What if not law?

Mar 19, 2009 • Karen

An email from my mom got me thinking:

What if aliens abducted all the lawyers, so law school wasn't an option anymore? What would I do instead?

Good question.

Well, I guess I'll start with what I'm looking for in a career.

  • I like project-based work where I'm working mostly independently.
  • I like variety--working two part-time jobs, even when one of those was menial or not that fun, was nice because the contrast in working environments kept me from getting bored.
  • I enjoy creative work: drawing, editing video, music, website updating... I also like research and writing. I don't need to do these things all or even most of the time, but I'd like them to be a possible part of my work.
  • I want to care about my work--it doesn't need to be non-profit, but improving the world in some respect I find interesting is definitely something I'm looking for.
  • I want to work in a small group setting--even if it's part of a larger company.
  • I want to have a near-peer or mentor-mentee relationship with my boss.
  • I like working with geeks (broadly defined).
  • I want to keep the "talking with people I don't know" part of my job down to a minimum, if possible.
  • I want to have a fast work computer with a monitor that doesn't suck.
  • I like the European dress code--blazer + jeans = awesome.
  • I prefer having flexible hours and the ability to work from home sometimes.
  • I'd rather bring a lunch from home than have it as a perk unless the options are healthy. I'm bad at not eating things.

Oh, and also:

  • I'd like to make enough money to:
    • Travel (and potentially work abroad at some point)
    • Own a small but comfy house, with a greenhouse and a big garden
    • Be financially secure
    • Be financially independent and capable of being the breadwinner, whether or not I need to be

How many jobs fit these criteria? I have no dang clue. But probably not many. Web design fits most of them, but CSS bugs can be extremely frustrating (just ask Nelson)--I don't know if I'd grow to enjoy the programming side of it. I could be a freelance web editor/videographer/cartoonist/etc like I was during the summer, but a.) I'd be broke and b.) I'd have a breakdown every couple days out of worry that I was going to be broke. Unless you're retouching photos for teen magazines or at the very top of your game, it's hard to make being an artist exclusively pay--and even when it does pay, it pays unreliably.

Non-managerial, slightly-technical positions in young tech companies could be interesting. I've spent some time drooling over the courses offered at UMich's School of Information. Studying how information structures and flows work in the context of entrepreneurship and Internet culture sounds vaguely cool and probably in demand. I have no idea what these "information architects" or whatever actually do all day, though.

Working for a non-profit small enough that I could just be "the web/media person" and do whatever such work I knew how to do and delegate/contract the rest might be ideal. I guess that's what my job at SPARC would've been if SPARC were big enough to have needed me full-time. But these kinds of relatively low-skill web editor positions REALLY don't pay well.

Ever since I got into UW-Madison, I've been thinking about the possibility of becoming a law librarian. Their library school is very good and they have a dual-degree program with the law school. Law librarians are supposed to be very well paid (though I've yet to see statistics backing this up...the stats I've seen have them making little more than what I make now :/) with a less suicidal schedule than first-year associates at big law firms. I'd also probably get out of UW with little or no debt. But...I dunno. It's true that academic law librarians sometimes also publish and teach--but those courses are usually in research and writing, not a particular subject material in the law, so I wouldn't really consider that the same. Others probably wouldn't either--librarians, unfortunately, don't get no respect. I also worry that librarianship might be too...sedate...a job for me. I've never worked in a library and it's just not a career I've ever considered. Well, we'll see.

The career I'm most interested in at this point (and at which I'm aiming my law degree) is academia. It sounds like the perfect job: except for the time you're in class, office hours, or meetings, professors' work is completely flexible. You spend your time arguing over ideas with students and ridiculously smart people and publishing those arguments in journals. "Publish or perish" doesn't scare me--I enjoy writing and already have a book or two I'd like to write, given the opportunity. Your ideas have the potential to change the world, and if other people don't change the world quickly enough, you can participate in non-profits or other projects on the side to speed it up. You're well-paid, and if you get tenure you have pretty good job security. If I want, I can add silly cartoons to my outlines and presentations (*coughRoddycough*) or publish my ideas in comic form (see: Hayek's Road to Serfdom). I love those professor blazers with the patches on the elbows. What's not to like?

Not much, says I. But it's tough to get into--and even tougher if I don't go the law school route. Then instead I'd need a Ph.D. Sure, Ph.D candidates are (hopefully) funded so they don't have to go into debt for tuition, but you're basically committing yourself to subsisting on ramen for seven years. I don't even know if I *could* get into a funded Ph.D program--I'm a media studies major, not a scientist, and there aren't that many Schools of Information out there. Do any of them even have Ph.Ds doing info policy work? Most of the 'faculty interests' I've seen are more on the theoretical or technical side...

Whereas from law school you need 1-2 years clerkship or firm experience (to become "seasoned"....really), 3+ published works (ideally, you get these done during law school or your clerkship, because you sure as heck won't have time working at your average firm), and if that doesn't do it maybe go for one of those fellowships/visiting professorships meant to help alumni break into legal teaching. While law schools like candidates with other graduate degrees, a JD from a prestigious school is all you need.

And, fundamentally, my main interest is in IP/techlaw and policy. My secondary academic interests (civil liberties, national security, international law, etc.) are also law-related. For the most part, law school seems like the best place to study these areas. I'm certainly willing to question law school, and I do believe it costs too much. I'd be interested in looking at other alternative careers. But if I can pay it (balancing prestige with scholarships), and it gets me to where I want to be...doesn't seem too shabby.