only 7% of the 1,200-plus students surveyed said this was a ‘most important’ factor, while 79% said it was between ‘least important’ to neutral in importance.

Data: LexisNexis, 2021.

The number one factor was having the right practice mix that the student wanted to focus on. Interestingly, partnership track was the second-least important area for making this summer associate choice.

Also, the survey found that when law students wanted advice on where they should go, law professors who had once worked at law firms were the least likely people they would turn to. The top choice was law school alumni who were now working at a certain firm and could give contemporary insights into life there.

Artificial Lawyer asked the survey producers if they had any comment on why law students didn’t seem to care that much about alternative career paths, at least at this stage, but they replied that they didn’t want to speculate.

So, this site will have a go. Here’s some thoughts:

  • The focus of many law students is understandably at that stage in their lives all about becoming…well…’a lawyer’. It’s what they (or their parents) are spending a fortune on, and what they’ve been working toward academically.
  • But, it could also be that their law schools are not promoting the idea of alternative careers and their many positive aspects, e.g. working in a legal innovation team, or focusing primarily on knowledge management, or project management, instead of being a full-time fee earner.
  • And the above point could be related to the possibility that not all law schools are aware of the many different roles inside large law firms today that are not necessarily fee-earning, but which you may get to via law school? Some of the more progressive ones will, for sure, but perhaps others are not…?
  • Or worse, perhaps they do know all about them, but they don’t see them as something they should promote. After all, law schools may take the view that their job is to make ‘lawyers’ and nothing else – which would be a pity, as the world has moved on.
  • One other thought is that law firms are not heavily marketing the potential for alternative career paths to law students, and so the idea that you can do this is not filtering through yet. Hence, few of those surveyed had a strong view on its importance.

So, there you go. It’s an interesting bit of data as there have never been so many opportunities inside law firms, ALSPs, and inhouse teams, (and legal tech companies…!), to be something other than ‘a lawyer’.

Also, one could argue that the future growth and success of many legal businesses will depend not just on their lawyers, but on their KM, legal innovation and project management teams – many of whom may have started out at law school. So, this could be a huge missed opportunity.

What do you think? Maybe this is different in other countries, e.g. the UK? But, we don’t have the data at hand, so it’s hard to know if this is universal or not.

You can download the full survey here.