Career Options in Finance for Law Degree Holders

Two women at a meeting with a financial advisor
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The financial services industry is highly regulated, and lawyers have credentials that are greatly in demand. Combine these two factors and financial services begins to look like a promising second career for a lawyer or others in the legal field who want a change of focus or direction.

Producer Careers for Law Degree Holders

Both financial advisors and financial planners pursue careers in which law is a constant factor. Taxation and the laws governing trusts and estates are central issues in managing both personal and small business finances. Lawyers can offer invaluable knowledge in these sectors.

Most major financial services firms typically will not authorize lawyers to offer anything even remotely resembling legal advice, however, so this is one drawback — you're not utilizing all your training, education and knowledge. You must be at least somewhat circumspect in using your legal expertise. Major firms generally make disclaimers that they do not give tax or legal advice to limit their exposure to lawsuits from unhappy clients.

On the other hand, certain boutique financial services providers — especially those catering to wealthy individuals — actually do offer tax preparation, tax advice and trust formation among their services. Included among these providers are some trust companies and specialized small financial services firms commonly called family offices.

Depending on the laws in your state, it might be possible to offer a financial planning practice in conjunction with a law firm. If so, you could be a lawyer who decides to get certified as a financial planner or who decides to hire one or more into your firm. You might be a financial planner who decides to add a law degree to your resume, or you might want to hire one or more lawyers to expand your firm's capabilities.

Support Careers for Law Degree Holders

The most obvious area with a need for legal expertise on the support side of financial services is the one generally categorized as compliance, legal and tax. Not surprisingly, numerous jobs in this area require either a licensed practicing attorney, the holder of a law degree or a trained and certified paralegal.

Additionally, many departments in financial services firms must clear their work with either internal or external legal counsel. For example, the text of all communications directed at clients or to the general public, such as marketing brochures and advertisements, must typically pass a legal review. Having someone on staff with legal expertise can be valuable, helping the department to anticipate what counsel will require and thereby avoiding wasted effort. Finally, a background in law can improve your future prospects for promotion to senior management.

Specialize in Financial Fields With a Law Degree

Of course, an obvious course would simply be to practice in a finance-related area of law. You've gotten your law degree, you've passed the bar, so hang out your shingle with the intention of practicing in an area that covers all your interests. There's no rule that says you have to be a general practitioner. You can focus on estate law, bankruptcy law, small business law or consumer law. The possibilities are endless.