NAPLA Conference Explores Law Practice Outside the Traditional Lines

Last week I was in Baltimore at the Northeast Association of Pre-Law Advisors (NAPLA) Conference hosted by the University of Baltimore Law and the University of Maryland Law.  The programs included some new subject matter centered on “JD-Preferred” career paths, and I liked what I heard.  Too often conference programs focus on the “JD-Required” career opportunities only, and, especially in the current economic and jobs climate, the emphasis on career opportunities outside the traditional settings seems like a good idea.  There also was some good news about the job market, and I am sure all of you are ready for that!

Panelists from law schools in the northeast discussed the still dismal state of the market for law graduates, including lower starting salaries than five years ago, runaway law school tuition and high law school loan debts.  Same old, same old.  However, the experts also emphasized the lifetime value of the earnings by law school graduates and presented data demonstrating increases in scholarships to offset student loan debt and other measures law schools are undertaking to increase financial literacy among their students.  Although that may seem like a cartoon character band-aide for a major hemorrhage, it is at least some relief.

My favorite part of the program, however, addressed the advent of “JD-Preferred” positions in businesses and entrepreneurial ventures that can be very satisfying and rewarding.  There were some interesting slides presented that showed high percentages of law graduates engaged in business rather than law firm settings, including a breakdown of those statistics for the various areas of the country.  That information was followed by a presenter, who had left law practice and is now the Director of Marketing and Business Development at a law firm.  She described the increasing need for marketing, business development and case resource management that is internal to law firms but is not the function of practicing lawyers.  Think new kinds of jobs for law graduates …. without billable hour requirements!

Although this increase in non-traditional law jobs likely is related to the recession-induced chill on hiring in law firms and other traditional employment settings, let’s not knock it.  Technology is the way of the future, and many of these “JD Preferred” jobs are related to the growth in the technology sector.  And, that cannot be so bad.  Yes, the 2000-hour billable requirement job pays well, but who has more fun?  Hard to say, but good to think about.

So, there was much to think about at NAPLA this year.  I also enjoyed a program that addressed “The Outlier” law school applicant.  Not everyone, who applies to law school, has impressive LSAT scores and GPAs for a variety of reasons, whether those reasons involve learning disabilities or experiential issues.  It is heartening that admissions directors are beginning to acknowledge that fact and find ways to identify Outliers, who will perform well in law school, will make fine lawyers and are worth the risk.  The panelists shared compelling stories of some of these Outliers and their successes, and you had to admire the true grit of these young people.

As always, I look forward to the next NAPLA.  I always see friends and colleagues there, and I appreciate the efforts of the program directors to address cutting edge issues.  I also enjoy sharing Best Friends at the Bar with the attendees, and I love it when people stop by my display table to chat.  This year people were especially interested to hear about the new book I am writing. 

More on that later!



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