JD to Finance: how did you decide on that career path?

Looking for some advice here.

I just finished up undergrad with a liberal arts degree and business minor. I've been accepted to a great law school with a massive scholarship, so I'll be going there in the fall. I've always thought that law would be for sure the way to go, and there's a lot that I like about the idea of being a lawyer, but I've taken an interest in finance through my business minor. Specifically, I like the idea of being able to see the inner workings of a business and attempt to solve problems there, and I like how finance seemingly offers a good mix of abstract thinking/verbal skills and analytical/quantitative skills. I did several pre-law internships, albeit not in the exact field I would hope to go into (bankruptcy and restructuring), and I was pretty lukewarm about what the people above me were doing on a day-to-day basis.

My question is: for people who went from law school/practicing law to finance (or people who thought about it but decided against it), what made you decide to make the switch? Are there any resources/experiences I should look into to see if finance would be a good fit aside from internships/work experience (which seems impractical at this point given that I don't have anything lined up for the summer and law students are expected to work in law firms the summer after 1&2L years)?

There's still a huge part of me that wants to be a lawyer, so it's not like I've just had a total change of heart - I just want to look into this career path a little bit more. If I had to decide today, I would go work in bankruptcy/restructuring, where I would definitely have more exposure to finance than most other practice areas, and see if I still have the finance bug after a few years of work experience. However, I would also love the opportunity to start making that decision a bit sooner.

Thanks in advance.

Comments (24)

May 9, 2022 - 10:54pm
T30Alumnus, what's your opinion? Comment below:

former corporate lawyer here. Don't go to law school, it won't take you where you want to go. No one who isn't personality deformed enjoys law. Don't view it as a scholarship, ciew it as the school demanding three years of your time you could've spent making money and acquiring new skills and experiences.  Read the thread below to see where people interested in finance who enter law end up.  Keep in mind he has a 95th percentile outcome for a Harvard law alum. 

https://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=261392
 

May 10, 2022 - 9:04am
T30Alumnus, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I know his name, never met. He left when a colleague found out his identity and HR threatened termination and a defamation suit. 
 

he had a similar trajectory as me although I didn't do IB. Doing an analyst stint to enter law is horribly depressing 

May 10, 2022 - 9:57am
ClevelandFan58, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Thanks for the link; I read through the OP and some of the replies (BernieTrump took the majority of the replies down). From the way he described it, corporate law sounds absolutely miserable. My questions are:

  1. How typical is it to hate law this much? I know plenty of lawyers in big law and they didn't necessarily love it, but it was more like "yeah, there's a lot that sucks about it and some days are miserable" than "I absolutely hate everything about this and wish I had selected an alternate career path."
  1. How much could be explained by BernieTrump's firm and/or practice area? Lots of the comments said that litigation typically isn't as pedantic and unpredictable as transactional work, so I wonder if this would be substantially better. The field I want to go into involves plenty of lit. work.
May 10, 2022 - 10:34am
T30Alumnus, what's your opinion? Comment below:

1. It is typical. Husbands often lie to their wives about how much they hate it. No one loves a complainer, and ultimately you dig your own grave in the profession. BernieTrump warned you, I warned you, the department of labor job satisfaction surveys warned you. And yet you may still go…

2. Big law litigation is a bit more predictable with hours. The work is rote and boring too. You won't see a courtroom. Exit ops are worse than corporate by a long shot. F500 companies avoid lawsuits more than ever and want arbitration. 

  • Managing Director in IB-M&A
May 10, 2022 - 3:41am

Don't go to law school unless you have a burning desire to be a politician.

I worked in BB IB, then went to Harvard Law, only to go back to IB.

Law school was a miserable 3 years for me, and if it wasn't for the Harvard degree I got at the end of it, I would have regretted it.

I don't know what "great law school" you've got the scholarship to, but unless it's Harvard, Yale or Stanford, don't go.

Take advantage of this current hot economy and job-hop your way to your ideal position.

May 10, 2022 - 9:06am
T30Alumnus, what's your opinion? Comment below:

This. But I disagree on politician part. Nothing about hls gave Obama or Cruz the skills they use as pols. They could've gotten to where they are w different paths. Frankly we will see fewer lawyers become politicians as the admission standards have dropped and corporate lawyers are in less comfortable positions financially 

May 10, 2022 - 9:23am
Lawrence3, what's your opinion? Comment below:

The opportunity cost of law school cannot be understated. Even if you have a full ride, you're missing out on 3 years of income. A lot of people think big law is the answer, that they'll make $200k and who cares if they hate the job. But my understanding is that most only get a couple years in big law before they are forced out, very few get to stay and climb the ladder to partner. Now I'm not saying you won't land in a decent paying job after that, but a lot of people end up taking a significant pay cut at that point.

Sure, money isn't everything. But only a select few lawyers actually enjoy being lawyers and when you talk to them, they'll be happy to tell you that. My point with the above is that there are better ways to make a living, and if you're already having doubts about law enough to consider finance, you should seriously consider if law school is the right move

May 10, 2022 - 9:47am
ClevelandFan58, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Thanks for the response. I wouldn't phrase it as having doubts about law school, more so just picking up an interest in finance and considering it as an alternate career path in case the legal market is weird and/or I hate law. From what I understand, going from big law > finance is fairly common, but almost nobody goes from finance > law unless they went to law school after a few years in finance.

I'm under no illusion that big law will be fun, but there's still a lot that I like about the idea of being a lawyer. I've had a pretty much lifelong interest in it, and I think it matches my skill set super well (strongest in verbal areas like reading, writing, speaking etc). I've loved the law classes that I've taken at the undergrad level due to the way of approaching problems they require and the subject matter itself.

May 10, 2022 - 10:39am
T30Alumnus, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Few go from law to finance. Many many try. A JD is a scarlet letter. I'd venture to say big law attorneys don't deserve to go into finance. They made their bed 

May 10, 2022 - 9:51am
ClevelandFan58, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Oh and re: the opportunity cost - I'm not sure what, if any, career opportunities I would be giving up in at least 1, possibly 2 of the 3 years in law school. I have a liberal arts degree that's fairly useless if you don't plan on going to law school, and I'm not sure how far a business minor would carry. I would have to do a lot of work to figure out how to pitch myself for any sort of finance role. Not to mention I'm still trying to figure out if I could even see myself in one of these positions, as most of my exposure has just been through class/professors, talking to friends in that area, and doing some outside reading

  • 1
May 10, 2022 - 10:23am
Lawrence3, what's your opinion? Comment below:

It really depends on your ability to network and the alumni from your undergrad. You are a little late to the party at this point given the way finance operates.

T14 on a significant scholarship as you say is certainly not as bad as the people who go to a t100 and finance everything. Debt is the biggest consideration with law school in my opinion. If you can keep that low, you'll have the freedom to choose jobs you'll enjoy, or pivot elsewhere in your career. The ones who go $300k in debt are screwed if they can't hold a biglaw job long enough to pay it back.

Best of luck with your future.

May 10, 2022 - 10:38am
T30Alumnus, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Kid, go into tech sales or real estate brokerage or marketing or ANYTHING but law school. It will ruin people like you who seem aimless career wise. Just take a job and run with it.  Your degree is nearly useless but has the juice to get you somewhere 

  • 1
May 10, 2022 - 10:36am
T30Alumnus, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Crediting this. Few make it past four years. Almost no one makes partner. Pay isn't great compared to finance. Opportunity cost is huge. You're working for zero income while your friends are building careers. It is a shitty feeling 

Most Helpful
  • Principal in PE - Other
May 10, 2022 - 4:32pm

Look, I don't want to pile on, but I kind of need to. For background, I attended a T6, interned in big law after 2L, managed to sneak my way into an associate program at a BB doing recruiting during 3L. The climb was steep, and I only got one offer. 

I actually liked law school a lot. The classes were interesting (especially once you got to choose the ones you took), and I happened to make a lot of close friends. But being a big law lawyer just. sucks. That TLS thread linked to above is 100% accurate. I graduated law school almost a decade ago, and am at the point where people in my graduating class are making partner now. The ones that are still working in big law (that I am friends with) are doing it because they don't know what else to do. Not a single one actually enjoys the job.

If your actual goal is to get into finance, you are much better off passing on law school, getting some other sort of corporate experience, and going for your MBA in three years. THAT SAID, it is not impossible to get into finance out of law. It is not common, but it is not impossible. I have several friends that started their career in bankruptcy, and then were successfully able to shift to special situations / distressed credit hedge fund roles. Even then, they often had to initially join in a more legal capacity and then fight their way onto the investment team.

Occasionally banks will hire corporate M&A lawyers into their banking programs, but frankly, it's more likely to get a banking job by recruiting during the law school process. Some BBs are starting to have actual recruitment teams focused on law schools (but it is more opportunistic, and many years they will make zero hires through those programs).

Long story short, you can go to law school and break into finance, but it is the winding path and there are better alternatives.

  • Principal in PE - Other
May 10, 2022 - 6:16pm

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