Academic Research vs. Legal Professions... which one? (Econ PhD writing)

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mostheinous
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Academic Research vs. Legal Professions... which one? (Econ PhD writing)

Postby mostheinous » Thu May 14, 2015 3:05 am

Hi guys,

I've posted here before but have had cold feet about my chosen career path recently so I'd thought I'd ask around again. So, I'm an advanced PhD student in economics at a top 10-15 economics school (think Michigan, UCLA, UCSD, Minnesota level, if you're looking at US News and World Report).

I've noticed a lot of misinformation regarding economics PhD's on these boards (such as the knee-jerk "The academic market is terrible!!!" spiel). Therefore, I want to give some quality information regarding that and then ask for your advice. I'm not sure what the job market for academics is in general, but in economics it is very good. In fact, there is almost always an aggregate shortage of economics PhD's (in both academic and non-academic markets). While not everyone ends up with exactly the job they want, it is not unrealistic to expect, as your outside option, an economic consulting firm (Cornerstone, Bates White, CRA) offer of well over six figures, especially coming from a school ranked in the top 20. This is probably in part why competition for economics PhD's is so steep. I myself was a standout at my top 10 LAC undergrad, graduating in the top 5% (with the required perfect GRE math), and I still didn't crack the top 5. But academic jobs aren't just handed to you. There is a class ranking (which the faculty decide on the basis of research potential, not things like grades), and it is very important in determining where you get "placed," i.e. a first job as an assistant professor. The very top grads from my program will get academic offers from Chicago, Cornell, Columbia, and very occasionally Harvard (though not in many years). The median student looking for an academic job will get an assistant professorship at a school like the University of Oregon.

All that being said, I'm nowhere close to the top student. I'm probably, at best, right around the 33rd percentile mark in terms of research potential in my class, based on my research output thus far. So I won't be getting any offers from Chicago, which I've obviously accepted at this point. However, I do like research. I like thinking of new ideas, and I like thinking of cool ways to test them. I also like thinking a lot in general, and my non-economics hobbies involve reading philosophy of science and metaphysics (Popper, Kuhn, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, just the typical stuff for all you philosophy buffs). But if I want to continue doing research, I'd have to probably work at a think-tank where the pay and upward mobility wouldn't be so great (though still around 90k a year). However, I'd get to work on stuff that objectively matters, in terms of contributing to society, and also stuff that I think is intellectually stimulating.

I've thought about going to law school in the past. Though I've read enough articles on it at this point to know that if I don't know why I'm going I shouldn't go. Legal work does seem stimulating to me-- I enjoy writing, and even mundane tasks sometimes (as long as I can see the bigger picture). However, the associates I know at top firms (I'm considering the best case scenarios here, to judge if I want to go) don't really seem particularly happy. They also don't really tell me they do stuff that is intellectually stimulating or "really matters" in terms of societal contribution. But I never got a clear idea of why. Facilitating economic transactions, for instance, does seem like it would be a substantial societal contribution. Anyway, my question is this -- based on the above, would I (or your perceived "me") be a good fit for a career as an attorney? I know "attorney" is a very broad term but... there have to be some commonalities, right?

And, if I could ask another question, what was it that honestly made you want to pursue a legal career anyway? Money? Prestige? An interest in the law? Again, honest answers appreciated. I'm just trying to see what it would take to succeed and enjoy a potential career as an attorney.

** NOTE: I don't really have an interest in legal academia. I'd only consider going to law school to work as an attorney. And if you've made it this far, thanks for reading my mammoth wall of a post.

aretoodeetoo
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Re: Academic Research vs. Legal Professions... which one? (Econ PhD writing)

Postby aretoodeetoo » Sun May 17, 2015 4:47 am

i had a similar dilemma. i went with law school cause i figured... i could just go into academia afterward. i can't think of two more polar opposites than academia and legal practice. the only similarity is that it's super hard to break into academia and in a sense it is hard to break into legal practice since most don't get a shot at working like a monkey for money.

i honestly think it is way harder to get an academic job at x state university than a big law job at a great firm. you are basically waiting for people to die or leave and you grab his/her spot.

I also think law school and legal practice sucks bad. and I don't know what to say to not sound insulting but being a standout in undergrad means what? i know with philosophy and english lit, ur a standout if you publish stuff. the only problem is every single little corner seems to have already been covered.

just go the academic route so you aren't pulling your hair out at work on a saturday/sunday

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A. Nony Mouse
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Re: Academic Research vs. Legal Professions... which one? (Econ PhD writing)

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Sun May 17, 2015 12:51 pm

Most PhDs in fields other than econ would be THRILLED to get a position with the U of Oregon.

With regard to what you've said here, one of the most significant differences between academia and law (IMHO) is academia's focus on originality and generating ideas. In academia, you are supposed to be developing a research agenda by identifying areas in your field that need further study and figuring out ways to conduct that research. It's all on you - people can't just hand you ideas to work on. It's extremely self-directed - but it also to some extent really only matters to you. In the grand scheme, individual research certainly can make things better (or worse, I suppose), but more immediately, if you don't end up finishing/publishing a paper, you will be the person most affected by that. (This may be less so to the extent you work collaboratively, but more as a matter of degree than kind, I think.)

Law is quite different because you aren't working on problems that you thought up and decided to pursue - you're working on someone else's problems, the issues that your client came to you and said "here is a problem that I need solved." You're invested in those issues, of course, since you've been hired to solve them, but they're not yours the way that a research agenda in academia is yours; the parameters are presented to you, not created by you. However, other people are depending on what you do, and have a stake in the outcome in a way that's very different from academia, where the stake is publishing/winning grants/getting jobs, not saving someone's money/business/freedom.

Personally, I think law is less creative than academia/than it's often cracked up to be. In litigation, you need to be creative to figure out winning arguments, but part of that creativity is convincing the court that your argument wins precisely because it is the most consistent with the law that already exists. You don't generally want to make your argument sound novel because courts hate novelty - you need to give the court a reason to believe that if they rule in your favor they're following existing law (and won't get overturned). There's certainly creativity involved in that, but it's a very conformist kind of creativity, if that makes any sense. If you're in biglaw, too, my understanding is that you won't be making decisions about cases for a while, and will be completing tasks that other people have decided matter (that's second-hand knowledge, though).

(I can't comment on corporate/transactional work because I've never done any, but it seems to me that a lot of that also involves making your situation fit previously-accepted standards.)

From what you've said, I don't know that you'd really enjoy law, except maybe the paycheck in biglaw. I think you'd be best off taking an academic job and publishing your way out if you don't like the placement, or working in a think-tank.

UpandDown97
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Re: Academic Research vs. Legal Professions... which one? (Econ PhD writing)

Postby UpandDown97 » Sun May 17, 2015 1:26 pm

I can't speak much to this issue because I don't know much, but I do think a useful tool in determining your future would be to take a practice LSAT. With a baseline LSAT score, and thus an assessment of your abilities, you can figure out perhaps what range of scores are possible and thus what kind of options you may have.

Now, since math skills and the LSAT are linked, you'll probably kill the LSAT. Likewise, you likely have a very high GPA. All this leads me to believe that HYSCCNP at big discounts are not out of the question.

If you can get into HYS, or a CCN for free, law school may be worth it to advance your career.

CanadianWolf
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Re: Academic Research vs. Legal Professions... which one? (Econ PhD writing)

Postby CanadianWolf » Mon May 18, 2015 4:46 pm

OP based on your interests as stated above, law school is probably not a good option for you--especially biglaw (because you'll sacrifice both independence & creativity).

kartelite
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Re: Academic Research vs. Legal Professions... which one? (Econ PhD writing)

Postby kartelite » Mon May 18, 2015 4:59 pm

Why don't you try economic (litigation) consulting for a while and see how that goes? It pays very well, as you noted easily six figures at entry level and it will give you some exposure to the legal industry. I dropped out of my econ PhD program because I realized early on academia was not for me, and did econ consulting for a couple years after working in finance. It may be right up your alley, getting to work on legal stuff without having to go for the degree.

I don't think any econ PhD student (native English speaker at least) at a top program should have trouble killing the LSAT (seriously, you should be able to hit 175+ with practice and maybe a bit of luck), and I'm guessing you had a high GPA so if you are actually seriously considering LS just take the test and you will be able to predict (with a lot more certainty that econ admissions) what your options should look like.

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AreJay711
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Re: Academic Research vs. Legal Professions... which one? (Econ PhD writing)

Postby AreJay711 » Mon May 18, 2015 5:08 pm

I considered getting my econ PhD, but decided on the law school route. I thought transactions would be cool too. They aren't though. Most of what you do as a junior associate is shit work. It's about as tedious a thing as you could imagine. As you move up, it gets better from what I hear, but that could be because a lot of people bowed out before that point. I like litigation, for the reasons you say.

You'd probably like something like antitrust litigation. I'd be hesitant to put all your eggs in that basket though. I know some econ people make big money as experts in antitrust litigation, so maybe look for some gigs involving that to help you decide. They're the people who will say "Nah, this behavior can be explained by conscious parallelism -- look at my model."

abl
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Re: Academic Research vs. Legal Professions... which one? (Econ PhD writing)

Postby abl » Mon May 18, 2015 5:38 pm

Most folks in law school would kill for a 90k/year job of substance with reasonable hours -- aka what you'd have in a think tank. That is, for many HYS students, a best case outcome (and few jobs meet those criteria). If you care deeply about money, are passionately interested in the law, or really dislike econ, it might still be worth going to law school--assuming you get in a T14 school or a top regional school in the region in which you practice (preferably with some finaid).

But my advice to you--as a practicing lawyer who loves his/her job, no less--is to stay the course with econ. The chances of you getting a better QOL job in law (taking into account how interesting your work is, your hours expectations, your career advancement possibilities, and your pay) than what seems close-to-guaranteed for you in econ are small for any law school outside of HYS and far from guaranteed even from HYS.

Jchance
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Re: Academic Research vs. Legal Professions... which one? (Econ PhD writing)

Postby Jchance » Sat Sep 12, 2015 10:52 pm

abl wrote:Most folks in law school would kill for a 90k/year job of substance with reasonable hours -- aka what you'd have in a think tank.


I'm not sure how true this statement is, considering most think tank jobs are in DC and cost of living in DC is super pricey. 90k/year in DC is barely comfortable.

abl
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Re: Academic Research vs. Legal Professions... which one? (Econ PhD writing)

Postby abl » Mon Sep 28, 2015 5:28 pm

Jchance wrote:
abl wrote:Most folks in law school would kill for a 90k/year job of substance with reasonable hours -- aka what you'd have in a think tank.


I'm not sure how true this statement is, considering most think tank jobs are in DC and cost of living in DC is super pricey. 90k/year in DC is barely comfortable.


Wait, so you think that reason why most folks in law school wouldn't want any awesome 90k/year job is because one such type of job -- think tank positions -- are regularly (but not exclusively) found in DC and DC is expensive?

PS, and this is entirely besides the point, but $90k in DC is the median family income.

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UnicornHunter
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Re: Academic Research vs. Legal Professions... which one? (Econ PhD writing)

Postby UnicornHunter » Mon Sep 28, 2015 6:57 pm

But if I want to continue doing research, I'd have to probably work at a think-tank where the pay and upward mobility...


Isn't research the whole point of academia, which you claim you're pretty much guaranteed?




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