According to a recent report, almost 14% of the UK’s law graduates who move straight into employment are working as waiters or bar staff. That probably doesn’t reflect the aspirations they had when they started in law school, nor of course where their career will ultimately take them.
A study in the United States suggests that (contrary to common opinion) the overwhelming motivation for entering law school is not financial. The factors most frequently mentioned are oriented to aspects of public or government service, giving back to others and influencing social change. Access to high-paying jobs came in fifth place in the survey. Among other interesting findings, those in law school tend to come from higher socio-economic groups – perhaps necessary, given the high cost of becoming qualified – and family influence is the biggest single factor leading to enrolment.
So what do law graduates do?
Back in the UK, over 40% of law school graduates go on to further study (a requirement for those who want to continue into legal practice), but over 20% move into business roles where they don’t make direct use of their training. Interestingly, of those who are undertaking further study, 45% have enrolled on a Masters program, suggesting that they too may be heading for a business, rather than legal, career. Analysis of the IACCM membership supports the view that many law graduates do not necessarily choose to focus on a legal career; for example, nearly 50% of our members in the US are legally qualified, with over half of these not working as counsel.
As new technologies increasingly disrupt the way that roles are performed, many expect the legal profession to be affected more than most. Artificial intelligence, data analytics and the emergence of contract standards will change the nature of legal work. Law schools are in many cases struggling to adjust their programs to equip graduates with the skillls and knowledge needed for the future, yet this is not having the dramatic effect on employment prospects that many were expecting. Indeed, if the content of legal programs starts to adjust to business needs, possessors of a law degree have every chance of being seen as among the most attractive recruits.