“Law school showcases about 3 percent of what you can do with a law degree.”
That’s a key career insight from Anastasia Boyko, a legal consultant who has served as dean of the Tsai Leadership Program at Yale Law School.
She tells the story of once asking a career counselor what she would be able to do with her law degree other than practice law. The counselor quickly slipped her a book whose title announced, 1001 Things You Can Do With Your Law Degree.
Many people outside the legal profession are surprised to learn that law school graduates do not always choose to become lawyers, and that many more practice law for a few years and move on to other pursuits. Especially at the top levels of the profession, the job can be a grueling routine, with long hours and a focus on dry minutia.
But the best lawyers are talented people, and even when they decide a career in the law is not for them, they are quick to make their mark in other sectors of industry and society.
“A law degree is a problem solving degree, a thinking degree, and a foundation in analysis and logic,” says Boyko. “As such, it provides a launching pad for leadership roles in other sectors.”
Lawyers lead in some surprising fields. We expect to see lawyers in government, at Hollywood talent agencies, as corporate counsels and administrators, but their influence on the economy and social order runs much deeper.
Boyko notes: “They run financial institutions, they are management consultants, they start businesses, operate sports teams, produce Broadway plays, write books, become happiness experts, run talent functions, lead sales teams, build 3D cars, manage hotel chains, start non-profits, seed early-stage companies, start tequila brands, operate beauty businesses, pioneer accountability networks, and so much more.”
A prime example of this is Mark Morabito, a Vancouver-based corporate finance and securities lawyer who now heads a merchant bank while coordinating mining ventures around the world. Soon after graduation from law school, he reached the pinnacle of the profession, working for top firms in Toronto and later Vancouver. After eight years of 80-hour weeks, he decided it was time for a change, time to enjoy the freedom and adventure of entrepreneurship.
In retrospect, it’s not surprising he would make this change, given that his motto in business is: “It’s not about the risk – it’s about the opportunity.” Today, he not only leads King & Bay Merchant Bank and the mining operations of Intrepid Metals Corp., he’s also planning a trip into space atop one of Richard Branson’s Galactic rockets. None of that was on a course syllabus at Western University’s Faculty of Law, where he earned his J.D.
“Studying the law is wonderful training for the mind, and practicing law gives you tremendous insight into how our society and economy work,” says Morabito. “You learn important skills, cultivate valuable networks, and gain insight into human nature. Later on, when you are creating your own companies, closing your own deals and initiating business ventures, you don’t need to be constantly consulting an attorney, because you already have that foundation, that essential understanding of our legal framework. And if you’ve practiced at the higher levels, you already know some of the key players in business and finance.”
It can also give you a window onto what you’re missing: “What my clients were doing excited me more than what I was doing to help them,” he remembers.
“One thing that law school doesn’t tell you often enough is that you will be leading a lot as a lawyer,” notes Boyko, “whether you are in private practice, in the government, working for a nonprofit, in the judiciary, within legal academia, or in a non-legal role. …
Lawyers, whether they give themselves credit for it or not, have a unique capacity for leadership.”