I Want a JD But Don’t Want to Practice


QI’m curious how important a law school’s ranking is if someone (me) is pursuing a law degree but does not want to be a lawyer. A little more specifically: My undergraduate degree is a double major in Advertising and Public Relations. I would like work for a larger PR firm actually doing PR and promotions. My law degree would only serve the purpose of working with legal reps and departments of clients intelligibly. Thoughts? Ideas? Criticisms?

ALet’s face it, better is usually best. Going to Yale Law School is always a better rap than going to a T4 school in the middle of nowhere, whether you ultimately intend to be a lawyer, a PR exec, or a bartender. But it’s also better to be super-handsome, super-rich and super-funny.

In your particular case, I don’t think rank matters too much. First, you don’t need to be a lawyer to work in public relations in the first place. In fact, 99% of PR executives aren’t lawyers. So the mere fact you went to law school will distinguish you from the crowd.  Second, the PR biz isn’t terribly school snobby. It’s not like consulting, private equity or investment banking, where a lawyer’s pedigree is the prime determinant in him or her getting a job.

Like I always say, you should only go to law school if you actually want to be a lawyer. Don’t listen to random friends and uncles who say things like, “Law school is a great training ground for business,” or, “It’s a versatile degree, you can do anything you want with it.” Three years and $150 grand is a lot to spend to be able to sound “intelligible” to legal departments, dude. Going to law school is a significant time and financial investment; make sure you’re committed.

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

33 Comments

  1. Guano Dubango

    August 10, 2009 at 3:48 am

    Only go to law school if you will be able to use the law degree to make money.  I want a good looking woman to marry me who will be definitive, make money, and allow us to retire in 10-15 years to the hill country together with our children.  I do not want to waste my time on women who are trying to “find” themselves.  I can tell you where you should be if there are questions like that, but I really want a woman who is ready to earn and save money for us and our children.  There are too many “air-headed” women wanting men to support them.  That is not right.

  2. Guano Dubango

    August 10, 2009 at 3:55 am

    I also want to comment on today’s poll.  There should be a question for men lawyers and another quesiton for female lawyers.  Based on my experiences with female lawyers at least, I would say that way less then 5% of the ones I met are attractive (in the physical way).  If you bring in their earning capacity, it goes up to about 15% as “attractive “(which is not the same as being good looking).  This is worse then the general population, where there are more better looking women.

  3. BL1Y

    August 10, 2009 at 4:31 am

    Anyone who gets a JD to keep a job that doesn’t require one is an idiot.  You can get study guides for the relevant classes (contracts, corporations, etc) and learn quite a bit on your own for very cheap.  Besides, three years of experience will be more useful in dealing with everyone, including legal departments.

  4. Pacific Reporter

    August 10, 2009 at 5:24 am

    Don’t go unless you want to be a lawyer.

  5. Rico

    August 10, 2009 at 6:39 am

    Don’t go to law school to be a publicist.  It’s a waste of time and money.  In fact, it might even hold you back—you’ll be too aware of the ethical rules you’re skirting to advance your clients’ cause.

  6. Doug

    August 10, 2009 at 7:20 am

    I agree with Rico’s conclusion, though I don’t follow his argument. I graduated from law school eight years ago, passed the bar, and practiced for six months before I decided it wasn’t for me. When I applied for jobs, I often heard questions like, “What’s going to stop you from going back to law?” This was common. In fact, every employer worried that as a lawyer, I’d be able to leave them at the drop of the hat to go practice. Of course, lawyers know that it doesn’t work that way, but laymen think a law license is like some kind of superpower. Honestly, there were times when I thought about leaving the JD off my resume, but back then, it would have been hard to explain what I was doing for three of my life. So I kept the JD on. But it was always a very hard sell to convince employers that I really wanted that job, and that I wasn’t going to turn around and leave them for the law. Eventually, I found some employers who saw the JD as an asset. But it’s not like I was properly compensated for having the JD. In short, don’t go if you don’t want to practice. There’s no point.

    • HWMNBN

      February 17, 2012 at 2:25 pm

      @Doug,

      This thread is a couple of years old, and I don’t know if you’re still around this blog, but I’d be very interested in talking to you offline about how you moved out of law. I’m a securities lawyer, and I passionately want to go into business/corporate development. Preference is for a startup, because I love building organizations, but if a major corporation is the best route into the field, I’d do it.

  7. Craig

    August 10, 2009 at 7:36 am

    You should have just hit the work force immediately.  Three years actually practicing what you want to be doing would have been far better than three years of law school.  When you are reading about contracts and con law, are you sitting there thinking how much this will help you in with dealing legal reps? I doubt it.  Your PR contemporaries and competition have actually been dealing with legal reps for three years.  Nobody is going to care about some middle of the road legal degree. In fact, they may look at you as more of a pain in the ass and more of an unknown than the usual, predictable PR college graduate schlep.

  8. Anon

    August 10, 2009 at 7:53 am

    Once again, Craig is on the money.

  9. BL1Y

    August 10, 2009 at 7:58 am

    Only exception I can see is if you get a full ride to a Top 50 school.  In that case the opportunity cost becomes much lower and it might be worth it, especially if you may reconsider being a publicist down the road.

  10. Craig

    August 10, 2009 at 8:16 am

    If the education is free (and that does not mean your parents are paying … that will still probably be your money in the long run) then it would be an entirely different conversation, even if it was not a top 50 school.  I would still say that if you definitely want to be in PR, get in PR. Simple.  But I would at least be able to see why he would want to get a law degree. The degree is not as worthless in other fields as it is sometimes made out to be on this site.  It is not the door opener your “uncle” thinks it is, but it will at least give you the added confidence of always having another career option in life.

  11. Alma Federer

    August 10, 2009 at 8:38 am

    I think she could get the degree, if she has the money and the time.  Why not, you only live once.  So there is one extra law degree out there, so what?  I think one should be free to pursue her dreams, and if doing a little law school is her dream, who are we to tell her otherwise?

  12. BL1Y

    August 10, 2009 at 8:47 am

    Because law school isn’t his dream, being a publicist is.  Law school would (potentially) just be a very expensive, time consuming, stressful means to that end.  Yes, you only live once, which is why no one should spend 3 of the best years of their life getting a degree they won’t use.

  13. BL1Y

    August 10, 2009 at 9:09 am

    What’s up with the few people who answered that more than 50% of lawyers are attractive?  50% of models aren’t even attractive.

  14. Craig

    August 10, 2009 at 9:23 am

    “Attractive” is a relative term.  I voted 10-25%, so I’m not with the over 50% crowd, but you don’t have to be “hot” or be an “8” or higher to be considered “attractive.”

  15. Delphine

    August 10, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    There is something prestigious about having a JD, even if you don’t practice.

  16. Anonymous

    August 10, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    @ Delphine, spoken like a laymen.

  17. Guano Dubango

    August 11, 2009 at 1:32 am

    Women tend to be very liberal on who is “attractive”.  Unlike men, women don’t envision sleeping with a person as a prerequisite to labeling such a person attractive.  Men, on the other hand are very discerning.  They will call it like they see it.  If a woman is not “bedworthy” she is not attractive.  Hence, you will find homely guys being more willing to label a woman “attractive” if he hasn’t had sex in a while, because so doing will increase his chances of getting sex (in his mind).  Men who get a lot of sex will be very careful before labeling a plain woman as attractive, as they do not have to rely on such plain women to satisfy their needs.  I personally fall somewhere in the middle.  After I have had a good run in the sack, I tend to be charitable when I see a plain / ugly women.  Although I won’t want them sexually, I will be kind in my assessment of them.

  18. BL1Y

    August 11, 2009 at 2:41 am

    Delphine obviously went to a shit school.  There’s only something prestigious about having a JD if it’s a prestigious JD.

  19. Alma Federer

    August 11, 2009 at 3:02 am

    Well I went to a very good school, and I agree with Delphine.  Women should be able to express there opinion without getting bashed by the men.  Women should also be able to go to law school, and then decide not to practice law, without being bashed by the men.  Women add valuable perspectives to law school classes, and without women, the men would be even more aggressive, which is NOT something any of us need.  So women of the legal profession, take heed and do not let the men tell you that you do not measure up.

  20. BL1Y

    August 11, 2009 at 4:28 am

    Women are free to express their opinions.  But, when they say something stupid, they get bashed.  That’s life.  Besides, the people who bash women the worst are other women.

  21. KateLaw

    August 11, 2009 at 6:19 am

    Do it!!  I did that and Im one of the fortunate few who got a very good job right out of school!  Im currently not practicing, but working for an international company with a great salary and 9-5 hours.  I honestly would not trade my job for a BigLaw position if my life depended on it.  One thing I should mention is that I have previous business education and employment experience.  My law degree gives me such a competitive edge in the corporate world.  It makes me feel sorry for all my Philosophy and English law school peers who are having it rough these days -working at BigLaw or not really working at all…

  22. BL1Y

    August 11, 2009 at 6:30 am

    Kate: Care to mention what you do that having a law degree made you so much more competitive?  It’s obviously useful for some things, like in-house counsel or politics.  Probably less useful for being a publicist.

  23. TNG

    August 11, 2009 at 6:31 am

    If you want to be in PR… DO NOT GO TO LAW SCHOOL, period.
    The PR field is so about making connections, networking, and working one’s way up from the bottom (unless your mother or other relative is a PR big wig). 
    Don’t waste 3 valuable years in law school…no credible PR firm is going to look at your resume and say “oh, she has a JD!, hire her!”… a JD will not make you more marketable in PR than some other recent grad fresh out of college.
    Get a PR internship…get in a low paying job at a PR firm and start networking and making connections.  You will gain more PR experience that way in 3 years than in 3 years of wasting your time at law school

  24. KateLaw

    August 11, 2009 at 6:47 am

    Director of Compliance

  25. BL1Y

    August 11, 2009 at 7:51 am

    I’m not exactly sure what a director of compliance is, but I’m guessing it has something to do with making sure the company is in compliance with relevant statutes and regulations.  If so, then of course having a law degree made you more competitive, you still have a basically legal job.  PR isn’t the same.

  26. KateLaw

    August 11, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Yes I deal with statutes and regs, but I do not hold a traditionally legal job.  My company has never had this position filled with someone who has a J.D.  When I applied, the role was slightly different but was strategically modified to fit my expertise and credentials in a way that gives the company an edge.  The things you learn in law school help, but the way you learn to think and also knowing where to find the answer to sometimes extremely complex issues makes you a highly coveted and valuable asset to any company looking to survive in the dog-eat-dog business world.  So, while PR may be quite different from my line of work, a smart and innovative PR firm with any ambition will likely look at a person with PR experience + JD as a preferred candidate over someone without that particular education.  It’s about distinguishing yourself from a sea of clone-like candidates.  The competition is fierce so you must always strive to stand out as the shining exception.  I suppose that’s what I meant to point out earlier because it was the route I took and it has benefited professionally.  Obviously, take my advice for what it’s worth.. perhaps I lucked out, but maybe there is some significant value in a Mr./Ms. PR Professional, J.D.

  27. BL1Y

    August 11, 2009 at 9:30 am

    Still, there’s obviously a difference in how much a JD helps with a job involving a lot of legal issues and one involving very few.  Sure, law school might help someone be a better publicist, but the question is really about opportunity costs.  3 years working at a publicity firm would be far more valuable than a JD.

  28. Craig

    August 11, 2009 at 10:04 am

    “My law degree would only serve the purpose of working with legal reps and departments of clients intelligibly.” – - Three years of law school would be massive overkill if that is the “only purpose” for it.  And in reality, it probably won’t even help you all that much. Actually dealing with legal reps and departments will help more. Plus, you have to pay for law school.  PR firms will pay you to get the same experience you want to get out of law school.  Katelaw is right in that you never know what the future will bring and having a law degree will give you options.  But that is about it.

  29. Bert

    August 11, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    I work in PR and found this blog looking to see how recent grads might view my line of work.  You could go to law school, graduate Summa Cum Laude and it would be about as interesting to us as if you had gone for a semester and failed out.  In fact, that latter would actually make a better story.

    .

    Seriously, if I saw your resume, I’d think this kid just wasted 3 years of hi life.  And if he’s going to waste time on his own money, imagine hat he’ll do on mine.

    .

    A Masters in Comunication is the relevant degree, an MBA if you want to go into CR or even a MSIS if you want to go into ER/PR.

  30. Guano Dubango

    August 12, 2009 at 2:27 am

    KateLaw, are you interested in dating me?  I have LLM degree from US law school and am lookng for pretty woman lawyer.  You sound attractive, and you have earning capacity, too.  Please advise.

  31. KateLaw

    August 12, 2009 at 4:44 am

    Im sorry, Guana, I am already involved with someone.  No worries though, you seem to have a great sense of humor, which goes a Long way with the ladies.

  32. KateLaw

    August 12, 2009 at 4:45 am

    Im sorry, I meant Guano (it’s been a long morning)

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