Friday, November 28, 2008
Are Law Degrees Versatile?
The National Law Journal recently asked, Is the Versatility of a Law Degree Just a Myth? Well, yes and no. If you go to law school without any real desire to practice law, and with no concept of where your career might go afterward, you're probably going to find out that there are many degrees that are far more versatile than law. If you then try to enter a field outside of law, what employer wouldn't be curious as to why you sought the law degree, or how your law degree better qualifies you for the job than the degree of a more typical applicant?
And then there's often the question of why you're choosing a career path that pays less than legal practice. Is your explanation that you're looking for greater job satisfaction, and are willing to take a pay cut for a job you love? Is it, "Legal practice (or at least the practice I was in) doesn't pay what you think"?
When you look around and see lawyers in a wide range of fields, ask yourself how they got there? If they're older, and entered a business field back before the MBA was created, there's no direct comparison. When the degree of preference in a field has changed, the easiest way to enter that field is with the preferred degree. But what of the others? Are they truly there because of their law degree and its versatility, or because they found a way into a field by virtue of their personal interests and skills and, assuming their legal background remains relevant to their job duties, found a way to make their law degrees work for their employer.
I would not suggest to somebody who simply can't decide what they want to do "when they grow up", that they go to law school. For that matter, I would have words of caution for somebody who understands what legal practice entails and wants to join the legal profession. But really, if you're meandering, an MBA is generally going to be cheaper and will likely provide more flexibility (save for getting you a license to practice law). The flexibility I see in a law degree often has more to do with the person holding the degree than the degree itself.
Still, if you're from a modest background and are willing to put in the effort it takes to get through law school, position yourself to get into a well-paid legal position, and work yourself ragged for enough years to build up some capital, it's a slow, tedious way to get to the point that you can afford to truly follow your dreams.