Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

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SehMeSerrious
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Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby SehMeSerrious » Fri Nov 18, 2011 11:33 am

Hi everyone, I have a questions that came to mind in the UVA vs. Georgetown thread.

I know that obviously it's all about ranking and then money offered for most people here, but I was curious to see if anyone had insight for people who would want to work in think tanks in the DC area or in government/politics after law school.

I think that physical location actually makes a big difference, because some of the groups I was looking at only hired interns from a select group of DC-area schools; these did not include UVA.

But obviously, someone from HYS with relevant skills, experience, and interest has good opportunities to get into this field, and rank definitely matters. But how would a school like Berkeley place in this category, being so far away? Would it bring less opportunity to make connections, and would it matter?

I was curious - out of the T14, which schools do you think would place the best in DC think tanks and politics?

tennisking88
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby tennisking88 » Fri Nov 18, 2011 11:38 am

If you wanna work for a think tank don't go to law school. Get a masters or PhD. If you wanna work in POLITICS do not go to law school. Start organizing right away or look for work in a Congressional/Senate office on Capitol Hill. Go to law school if you wanna be a lawyer. Don't take out so much debt for a potentially worthless degree.

operagrl71
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby operagrl71 » Fri Nov 18, 2011 1:51 pm

The previous poster is right, if your end goal is to work in politics going to law school is probably not the smartest choice. As a former hill staffer I can vouch for the fact that there are plenty of fully barred lawyers from great law schools interning/working as staff assistants (Hill equivalent to a secretary/administrative assistant) as they try to fight their way up the politcal ladder. While I was there we had several 1, 2 and 3Ls as summer interns, and they did the exact same work as our undergraduate and high school interns...aka opening mail, answering phones and giving tours of the capitol. On the Hill/in politics its all about connections - not credentials - and you'd be much better served spending 3 years making those connections rather than racking up debt in law school.

With respect to school choice for DC placement, from what I've heard, DC is such a competative market (aka tons of people from YHSCCN on down want to work there in both big-law and public interest) that you're better off going to the best school possible, even if its not in/near DC. I think the only way that attending a DC-area school really helps you is in the ability to make DC-area connections, which again, if your goal is to work in politcs you can do without spending 3 years in law school... That being said if the choice is between UVA and Berkeley and your goal is to end up in DC, I'd pick UVA - Berkeley is kind of an unknown quantitiy on the east coast.

And if its a think tank you're after, a masters or a PhD will definitely serve you better than a JD.

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Lily Pad
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby Lily Pad » Fri Nov 18, 2011 2:02 pm

operagrl71 wrote:The previous poster is right, if your end goal is to work in politics going to law school is probably not the smartest choice. As a former hill staffer I can vouch for the fact that there are plenty of fully barred lawyers from great law schools interning/working as staff assistants (Hill equivalent to a secretary/administrative assistant) as they try to fight their way up the politcal ladder. While I was there we had several 1, 2 and 3Ls as summer interns, and they did the exact same work as our undergraduate and high school interns...aka opening mail, answering phones and giving tours of the capitol. On the Hill/in politics its all about connections - not credentials - and you'd be much better served spending 3 years making those connections rather than racking up debt in law school.

With respect to school choice for DC placement, from what I've heard, DC is such a competative market (aka tons of people from YHSCCN on down want to work there in both big-law and public interest) that you're better off going to the best school possible, even if its not in/near DC. I think the only way that attending a DC-area school really helps you is in the ability to make DC-area connections, which again, if your goal is to work in politcs you can do without spending 3 years in law school... That being said if the choice is between UVA and Berkeley and your goal is to end up in DC, I'd pick UVA - Berkeley is kind of an unknown quantitiy on the east coast.

And if its a think tank you're after, a masters or a PhD will definitely serve you better than a JD.


+1 to all of this (I'm a Hill staffer as well). The absolute only reason you could possibly need a law degree on the Hill is if you really want to be in-house counsel for a Member or if you have a really specific interest in the Judiciary Committee. Even then, it seems like a lot of offices tend to prefer people who already have Hill experience from interning or from a prior job on the Hill instead of those fresh out of law school without Hill experience.

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SehMeSerrious
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby SehMeSerrious » Fri Nov 18, 2011 2:47 pm

Thanks, I really appreciate all of the advice. I know it's definitely more about connections and hustle in politics.

To be honest, I'm not all that interested in working as a Hill staffer right now (but I really appreciate your insights into what the pool is like.)

I'm actually more interested in think tanks and lobbying right now, with possible stints with NGOs or UN orgs. Basically, I'm aiming to be an area specialist and work in foreign policy. I'm definitely going to get at least a master's in the field (it's a short-track, professional studies program) and some more experience.

But after this, I'm still unsure whether or not I should get a JD vs. getting a graduate degree in international relations, area studies, or policy, or if I should get both. I have heard people tell me both - one professor told me to go straight to a MS/PhD in political science or international relations and forget law school or do a joint program, some have told me to go straight into the field and told me that a graduate program will not do anything that direct experience won't (I'm a little skeptical about this idea since area studies is a very specialized field), some people have told me that I should get something like a MSFS from Georgetown or a comparable program and get into the field that way, and some have told me that it's all about the JD (which came from another professor who got a JD and PhD in Political Science and worked for the UN).

The main reason I keep looking at the JD is because I've been reviewing the resumes of people who do what I'm looking to do, and they almost all seem to have JDs, with either a few years of practice followed by a graduate degree, or with a direct lateral from JD to MS or PhD. I don't know if this is a selection bias thing, or a bunch of JDs who had a change of plans, or if a JD actually helped them.

I'm also not sure about the timing. I think the most coherent pattern I've found in the more active individuals is that they have field work and years of WE mixed in between and during their studies. So for example,
Undergrad-> JD/MS/PhD -> Work -> JD/MS/PhD -> Work -> JD/MS/PhD -> Long-term career

I'm not sure if that's actually the recommended approach (some have told me that the MSFS or the PhD program with Rand is more geared towards mid-career specialists) or if that's just how things worked with the, and if I can take a more direct approach.
Last edited by SehMeSerrious on Fri Nov 18, 2011 2:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Kiersten1985
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby Kiersten1985 » Fri Nov 18, 2011 2:53 pm

A JD will be pretty worthless to you. Focus on getting the Ph.D.

EDIT: I'm confused. Do you want to be a lawyer who works in an international setting, or do you want to be a policy analyst? A JD would be required for one and absolutely worthless for the second.

Even if you want to "study international law" for policy reasons, a JD will do nothing for you. Anything you would need to know you can learn while getting your Ph.D. (For example, my senior thesis advisor is considered an expert in "international law" and only has a Ph.D., not a JD.) You won't need to know what the statute of frauds is, or how to get into federal court under diversity, or what property rules govern in Minnesota. These are the things you will learn in law school. JDs are for legal practitioners; Ph.D.'s are for policy analysts.

operagrl71
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby operagrl71 » Fri Nov 18, 2011 3:04 pm

In your case then I would say the only reason to get a JD would be if it's part of a JD/PhD program in which both degrees are fully funded. Given your career goals, it would be a major waste of time/money to get a stand alone JD...and if you're thinking about doing a JD/MA, research the programs very very carefully as I hear many employers tend to look down on the JD/MA combination.

tennisking88
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby tennisking88 » Fri Nov 18, 2011 3:08 pm

SehMeSerrious wrote:Thanks, I really appreciate all of the advice. I know it's definitely more about connections and hustle in politics.

To be honest, I'm not all that interested in working as a Hill staffer right now (but I really appreciate your insights into what the pool is like.)

I'm actually more interested in think tanks and lobbying right now, with possible stints with NGOs or UN orgs. Basically, I'm aiming to be an area specialist and work in foreign policy. I'm definitely going to get at least a master's in the field (it's a short-track, professional studies program) and some more experience.

But after this, I'm still unsure whether or not I should get a JD vs. getting a graduate degree in international relations, area studies, or policy, or if I should get both. I have heard people tell me both - one professor told me to go straight to a MS/PhD in political science or international relations and forget law school or do a joint program, some have told me to go straight into the field and told me that a graduate program will not do anything that direct experience won't (I'm a little skeptical about this idea since area studies is a very specialized field), some people have told me that I should get something like a MSFS from Georgetown or a comparable program and get into the field that way, and some have told me that it's all about the JD (which came from another professor who got a JD and PhD in Political Science and worked for the UN).

The main reason I keep looking at the JD is because I've been reviewing the resumes of people who do what I'm looking to do, and they almost all seem to have JDs, with either a few years of practice followed by a graduate degree, or with a direct lateral from JD to MS or PhD. I don't know if this is a selection bias thing, or a bunch of JDs who had a change of plans, or if a JD actually helped them.

I'm also not sure about the timing. I think the most coherent pattern I've found in the more active individuals is that they have field work and years of WE mixed in between and during their studies. So for example,
Undergrad-> JD/MS/PhD -> Work -> JD/MS/PhD -> Work -> JD/MS/PhD -> Long-term career

I'm not sure if that's actually the recommended approach (some have told me that the MSFS or the PhD program with Rand is more geared towards mid-career specialists) or if that's just how things worked with the, and if I can take a more direct approach.


This sounds incredibly complicated. I don't really know to what positions or in what fields you're referring here, but just because some people have JDs does not necessarily mean JDs are required for those positions. Getting a JD from an American university will help you do one thing, and one thing only: practice law in the United States. It will not help you write policy. It not help you get a leg up in getting a job at a think tank or in international affairs. For that I would suggest looking into the Georgetown MSFS or SAIS at Johns Hopkins or reputable PhD programs in International Affairs or Economics.

bdubs
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby bdubs » Fri Nov 18, 2011 3:15 pm

Do you have the kind of numbers that will get you a full ride to a T14? If not, you should drop law school for a different grad program.

tennisking88
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby tennisking88 » Fri Nov 18, 2011 3:24 pm

Really not complicated. A JD seems useless for what you seem to want to do (policy analysis/international affairs). Only if you decide that you want to practice law should you consider law schools.

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SehMeSerrious
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby SehMeSerrious » Fri Nov 18, 2011 3:43 pm

bdubs wrote:Do you have the kind of numbers that will get you a full ride to a T14? If not, you should drop law school for a different grad program.

It really depends on how my LSATs go; I still have a while to study for it. I'm going to be doing at least one year of research after undergrad and after/during that time I'll be studying for the LSAT and probably taking it either next year or the year after. My GPA is okay (it'll hover between 3.7-3.8 depending on how this and next quarter go) so it'll be up to the LSAT. I think took and graded a practice test back when I first considered law school, with zero prep (so I could get a baseline) and I did okay for someone with no prep. I think if I study from now to June I could get a 170+, so that's scraping the edge of T14 being feasible, but I think I could make it.

I'm also interested in how Michigan places. They have good graduate programs relevant to my interests and they may offer some good joint programs, but I have no idea how they would place in DC think tanks.

tennisking88
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby tennisking88 » Fri Nov 18, 2011 4:08 pm

SehMeSerrious wrote:
bdubs wrote: I'm also interested in how Michigan places. They have good graduate programs relevant to my interests and they may offer some good joint programs, but I have no idea how they would place in DC think tanks.


Let me clarify, because I really dont' think this is getting through. Think tanks, and by think tanks we're talking anything from Brookings to Cato to Urban Institute to IDA to AEI, don't give a good goddamn if you have a JD. They don't care if it's from Michigan or Georgetown or UVA. They want analytical thinkers who can do research and interpret data pertaining to anything from social science to international relations. I would say 98% of what they do does not require a JD. The fact that some of their employees happen to have JDs does not, in any way, shape or form, mean that you need a JD to work there. No one is stopping you from getting a JD. Just want to be absolutely clear that most people who write policy, whether on the Hill or via think tanks/policy institutes, do NOT have JDs.

bdubs
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby bdubs » Fri Nov 18, 2011 4:17 pm

tennisking88 wrote:Think tanks, and by think tanks we're talking anything from Brookings to Cato to Urban Institute to IDA to AEI, don't give a good goddamn if you have a JD. They don't care if it's from Michigan or Georgetown or UVA.


First of all you, screwed up the quote above.

Second, I think you are simplifying this a bit too much. Policy organizations need people with credibility that can be outward facing and be respected. This means having a stellar resume with impressive experiences. One way to gain those kinds of resume padding experiences is to go to a top law school. The question for OP is whether taking 3 years and spending some money is the best way to get that kind of resume padding experience. No question that getting a PhD at the Kennedy or Woodrow Wilson schools would probably be a better option, but a JD could be useful if paired with other experiences and publications.

If you're only talking about getting an entry level job at a think tank with little room for becoming a policy expert, then your advice is credited.

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MachineLemon
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby MachineLemon » Fri Nov 18, 2011 6:42 pm

Speaking from some personal experience, the DC policy world runs on networking even more than prestige. I know folks working at policy shops with mid T1 and mid T2 JDs. Nevertheless, they both say that policy positions are pretty scarce for JDs.

If you want to work in the non-profit world, you need to get an internship within the political/social network of your target organization. Specifically, look for an organization that maintains a job board for the sorts of organizations you'd like to work for. For example: The Heritage Foundation (LinkRemoved), The Institute for Policy Studies, & The Institute for Humane Studies

Often, these organizations will be able to put in a strong reference for you with the organizations on their board. Next, work your ass off and make friends with those higher up the intern pipeline--they may be your "in" later on.

You'll most likely learn which degree is best from the people you work for. However, I was advised that if I wanted to pursue policy, an MA in Economics would be superior to an MPP. People with MPPs in DC are not exactly a scarce commodity.

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SehMeSerrious
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby SehMeSerrious » Sat Nov 26, 2011 4:59 am

Thanks for all of your insights and comments. I think I have a much better idea of what I need to do to achieve my goals.

I really appreciate those links for job and internship postings. I'm looking around some of the think tanks that research topics that interest me now.

However, I'll be graduating soon and I'm not in DC, which somewhat limits my ability to apply for the internships. If anyone has any tips on searching for funded internships (paid, stipend, grants, etc.) or entry-level positions, I'd really appreciate it. And any other tips would be appreciated as well, either on here or via PMs.

09042014
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby 09042014 » Sat Nov 26, 2011 5:11 am

SehMeSerrious wrote:Thanks for all of your insights and comments. I think I have a much better idea of what I need to do to achieve my goals.

I really appreciate those links for job and internship postings. I'm looking around some of the think tanks that research topics that interest me now.

However, I'll be graduating soon and I'm not in DC, which somewhat limits my ability to apply for the internships. If anyone has any tips on searching for funded internships (paid, stipend, grants, etc.) or entry-level positions, I'd really appreciate it. And any other tips would be appreciated as well, either on here or via PMs.


Get a real job and an internship. Something like waiting tables, so you are free during the day.

TooOld4This
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby TooOld4This » Sat Nov 26, 2011 10:16 am

Desert Fox wrote:
SehMeSerrious wrote:Thanks for all of your insights and comments. I think I have a much better idea of what I need to do to achieve my goals.

I really appreciate those links for job and internship postings. I'm looking around some of the think tanks that research topics that interest me now.

However, I'll be graduating soon and I'm not in DC, which somewhat limits my ability to apply for the internships. If anyone has any tips on searching for funded internships (paid, stipend, grants, etc.) or entry-level positions, I'd really appreciate it. And any other tips would be appreciated as well, either on here or via PMs.


Get a real job and an internship. Something like waiting tables, so you are free during the day.


This.

Policy jobs in DC are like theater jobs in NYC or the movies in LA. To break in you generally need to be willing to do something else to pay the rent until you've earned your stripes.

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89vision
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby 89vision » Sat Nov 26, 2011 7:38 pm

I'm curious-don't most people take time off of school between a B.A. and Phd? I thought it was fairly difficult to get into a Phd program straight out of undergrad.

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coldshoulder
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby coldshoulder » Mon Nov 28, 2011 12:25 pm

TooOld4This wrote:
Desert Fox wrote:
SehMeSerrious wrote:Thanks for all of your insights and comments. I think I have a much better idea of what I need to do to achieve my goals.

I really appreciate those links for job and internship postings. I'm looking around some of the think tanks that research topics that interest me now.

However, I'll be graduating soon and I'm not in DC, which somewhat limits my ability to apply for the internships. If anyone has any tips on searching for funded internships (paid, stipend, grants, etc.) or entry-level positions, I'd really appreciate it. And any other tips would be appreciated as well, either on here or via PMs.


Get a real job and an internship. Something like waiting tables, so you are free during the day.


This.

Policy jobs in DC are like theater jobs in NYC or the movies in LA. To break in you generally need to be willing to do something else to pay the rent until you've earned your stripes.



+1. It's exactly what I'm doing right now, and although I've learned it's not for me, it's the only way to get in.

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89vision
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Re: Placement in DC think tanks and the Hill

Postby 89vision » Mon Nov 28, 2011 1:24 pm

One of my Professor's said a JD is a safer bet, in terms of employment, than a Phd. I don't know enough about the Phd market to form an opinion though. I know the history and art history market for Phd's is awful right now, but I don't know about the state of Poli sci.

I know some SIGs challenge policy through the courts and lobbying, so if you were interested in that aspect, a JD could help. Some think tanks have legal scholars and are law oriented (the name escapes me right now), but if you want to be a lobbyist, you may want to start working for grass roots organizations like SSDP. The presidential election is coming up, and volunteering for a campaign would be a great start (I'm going to help campaign during the GOP primary when I graduate in Dec). If you want to work as a lawyer for a SIG, a JD makes sense, but if you want to go on the policy side, study public policy.

I did read law school brochures that stated graduates were employed at places like CATO, but it didn't mention any details of their employment.

Good luck.




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