Must All Lawyers Practice Law? The Case For Lawyers Who Quit Legal Practice.
Formal law training has often been thought of as giving lawyers the essential knowledge to act as better advocates and litigators in a traditionally insular adversarial system of justice. The fallout is that law students graduate with a parochial view of the job market. Once out of law school they pursue career paths in fields that would ultimately lead them back to the court house. After all the court has always been to the lawyer what the hospital is to the doctor. So how could a lawyer dream of a career away from the courthouse?
But today, the trend among lawyers is towards alternative non legal careers. Given the dismal global legal job market where jobs are scarce, with law schools still churning out fresh law graduates to an overtly competitive market, it’s only natural for lawyers to forgo law practice for other informal, non-legal careers. In an earlier article, I’ve highlighted 10 of these alternative non-legal careers available to lawyers who are either fed up with the practice of law or can’t snag legal jobs at law firms. With the legal job market at its nadir, many have tended to cite the glut of lawyers the world over as the reason behind the abysmal demand for lawyers. Well as it turns out, these reports are a little exaggerated. This has been effectively dealt with in an earlier article on whether there are too many lawyers in the world.
In spite of this sudden shift toward jobs outside law practice among lawyers, there’s been a groundswell of stigma toward non-practicing lawyers who quit their careers in law to pursue other passions. When lawyers see colleagues pursue other non-formal career paths, they tend to frown upon it. There is usually this feeling that it is a waste of one’s legal education to turn one’s back on a challenging yet promising career in law practice for anything in the world and hence an ultimate ‘stain” on the noble profession.
That was exactly how my equity and trusts lecturer once thought of it when he stood before an entire law class one Monday morning, recounting the story of a non-practicing female lawyer-cum beautician. He felt she was an embarrassment to other colleagues and that she might have been better off getting a degree in the arts than getting a legal education she would ultimately never make the most of.
But we beg to differ. Some lawyers chose to study law not so much by the lure of law practice as by their decision to work for themselves. Some want to become entrepreneurs who can better advice themselves about the legal side of their businesses. They might have decided all along to go into the business world.
That aside, a law degree is not an end in itself. It is only a base, according to UC Berkeley Law, upon which lawyers can build on. If the law is a tool of social engineering, in Roscoe Pounds view, then there can be no question why the lawyer (an offshoot of the law) cannot be extended the same autonomy, not to engineer society as it were, but be the very engineer of their own career path. They should be able to tailor their career to suit his passions and interests without any stigma from his professional colleagues.
A law degree in itself prepares the lawyer for a wide range of undertakings, whether it is in business, finance or politics. Nowadays it is hardly major news that lawyers thread the well-worn path to politics where they often switch roles from being “priests” in the temple of justice to political gladiators in the arena of power.
Even law schools abroad have recognized this need for a well-rounded lawyer who today might be a priest and tomorrow another thing entirely, by introducing courses will further broaden the lawyer’s repertoire. Most of these courses are non-legal in nature and tend to liberalize lawyers in what they can do.
We need only look at the law school curriculum of three US universities. The first one is that of Touro Law Center, in New York, which offers its law students courses in small business and not-for-profit. The second, Berkley Law in California, offers students courses in music law, food, law and policy and video game and social media. The third one, California Western, San Diego, California, offers law students similar courses in sports law, media and entertainment law.
All these are testament to the fact that the lawyer could from the rich variety of courses offered him or her chose whatever career path that suits their passions and interests which may be outside law practice. If a law student overseas could receive lectures in music, entertainment and business, then it should come as no surprise if they decide to quit law practice to work full time in those fields. Therefore the case of the lawyer-cum beautician should be not be treated any differently. She has decided to do just what fuels her.
To answer the question whether all lawyers must practice law, I would say not necessarily. It’s up to every individual to decide what job or career would truly satisfied them irrespective of one’s educational background and in the final analysis, that’s all that matters. It’s liberating to do whatever fuels you than to join the bandwagon of the so many lawyers who are unhappy with their jobs probably because they fear what other colleagues might make of their decision to quit law practice for something more fulfilling.
Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Law Student Hub. He is an LL.B. Law graduate from the University of Benin, Nigeria. He’s a life enthusiast, a budding writer and internet entrepreneur. Patrick is deeply passionate about law and research and has inspired many with his thought-provoking articles. To get in touch, follow him on social media.