Q: I am about to begin my second year at one of the top law schools in the country. After one year as a paralegal and one summer as an associate at a large New York law firm, I am beginning to realize that I do not want to be a lawyer. I have always been extremely interested in the entertainment industry, and consider myself a creative person. I would ultimately like to get into film production and development. I do not envision myself dropping out of law school, however, and am worried about a number of things, such as:
- If I go to work for a small entertainment firm, am I shutting the door on other opportunities that a big firm will provide me with (and that could eventually lead to the type of career I am looking for);
- If I finish law school, will I be forever pigeonholed as "a lawyer";
- How can I break into the entertainment industry, a field I know relatively little about?
A: I commend you for your courage in articulating the intention, even before you graduate from law school, that you don't want to be a lawyer. Many lawyers lead unhappy professional lives for many years before they can find a way to express this sentiment even to themselves, let alone to others. (Does your family know?) However, if you clearly do not want to be a lawyer, why are you concerned about jeopardizing opportunities at a big law firm? This suggests you may still have some internal work to do in clarifying your goals.
If you do finish law school, I would doubt that you would be forever pigeonholed as a lawyer; a J.D. is a valued doctoral-level degree that many lawyers eventually use in order to qualify themselves to do something else. I would be particularly surprised if the creative types in entertainment would hold it against you, if you have the talents of the sort needed to succeed in that field.
However, it can be difficult to establish that you have creative talents without a portfolio of work or work experience in the entertainment industry. That is to say, the entertainment field is unlikely to have a prejudice against former lawyers, but without some experience or demonstrable talent relating to entertainment you may find significant resistance to "breaking-in" whether or not you have a law degree.
Finally, to break into the entertainment industry, you will need to find an entry point to the entertainment crowd. New York may be a good place to do this certainly better than most but I suspect that eventually you may need to move to Los Angeles. There you can make contacts and familiarize yourself with the industry to an extent you would find more difficult to do somewhere else. If it feels too risky at this point to relocate, try finding out as much as you can about career options in entertainment while studying or working in New York. In a career change like this, it will matter very little what academic record or work experience you have gained in law before you cross over.