Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

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thompsa2
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Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby thompsa2 » Mon Nov 25, 2013 11:35 pm

I am a tenured professor in sociology at a small liberal arts college (with a PhD from a highly ranked school) . However, I am considering a career change, and to some degree I always regretted not going to law school. I have been unable to find any posts or information about professors transitioning to law. Based on my sociology background (I specialize in the areas of race/ethnicity, poverty, inequality, and homelessness), I sometimes think I would be happier moving out of the classroom and in to law (working for a non-profit organization).

I graduated Summa Cum Laude as an undergraduate (in 1996), and I have various peer-reviewed publications, particularly related to race relations. My GPA in grad school was somewhere near a 4.0 (I can't remember exactly). I earned my PhD in 2007. Another consideration is that I am now 38 years old.

I welcome any general advice regarding potentially changing careers and going to law school. This would be a risky decision, as I would be giving up tenure to pursue an uncertain future. Thank you in advance for your help!

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stillwater
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby stillwater » Mon Nov 25, 2013 11:38 pm

wut

i would vehemently argue against this switch. you have it made and now you are going all riverboat gambler.

but, if you must, take the LSAT, see how it goes, and we'll pick it up again from there. because i think for you, anything short of YHS would probably be a grave mistake. (not to mention i still think the switch is unwise).

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midwest17
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby midwest17 » Mon Nov 25, 2013 11:42 pm

This is probably not quite the right forum for this. I also can't give you much advice, except:

* What matters is your undergraduate GPA, not your graduate GPA. I assume summa means you have a high one, but I don't know what the cutoff for that is at your UG.
* If you have that good a GPA, it's worth at the very least finding out how well you could do on the LSAT (under timed conditions). If you can get in to one of the top 3 schools, your future is drastically less uncertain that it would otherwise be.
* Do you have any interest in becoming a law professor? It seems like your current academic work could meld well with law, if you wanted to go that route. It's one option to keep in mind, unless you're just completely sick of academia.

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ph14
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby ph14 » Mon Nov 25, 2013 11:42 pm

thompsa2 wrote:I am a tenured professor in sociology at a small liberal arts college (with a PhD from a highly ranked school) . However, I am considering a career change, and to some degree I always regretted not going to law school. I have been unable to find any posts or information about professors transitioning to law. Based on my sociology background (I specialize in the areas of race/ethnicity, poverty, inequality, and homelessness), I sometimes think I would be happier moving out of the classroom and in to law (working for a non-profit organization).

I graduated Summa Cum Laude as an undergraduate (in 1996), and I have various peer-reviewed publications, particularly related to race relations. My GPA in grad school was somewhere near a 4.0 (I can't remember exactly). I earned my PhD in 2007. Another consideration is that I am now 38 years old.

I welcome any general advice regarding potentially changing careers and going to law school. This would be a risky decision, as I would be giving up tenure to pursue an uncertain future. Thank you in advance for your help!


How much do you like your job? Many would say that it's not worth changing careers if you like what you are doing. Now, if you are unhappy, then that is an entirely different story. Three years and tens of thousands of dollars in tuition (although you may get a scholarship or have savings) gets you (for the most part) poor job prospects, long hours, high stress, and low job satisfaction.

Now, I personally am happy with my decision to go law school. But many people are not.

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mr. wednesday
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby mr. wednesday » Mon Nov 25, 2013 11:45 pm

If you want to help a legal nonprofit, donate money or fundraise for them. There are so many more people willing to work at nonprofits than there are spots for them it's ridiculous.

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jbagelboy
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby jbagelboy » Tue Nov 26, 2013 12:33 am

I guess to be honest, I'd say you should prep for the LSAT and try sitting for the exam before seriously considering leaving your job to go back to school. I cant imagine my profs going back to school (and law school, esp. 1L, really is school). A tenured gig at an LAC is a pretty sweet deal. My professors were generally very pleased with their success at my small top college and they had so much flexibility .. It only makes sense to that up if, as someone else mentioned, you personally are unhappy in your field, you have a very clearly identified track you want to take with a JD, and you have the scores for a top school at low cost where your background could be appreciated - Im thinking either Yale, or full ride at CCN.

Its worth noting that this transition isnt unheard of - both my torts and contracts profs were professors already prior to getting their JDs - but people like this go back to the legal academy, not into private practice.

Ti Malice
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby Ti Malice » Tue Nov 26, 2013 1:57 am

jbagelboy wrote:I guess to be honest, I'd say you should prep for the LSAT and try sitting for the exam before seriously considering leaving your job to go back to school. I cant imagine my profs going back to school (and law school, esp. 1L, really is school). A tenured gig at an LAC is a pretty sweet deal. My professors were generally very pleased with their success at my small top college and they had so much flexibility .. It only makes sense to that up if, as someone else mentioned, you personally are unhappy in your field, you have a very clearly identified track you want to take with a JD, and you have the scores for a top school at low cost where your background could be appreciated - Im thinking either Yale, or full ride at CCN.

Its worth noting that this transition isnt unheard of - both my torts and contracts profs were professors already prior to getting their JDs - but people like this go back to the legal academy, not into private practice.


I agree with most of this. You need to find out how highly you can score on the LSAT. Be advised that most people need several months of fairly intensive prep to reach their potential (or something close to it). If you score 160+ on a timed diagnostic, that's an indicator that you have a good chance of reaching a score in the 170s with proper study; this is not a threshold requirement, however, since people with significantly lower diags also reach these scores.

In my opinion, you need to go to YHS or to CCN with a full ride for law school to be worthwhile. You should also have a pretty clear idea of what you want to do with a law degree before giving up a tenured professorship -- and then you should make doubly sure that what you want to do bears some relation to positions that actually exist and that would be realistically attainable for someone coming from a top school.

My only quibble with the above post is with jbagelboy's last comment. While a good proportion of people in your position would no doubt be looking at entering the legal academy, that's certainly not a uniform rule. There are several former tenured professors at Y, especially in my class, and the majority of them have no interest in returning to academic life. Small and possibly idiosyncratic sample, sure, but I think it's fair to say that plenty of similarly situated law students are ultimately looking for a different kind of career.

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jbagelboy
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby jbagelboy » Tue Nov 26, 2013 2:06 am

Ti Malice wrote:
jbagelboy wrote:I guess to be honest, I'd say you should prep for the LSAT and try sitting for the exam before seriously considering leaving your job to go back to school. I cant imagine my profs going back to school (and law school, esp. 1L, really is school). A tenured gig at an LAC is a pretty sweet deal. My professors were generally very pleased with their success at my small top college and they had so much flexibility .. It only makes sense to give that up if, as someone else mentioned, you personally are unhappy in your field, you have a very clearly identified track you want to take with a JD, and you have the scores for a top school at low cost where your background could be appreciated - Im thinking either Yale, or full ride at CCN.

Its worth noting that this transition isnt unheard of - both my torts and contracts profs were professors already prior to getting their JDs - but people like this go back to the legal academy, not into private practice.


I agree with most of this. You need to find out how highly you can score on the LSAT. Be advised that most people need several months of fairly intensive prep to reach their potential (or something close to it). If you score 160+ on a timed diagnostic, that's an indicator that you have a good chance of reaching a score in the 170s with proper study; this is not a threshold requirement, however, since people with significantly lower diags also reach these scores.

In my opinion, you need to go to YHS or to CCN with a full ride for law school to be worthwhile. You should also have a pretty clear idea of what you want to do with a law degree before giving up a tenured professorship -- and then you should make doubly sure that what you want to do bears some relation to positions that actually exist and that would be realistically attainable for someone coming from a top school.

My only quibble with the above post is with jbagelboy's last comment. While a good proportion of people in your position would no doubt be looking at entering the legal academy, that's certainly not a uniform rule. There are several former tenured professors at Y, especially in my class, and the majority of them have no interest in returning to academic life. Small and possibly idiosyncratic sample, sure, but I think it's fair to say that plenty of similarly situated law students are ultimately looking for a different kind of career.


Im sure you are right and its a viable track. While I personally doubt many established academics would make the transition to the (comparatively) unsavory climate of 2200 hr billing large firm work as a menial associate, Ti is certainly right that it happens. My bad

californiauser
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby californiauser » Tue Nov 26, 2013 2:15 am

If you can get into Harvard, Yale, or Stanford, go for it.

thompsa2
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby thompsa2 » Tue Nov 26, 2013 3:32 am

Thank you all for your feedback. I certainly have no plans to quit my job without a solid game plan, and the cost of tuition/future job prospects would be a serious consideration.

The world of academia is changing, at least in my small corner of that world, and not for the better. The constant focus on "assessment" and "learning outcomes," the movement to online education, and the ever-increasing demands on professors to engage in a multitude of tedious, bureaucratic work that has little to do with teaching or research is mind-numbing. If I hear another professor talk about "holistic grading rubrics" I may lose my mind. On the other hand, perhaps my disgruntled attitude is the result of end-of-the-semester fatigue.

I may do a trial run of the LSAT. I suppose my vision of working for a non-profit, civil rights-oriented law firm is more than a little idealistic. But the grass always seems greener...

Oh, and my apologies for the rant on the state of higher education.

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SemperLegal
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby SemperLegal » Tue Nov 26, 2013 5:17 am

This might seem obvious, but if your college has a law school, you should really direct some questions towards the faculty there. Law professors are famously out of touch when it comes to non-academic sector. However, I am sure that there should be plenty of good advice that they have (especially the younger adjuncts).

In fact, with a focus like yours, its possible that the Law School might even let you co-teach a "Law and Poverty" class or something similar.

If you don't have a law school, than it might be worth reaching out to some local law schools and asking for some professional courtesy.

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Hipster but Athletic
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby Hipster but Athletic » Tue Nov 26, 2013 5:43 am

I just want to say that we debate poverty and race a lot on this forum and it would be a pleasure if you would contribute.

NYstate
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby NYstate » Tue Nov 26, 2013 6:08 am

I can't imagine giving up a tenured job with benefits for the uncertainty and demands of law. Your complaints about higher education are extremely petty when you have a job that you can't lose.Law is detail oriented, tedious and bureaucratic to a huge extent. And you have little to no control over your hours.

While maybe if you can get into Yale it would be a decent risk, the chances of that are low. And even Yale grads lose jobs. You can't imagine how difficult finding and keeping a job in law can be. Not for profits are some of the most competitive jobs to obtain. Hiring is small numbers, resource dependent and because of loan forgiveness highly valued.

I guess you could take the LSAT but this just seems like a stupid plan. Lots of people have some kind of unfulfilled wish of going to law school. It looks much better from the outside.

Ti Malice
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby Ti Malice » Tue Nov 26, 2013 8:24 am

jbagelboy wrote:
Ti Malice wrote:
jbagelboy wrote:I guess to be honest, I'd say you should prep for the LSAT and try sitting for the exam before seriously considering leaving your job to go back to school. I cant imagine my profs going back to school (and law school, esp. 1L, really is school). A tenured gig at an LAC is a pretty sweet deal. My professors were generally very pleased with their success at my small top college and they had so much flexibility .. It only makes sense to give that up if, as someone else mentioned, you personally are unhappy in your field, you have a very clearly identified track you want to take with a JD, and you have the scores for a top school at low cost where your background could be appreciated - Im thinking either Yale, or full ride at CCN.

Its worth noting that this transition isnt unheard of - both my torts and contracts profs were professors already prior to getting their JDs - but people like this go back to the legal academy, not into private practice.


I agree with most of this. You need to find out how highly you can score on the LSAT. Be advised that most people need several months of fairly intensive prep to reach their potential (or something close to it). If you score 160+ on a timed diagnostic, that's an indicator that you have a good chance of reaching a score in the 170s with proper study; this is not a threshold requirement, however, since people with significantly lower diags also reach these scores.

In my opinion, you need to go to YHS or to CCN with a full ride for law school to be worthwhile. You should also have a pretty clear idea of what you want to do with a law degree before giving up a tenured professorship -- and then you should make doubly sure that what you want to do bears some relation to positions that actually exist and that would be realistically attainable for someone coming from a top school.

My only quibble with the above post is with jbagelboy's last comment. While a good proportion of people in your position would no doubt be looking at entering the legal academy, that's certainly not a uniform rule. There are several former tenured professors at Y, especially in my class, and the majority of them have no interest in returning to academic life. Small and possibly idiosyncratic sample, sure, but I think it's fair to say that plenty of similarly situated law students are ultimately looking for a different kind of career.


Im sure you are right and its a viable track. While I personally doubt many established academics would make the transition to the (comparatively) unsavory climate of 2200 hr billing large firm work as a menial associate, Ti is certainly right that it happens. My bad


Yeah, I should have added that none of the ones I've met are going the BigLaw route (as of the times I last spoke to them about their career aspirations, at least). I agree that it's hard to fathom why someone would make that particular transition.

badaboom61
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby badaboom61 » Tue Nov 26, 2013 8:30 am

I'll disagree with most people on this board and say you should go to law school, because I'm very curious to see how much more fulfilling life is as an entry level lawyer than as a tenured professor. Please come back in 5 years and let us know.

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BaiAilian2013
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby BaiAilian2013 » Tue Nov 26, 2013 8:41 am

Lot of good reasons already given why this is probably a bad idea. But also: how do you know you'll like being a lawyer?

Ti Malice
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby Ti Malice » Tue Nov 26, 2013 9:12 am

thompsa2 wrote:I may do a trial run of the LSAT. I suppose my vision of working for a non-profit, civil rights-oriented law firm is more than a little idealistic. But the grass always seems greener...


I don't think that goals along these lines are necessarily unrealistic or that switching careers is necessarily a bad idea. But if these are your goals, then you need to be going to one of a few top schools -- and going tuition-free if the school isn't YHS.

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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby Void » Tue Nov 26, 2013 9:20 am

Do some research on the realities of the practice of law. It sounds like you have this notion of a "non-profit civil rights law firm," but I suspect that you haven't looked into:
1. how many firms like this actually exist,
2. the quality of life for lawyers doing this kind of work,
3. what you would actually be doing on a day to day basis, and
4. how much money you would make.

As an attorney working in the civil rights arena, here are the answers I suspect you'll find:

1. Very few. And as someone else in this thread already mentioned, the ratio of supply and demand for these kinds of positions is staggering. The likliehood that you will land a job at a non-profit straight out of law school is pretty low. You'd probably be trying to start out in government in some public interest capacity, and competing fiercely for the chance. I've said it before on this site, but the days of "if this doesn't work out I will just be a public defender or whatever" are long dead. All public interest position openings (even unpaid ones) are flooded with applications from competitive students from good schools.

2. Compared to biglaw attorneys, pretty good. Compared to tenured professors, not so great. All public interest jobs are pretty thankless and can be really frustrating because whatever you're fighting against, you're losing almost all the time.

3. Probably not what you'd think. I'm in court every day but I'm not passionately arguing for clients and banging my fist on a podium; I'm moving for continuances and negotiating in the hallway with burnt out executive branch lawyers who ran out of fucks to give years ago. I spend the rest if my day trying to track down people who wish I would leave them alone, or entering data into a computer. Don't get me wrong- I love my job- but it's definitely a job. HINT: if you dislike bureaucracy and tedium, becoming an attorney is not a wise career move.

4. You'd start out hoping for $65-$70k, but probably end up in the $35-$50k range. Keep in mind, no summers off or ridiculously long vacation breaks.


I will end this by adding that your PhD and professorial experience will be undervalued by law schools and employers alike. I can tell by your posts that you are proud of your credentials, and you should be! But once you go to law school, whatever you did before becomes a kind of a novelty at best. I won't go so far as to claim that nobody will care about your PhD, but honestly, it won't be perceived as that big of a deal. Lots of people go to law school after grad school, and lots of people change careers. So just keep in mind that you would sort of be resetting your career and starting on nearly equal ground with 22 year olds who just finished undergrad.

NYstate
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby NYstate » Tue Nov 26, 2013 10:12 am

It's worth mentioning that getting a job as a law professor, should you consider that, is probably more competitive than getting a not for profit job. Law school enrollment is drastically dropping and there will be a decrease in professorial positions.

Hardly anyone should be going to law school now, I would put you in the group of those who definitely should not go. Many people on this forum are going to regret going to law school. You should stop while you're ahead and be glad you have such a great job.

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oshberg28
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby oshberg28 » Tue Nov 26, 2013 1:25 pm

I would be wary of soliciting advice from young 20 somethings, some of whom have never had a job outside of college, who use the term "wut". With that said, this is a very knowledgeable place with folks who know what they are talking about. The problem is that on this site, pretty much everyone thinks they know what they are talking about when they give advice.

I think you should post this in the "over 30" thread.

Void
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby Void » Tue Nov 26, 2013 6:23 pm

oshberg28 wrote:I would be wary of soliciting advice from young 20 somethings, some of whom have never had a job outside of college, who use the term "wut". With that said, this is a very knowledgeable place with folks who know what they are talking about. The problem is that on this site, pretty much everyone thinks they know what they are talking about when they give advice.

I think you should post this in the "over 30" thread.


Wut.

Some of us are licensed attorneys, and over 30. :)

NYstate
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby NYstate » Tue Nov 26, 2013 6:37 pm

Void wrote:
oshberg28 wrote:I would be wary of soliciting advice from young 20 somethings, some of whom have never had a job outside of college, who use the term "wut". With that said, this is a very knowledgeable place with folks who know what they are talking about. The problem is that on this site, pretty much everyone thinks they know what they are talking about when they give advice.

I think you should post this in the "over 30" thread.


Wut.

Some of us are licensed attorneys, and over 30. :)


Are the over 30s people advocating giving up tenure for law school?

If so, they are idiots. What could they possibly advise that is different than posted here?

OP: if you want to get an expert opinion from an over-30 person, then I suggest you ask Professor Paul Campos for his take on this situation. If his blog, insidethelawschoolscam was still active, I'm sure this topic would have been the basis for an awesome post.

You should still read that blog and even his book if you want advice from the older set.

melodically
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby melodically » Tue Nov 26, 2013 7:05 pm

An associate at my firm went this route (though I'm not sure whether he was tenured). He went to a T14 and graduated around age 45. Says he really enjoys the work.

I would imagine this is highly uncommon, but it can be done. PM me if you'd like me to put you in touch.

thompsa2
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby thompsa2 » Tue Nov 26, 2013 7:28 pm

NYstate wrote:I can't imagine giving up a tenured job with benefits for the uncertainty and demands of law. Your complaints about higher education are extremely petty when you have a job that you can't lose.Law is detail oriented, tedious and bureaucratic to a huge extent. And you have little to no control over your hours.

While maybe if you can get into Yale it would be a decent risk, the chances of that are low. And even Yale grads lose jobs. You can't imagine how difficult finding and keeping a job in law can be. Not for profits are some of the most competitive jobs to obtain. Hiring is small numbers, resource dependent and because of loan forgiveness highly valued.

I guess you could take the LSAT but this just seems like a stupid plan. Lots of people have some kind of unfulfilled wish of going to law school. It looks much better from the outside.


Hello NYstate. Perhaps some of your advice is valid, but generally you do not persuade others to either understand or accept your point of view through insults. On the contrary, such jabs tend to alienate your audience. I would imagine that if you are a lawyer or do become one some day, you will have a difficult time unless you work on your communication skills.

I am assuming that you are not a professor nor have you earned a Ph.D. The world of working in higher education is not as idealistic as some may imagine (just as the world of law is not an ideal dreamland). There are many, many faculty members who are unhappy working in higher ed, and their reasons (like mine) are not "petty." In the last few years, I have seen numerous extraordinarily talented and dedicated professors at top schools retire due to the changing landscape of higher education.

And believe me, as a cancer survivor, I know the value of a good job and benefits, particularly health insurance. I also have a much deeper understanding of my own mortality and the importance of engaging in work that you love. I started this thread simply in search of some friendly advice.

thompsa2
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Re: Current PhD tenured professor considering law school

Postby thompsa2 » Tue Nov 26, 2013 7:31 pm

Hipster but Athletic wrote:I just want to say that we debate poverty and race a lot on this forum and it would be a pleasure if you would contribute.


I would love to contribute. Thanks for the welcoming invite.




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