Graduates utilize law school degrees in unexpected ways

Nicole Sanseverino

While careers such as service dog trainer, wind farm employee and world champion skydiver might seem unconventional, these are just a few of the unique paths UT law alumni have taken after attaining their degree.

Only about 2 percent of graduating JDs pursue non-legal jobs, but UT’s law school estimates that roughly one-third of all its living alumni are currently pursuing non-practicing careers.

Law student Luis Rincon, president and co-founder of the student organization Beyond Any Bar, said it’s becoming more acceptable to find a niche outside of the traditional path.

“Law school is an extremely competitive place filled with very bright people — it’s like a well-oiled machine. Even though law students tend to be risk adverse, we are pushing against the status quo,” Rincon said.

Rincon, now in his third year, came into law school knowing he didn’t want to practice law but saw the degree as a way to springboard into business development. He started Beyond Any Bar earlier this year to expose law students to other options.

“There are a lot of students who come in not knowing what they want to do, not even knowing if they want to practice law,” Rincon said. “Maybe they’re thinking, ‘I’m smart. I got good grades. I took the LSAT, I’ll go to law school and spend three years with my nose in the books until this economy picks up.’ So for some, law school is a great fallback.”

It’s a fallback with a price tag starting at about $140,000 for three years, according to UT’s financial aid website.

Tim Kubatzky, the School of Law’s executive director for development, said a law degree is worth it in the end.

“[Law] is a good background for just about anything you want to do,” Kubatzky said. “I haven’t met an alumni who didn’t think their legal education was helpful to their career.”

Many alumni have spent at least some part of their careers in law firms, practicing solo or serving as corporate counsel. Those who make the shift to non-legal careers usually end up in finance, entrepreneurship or politics, Kubatzky said.

UT alumnus ’05 Dan Graham was an exception. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to be and law school was a way to delay that decision.

“I thought it was very possible that I would find an area I felt comfortable practicing in,” Graham said.

He enjoyed the classes but got involved with a business venture on the side. The business took off, and a year after graduating, Graham was named CEO and co-founder of BuildASign.com, a company worth $30 million in 2010.

“I got a lot of benefit from having completed my degree,” Graham said. “I learned how to deal with the things that pop up day to day in my business, and it teaches you how to think differently about problems and how to analyze them from different angles.”

Printed on Thursday, October 20th, 2011, as: Graduates utilize law degrees in unexpected career choices