Nontraditional Degrees That Are a Good Fit for Legal Careers

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Hiring in the legal field is intensifying, which means that as a manager, you have increased competition for top candidates. Depending on your company’s specialties and services, considering nontraditional candidates can be a savvy way to find and hire specialized talent.

Depending on the position, considering candidates with other educational backgrounds in addition to a traditional juris doctor degree can sometimes land you just the right lawyers for your open legal job positions. Read on to find out which degrees are surprisingly good fits for legal careers in today’s world.

Master of Business Administration

Hiring MBAs for legal jobs may be a good move if your company is interested in pursuing new business opportunities. The MBA course of study includes extensive training and education in investment, economics and corporate finance. Candidates who have obtained this degree also usually have a strong foundation in entrepreneurship and corporate law. Furthermore, an MBA qualifies candidates for many senior-level management positions, which could be useful with respect to succession planning. 

Engineering and hard sciences

Protecting intellectual property (IP) is a major concern for CEOs, particularly those in the biotechnology and high-tech sectors. Having the ability to understand technical jargon is a major asset when dealing with IP, patents and inventions; and a patent attorney or paralegal with a degree in engineering can speak the language and help with patent filings, trademark infringements and litigation proceedings. In addition, lawyers with a background in civil, petroleum or environmental engineering can offer valuable insight in litigation cases and advice in corporate law.

For the same reasons, be open to candidates who majored in the hard sciences, such as biology, chemistry, physics, and earth sciences. These candidates, as well as those with interdisciplinary training -- biomechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, geochemistry, and biophysics, for example -- can bring their particular expertise to certain legal matters.

Depending on your company’s specialties and services,

considering nontraditional candidates can be

a savvy way to find and hire specialized talent. 

Computer Science

Employers in the legal field, particularly those in the tech industry, increasingly require candidates with more than just a basic understanding of information technology. An employee with a computer science degree can be a great asset to your legal team when it comes to applying the law to new technology, and vice versa. You may also want someone who is an expert in big data and/or cyber risk. Other benefits of having a computer scientist on staff -- stellar problem-solving and information management skills, and attention to detail. 

Healthcare Administration

According to the Robert Half Legal Salary Guide, compliance activities related to the Affordable Care Act are generating much of today’s legal work. A candidate whose background is in healthcare administration will have experience with management and operations within a hospital system or specific department. From working with insurance companies to keeping up with government regulations, a candidate with such a degree and an understanding of the law can be a valuable asset to your team. 

Real Estate

With the economy on the upswing, businesses in all industries are looking to expand. A candidate with a background in real estate will be able to help guide your company in issues related to commercial development, property management and leasing. 

 Looking for “diamonds in the rough”

It can be easier to train physicists, computer scientists, mechanical engineers, mathematicians, and medical doctors for legal jobs than to send lawyers to learn another discipline. When recruiting, look for candidates with nontraditional degrees who excelled in their studies, show a strong interest in law, and possess excellent verbal and written communication skills. These diamonds in the rough may need more mentoring and professional development, especially if they wish to pass the bar exam, but the benefit to your organization may be worth the investment.

Here are some additional nontraditional degrees that may offer value in positions at your firm or business:

  • Economics

  • Political science

  • Public policy

  • Philosophy

  • International studies

  • History

Law practices are becoming more and more interdisciplinary, which is one reason more law schools are partnering with other colleges and departments within their universities to offer joint degrees, such as the JD-MD, JD-PhD, JD-MBA, JD-MA, and JD-MS. Opening up legal careers to these and other professionals can offer your firm or legal department the different perspectives you need — and the special skills your clients desire.