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Law degrees open multiple doors

multiple-doors_

Practice area absorbs attorneys from different fields

Not every law degree leads to a legal practice.

In fact, for a growing number of law school graduates, practicing law does not have to be the goal, according to a recent study from the American Bar Association, which found that, among the thousands of attorneys surveyed since 2000, 24 percent no longer were practicing in 2012. Only 9 percent had reported leaving by 2003.

The data does not include the number of attorneys who finish law school and never practice, but opportunities in business, health care and finance seem to be pulling away some would-be attorneys before they ever start.

“There is a very significant portion of law school graduates who don’t practice or never enter the practice,” said Michael Keller, assistant dean for career and professional development at the University of Wisconsin Law School. “It has always been the case.”

That is not news to Sheldon Lubar, a 1953 UW Law School grad who wound up in banking after an expected opportunity with the Air Force evaporated with the end of the Korean War.

“I did intend to practice law once I had a degree,” he said. “But life takes unexpected turns and, in my last year of law school, I got married.”

The realities of supporting a family soon trumped his pursuit of the law, and Lubar landed in the credit department at a Milwaukee bank.

“I was the only lawyer on the commercial side of the bank,” Lubar said. “It separated me very much. Not that I wore it on my sleeve as lieutenant’s bars or anything like that, but it was very helpful to me in structuring transactions.”

Eventually, he said, he began working on loan agreements.

“We’d work with a law firm, but I’d be part of that,” said Lubar, who went on to open Lubar & Co., a private investment and capital management firm in Milwaukee. “It was a big help, still is.”

His career certainly would have been possible without his legal training, Lubar said, but his unique background helped him stand out.

Purnita Howlader appreciated that advantage after she graduated from the UW Law School in 2011. Howlader had worked in human resources for five years before she decided to attend law school, and, she said, she planned to practice after she was done.

Then, she said, she had a chance meeting with a classmate, and that led to a fellowship and changed her mind about being an attorney.

“If it hadn’t been for that one interaction, I never would have found out about the program,” said Howlader, whose fellowship led to her job as a program analyst in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Exercise Division in Washington, D.C.

Howlader said she uses her legal training every day, whether she’s revising policies, writing press releases or drafting standard-operating procedures. But, she said, her HR background let her take a more holistic approach, which has led to such tangible results as doubling the number of summer interns at FEMA within her first year.

And, although she isn’t a practicing attorney, Howlader said, her law degree and HR experience are essential.

“If I had been missing one or the other, it wouldn’t have made me as qualified,” she said.

Nathan Raygor, a compliance consultant with U.S. Bank in Minneapolis, said he would not have had the same career opportunities without law school. He started his career at the Federal Reserve Bank, but, after a year or two, he said, he realized he needed another degree to do what he really wanted to do: regulation and policy. So, he enrolled in law school.

Raygor has not ruled out practicing; he plans to sit for the bar exam in February. But, he said, practicing was not necessarily part of his plan.

“I thought that I didn’t have to practice law,” Raygor said, “and that the law degree would give me perspective, knowledge and a network where I could work on policy questions.”

An externship program in the UW Law School’s Government and Legislative Clinic let Raygor work with regulatory attorneys at Wisconsin’s insurance commission.

When the federal Affordable Health Care Act passed a month before he finished law school in May 2012, Raygor found himself uniquely qualified for a career in compliance.

“I have yet to practice law, but I’ve done insurance regulation,” he said. “I’ve done banking regulation. I’ve spent time dealing with fascinating issues, and at no time have I had the title attorney at law.

“But am I using my law degree? Absolutely.”


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