Professional Career Perspective

By John G. Kelly, B.Com., LL.B., M.Sc. (international relations) M.A. (Jud.Admin) F.CIS

Millennials are Looking to Professional Careers Where They Can Do Good

A recent much acclaimed comprehensive Canadian study on “Redefining Work” has found that, for a significant number of aspiring professionals, the preferred professional career path for millennials encompasses the following attributes.

Feeling like your job is helping others and making a difference is fulfilling. This isn’t restricted to the “helping professions” in health care, social work of teaching. Workers in many sorts of customer or client service roles experience the satisfaction of “doing good” by helping people.[1]

“Doing good by helping people” is a primary motivator in for aspiring professionals looking at law related careers. I use the term “law related” advisedly because their wanting to do good and help has inclined them to look into law school as a venue for getting a professional degree. Their undergraduate major, particularly if it’s in the political science or social science humanities (SSH) streams, has had some sort the “legal connection”. They want to use law as a career service vehicle to fulfill their mission of “doing good by helping people” as opposed to practising law.

Aspiring Professionals are Looking for “Public Interest” Professional Legal Careers

This has been my experience in counselling hundreds of Canadian undergraduates at graduate school fairs and speaking at graduate school seminars along with reading personal statements from applicants applying to UK law schools. A comprehensive study by John Bliss of the Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession corroborates my experience.

Indeed, survey researchers have consistently shown that many incoming law students express preferences for non-profit and government jobs but then experience a “public-interest drift” during law school, whereby they instead decide to pursue positions in private law firms.[2]

Core to the LLM Professional Career Launcher mission is to inform students that, unlike Canada and the U.S., there are professional education options that are directly aligned with their professional aspirations through innovative direct entry LLM/MA Law programs in U.K. law schools. A prolonged three- year JD general education program is neither appropriate nor the necessary professional educational route for them to launch a preferred career that can be translated into “law when necessary, but not necessarily the law”. Pursuing a dedicated one- year multi-disciplinary graduate LLM/MA Law Degree specialization enables them to develop expertise in their preferred professional niche in a law related context and avoid the “public-interest drift”. In the alternative, if they want to integrate the specialization into the practice of law, a two- year senior status LLB+ one -year LLM will put them on the right track to launch their career. Either way, they avoid the “public-interest drift”.

The JD Legal Education Model & the Public Interest Drift

There are several factors that contribute to the creation of the “public-interest drift” in conventional three – year JD law programs. The JD jurisprudential education model is based on a 19thcentury methodology that is heavily reliant on analytical case law analysis that lacks a 21stcentury public interest perspective.[3]“Some researchers have instead pointed to the law school socialization process where lessons in amoral, apolitical, and unemotional legal reasoning may steer students away from public-interest career ambitions”[4]The prevailing law school culture is closely aligned with, and linked to, the practice of law and private sector law firms . “You often hear it as a sort of gallows humor among lawyers: I came to law school to save the world, and then I sold out to make money.”[5] Law school reputations are dependent on being in the “big law firm” recruitment loop. Law school career counsellors and law firm recruitment centres are intertwined in a mutually beneficial National Association of Law Placement (NALP) association[6]. Law student counselling, resume preparation and placement opportunities are focused on a hyper “speed dating”[7]program orchestrated by law firms and law schools that push the law student in a linear law firm direction. What’s the impact on the “public interest” cohort of law students?

Indeed, many of these students continue to identify strongly as a “public-interest lawyer”—a label they generally define in sharp opposition to the “corporate” path—even as they decide to apply to large law firms at the end of the first-year summer. These students often emerge from this process with troubling accounts of personal and civic disinvestment as they transition into their roles as law firm attorneys.[8]

The opportunity to partake in a risk averse pathway to employment following a summer placement is just too good to refuse, particularly when the JD education program provides no comparable link to public sector focused professional career pathways. However, Public interest focused law school graduates don’t just “get over” being shoved into private sector law firm practice and “get on with it”. A series of studies on legal career trajectories has found that these aspiring professionals with a public interest passion are pushing back.

 Public Interest Pushback from the New Generation of Legal Professionals

On the most basic level, data from these three sources all illustrate that the practice setting in which lawyers start their careers post–law school is unlikely to be the practice setting in which they remain throughout the entirety of their careers. In particular, there is a trend toward movement away from the private sector.  For example, in AJD 1 (first year following graduation), about 70 percent of respondents were working in private law firms. By AJD 2, (second year after graduation) a little more than half (55 percent) were working in private law firms, with a large number going into the business sector and smaller numbers into non-profits and education. Similarly, in the Harvard Law School Career Study, there is a general migration of HLS graduates out of the law firm sector[9]

LLM/MA Law Degree Specialization is the Preferred Push Back Option

Why did Reid Hoffman create Linkedin and why is it a resounding success? Because, to quote this silicon billionaire, “it’s up to you to – with the help of your friends and network- to find and develop professional opportunities for yourself”[10] Aspiring Professionals  wanting to pursue “public interest” careers need to resist being shoved into conventional three-year JD legal education programs and push back by enrolling in innovative direct entry graduate UK LLM/MA Law Degree programs that they can link to professional associations with a shared interest. Disgruntled JD students and senior status LLB students need to engage in a fundamental “reverse engineering” and transition from being shoved into the private sector law firm milieu and push back by becoming recruiters in legal and law related professional services “opportunity markets”[11]by adding an LLM/MA Law credential that will provide them with the expertise and credibility to push themselves into their preferred professional practice niche

Collaboration by specialists is the key to success in professional services.That’s the central theme and message reiterated time and again by Heidi K. Gardner, Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession, in her recently published very reader friendly treatise.

In short, in serving clients today, it’s not enough simply to know how something is usually done; you have to come up with ways that it could be done far better, faster and cheaper, and ideally in a way that makes the recipient feel special- all of which generally require both specialization and collaboration.[12]

Most savvy and ambitious professionals today understand that it’s in their economic interests to become truly expert at one topic. Ideally, that one topic is both arcane (in the sense of not being easily learned) and critically important (meaning there’s a market for this skill).[13]

[1]Graham Lowe and Frank Graves. Redesigning Work. A Blueprint for Canada’s Well Being and Prosperity. Toronto. Rotman-UTP Publishing (2017) at P.78.

[2]John Bliss, Drifting Law Students- Public Interest Caught in the Law Firm Pipeline. Boston. Harvard law School Center on the Legal Profession Volume 4, Issue 4 (2018)

[3]Deborah L. Rhode, The Trouble with Lawyers. New York. Oxford University Press (2015).

[4]Supra 2.

[5]Supra 2


[7]Hadiyah Roderique, I would have to be twice as good to be considered equal, Toronto Globe and Mail, Saturday, Nov. 4th,2017.  PF3

[8]Supra 2.

[9]The Journals, The Places You’ll Go – Data on movement in lawyers careers. Boston. Harvard law School Center on the Legal Profession Volume 4, Issue 4 (2018)

[10]Supra 11 at P. 143

[11]Reid Hoffman and Ben Cashocha,the start-up of YOU. New York. Crown Business Random House. (2012) at P.30

[12]Diane Mulcahy, The Gig Economy. New York. American Management Association (AMA). (2017).

[12]Heidi K. Gardner, Smart Collaboration. Boston. Harvard University Press. (2016) at P 35.

[13]Ibid at P6.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s