BigLaw and PhD

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BigLaw and PhD

Post by Anonymous User » Sat May 01, 2021 9:50 am

How are non-STEM PhDs viewed by law firms, especially NYC big law? Would it be seen as a plus or a liability?

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Prudent_Jurist

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Re: BigLaw and PhD

Post by Prudent_Jurist » Sat May 01, 2021 11:12 am

I’m not really sure, but my initial take as someone with an advanced non-STEM degree is that it can make you a more interesting candidate but isn’t really going to put your leagues above your competition when interviewing.

This might also depend on what kind of degree we’re talking about. I have an advanced degree in a humanities subject, so there isn’t much liability there. Maybe a PhD in economics or something more business/finance related would be seen as more of a plus?

Biglaw is likely going to operate under the assumption that (a) you’re probably going to leave at some point and (b) you’re replaceable. So I don’t think they’ll ding you for having a PhD.

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Re: BigLaw and PhD

Post by Anonymous User » Sat May 01, 2021 12:09 pm

I have a non-stem PhD, and while I'm not in NYC biglaw, my impression is that mostly employers don't care. It's just something you did in the past, the way other career changers did something in the past. The risk is looking like law is a backup b/c you couldn't get an academic job, so you will need to have a good explanation for the switch - that was a constant when I was interviewing - but if you can convincingly talk about why you wanted law instead, you should be fine. You will occasionally find someone who thinks it's fascinating and cool, and then very occasionally someone who's very suspicious/disdainful, but I feel like in the end it's a wash. Your success in law school will be the most important thing. If your law school performance is good, you might get a bit of a reaction, "and you know they're smart b/c they also have a PhD!", but if your law school performance isn't good, having the PhD will not help you in the slightest.

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Re: BigLaw and PhD

Post by Anonymous User » Sat May 01, 2021 5:21 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Sat May 01, 2021 12:09 pm
I have a non-stem PhD, and while I'm not in NYC biglaw, my impression is that mostly employers don't care. It's just something you did in the past, the way other career changers did something in the past. The risk is looking like law is a backup b/c you couldn't get an academic job, so you will need to have a good explanation for the switch - that was a constant when I was interviewing - but if you can convincingly talk about why you wanted law instead, you should be fine. You will occasionally find someone who thinks it's fascinating and cool, and then very occasionally someone who's very suspicious/disdainful, but I feel like in the end it's a wash. Your success in law school will be the most important thing. If your law school performance is good, you might get a bit of a reaction, "and you know they're smart b/c they also have a PhD!", but if your law school performance isn't good, having the PhD will not help you in the slightest.
Agreed. I felt like it was fairly easy to spin it to my advantage in interviews, and while I'm sure it was a "soft" plus, it definitely wasn't a liability. The partner who ended up hiring me just happened to have a PhD in a similar field so I'm sure that helped as well. But yeah, it ultimately came down to my law school grades. Since I've started practicing I don't know that most of my colleagues are even aware I have a PhD.

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Re: BigLaw and PhD

Post by Anonymous User » Sat May 01, 2021 7:34 pm

I have a PhD (humanities) and am a senior associate in biglaw (major market). In my screener interview one of the partners interviewing me also had a PhD and my guess is that helped me. The training in analyzing complicated documents and writing is very useful for being an attorney. I agree with posters above that firms don’t really recognize that is the case and most of my colleagues don’t realize I have a PhD.

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Anonymous User
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Re: BigLaw and PhD

Post by Anonymous User » Sat May 01, 2021 7:52 pm

Yeah, I'm one of the non-STEM PhD's above, and I am definitely a much better lawyer than I would have been without doing the PhD! I think there are definitely transferable skills, I just think most people who don't have PhDs really think about or recognize that.

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Re: BigLaw and PhD

Post by CanadianWolf » Sun May 02, 2021 5:07 am

Would a PhD in Economics be helpful in Antitrust work ?

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Re: BigLaw and PhD

Post by Anonymous User » Sun May 02, 2021 10:33 am

CanadianWolf wrote:
Sun May 02, 2021 5:07 am
Would a PhD in Economics be helpful in Antitrust work ?
Um, yes.

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Re: BigLaw and PhD

Post by Anonymous User » Sun May 02, 2021 2:00 pm

I don't think it hurt or helped me. I think some folks asked, but many just ignored it.

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ninthcircuitattorney

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Re: BigLaw and PhD

Post by ninthcircuitattorney » Mon May 03, 2021 7:56 pm

To all you folks who actually know. What was harder, Ph.D or JD? I tell my Ph.D. spouse that getting into their Ph.D. program was harder but, once in, getting out of my JD was harder.

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Re: BigLaw and PhD

Post by Anonymous User » Mon May 03, 2021 8:19 pm

IMO neither is really that hard.

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Re: BigLaw and PhD

Post by Anonymous User » Mon May 03, 2021 8:23 pm

ninthcircuitattorney wrote:
Mon May 03, 2021 7:56 pm
To all you folks who actually know. What was harder, Ph.D or JD? I tell my Ph.D. spouse that getting into their Ph.D. program was harder but, once in, getting out of my JD was harder.
Ph.D. experience depends wildly on field and program. My Ph.D. was in molecular biology and I worked 70-80hrs/wk, 6 days/wk. Similar for my friends in chem/neuro and other empirical fields. In contrast, theoretical STEM fields (physics, etc) and social sciences/humanities have nowhere near those hours. Which, for the record, does not necessarily imply that it's easy; different fields just require different things.

The # of years until degree completion also depends wildly. For some STEM fields, it's 4-5yrs; other STEM fields and social science fields it's 5-7yrs. Meanwhile in some fields like literature, 8yrs+ is not uncommon.

Finally, the personal dynamics are very, very different between a J.D. and a Ph.D. Law school is a professional school. No one person can screw up your job prospects if you have the credentials, etc. Heck, you can get a BigLaw job, etc, without interacting with a single person in your law school. Very different for grad school/Ph.D. If your advisor hates you, your daily life will be miserable and your job prospects will suffer.

Edit: Realized I didn't actually answer the question. JD is so much easier in my experience.
Last edited by Anonymous User on Mon May 03, 2021 9:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: BigLaw and PhD

Post by Anonymous User » Mon May 03, 2021 8:40 pm

PhD is much harder. Finishing a JD just means sitting through 6 semesters of stuff - at least at my school, where you basically had to work to get kicked out of my law school. Being at the bottom of the class probably wasn't fun and didn't give you good job options, but it didn't get you kicked out.

Writing a dissertation and getting a committee to accept it is way harder than sitting through 6 semesters of classes. I didn't put in the lab hours that STEM people do - that shit is tough - but I had to apply for grants to try to get enough money to go to European archives long enough to collect enough materials written by hand in another language from which I could basically write a book that satisfied my advisor who never praised, told you it wasn't good, but sucked at telling you what they actually wanted and how to fix it. While simultaneously either TAing 2 sections of a lecture course or teaching my own course (most semesters, though not quite all).

Don't get me wrong, the JD being on a curve and grades mattering so much is a pain in the ass, but the fact that you can get a JD without having to have an original thought (let alone come up with a work of original scholarship) means it's much easier. The multiple humanities PhDs I know who went into law all agree.

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