Law School or a PhD?

So, I have three months to decide my fate, and rather than listen to the advice of family friends and my thesis supervisors, who all have a vested interested in telling me what to do one way or another, I thought I would ask the perspective of anonymous strangers off the internet, see if I can’t get something closer to an objective view of my situation.

I’ll try and make my biopic as short as possible. I did a B.A. in Music, always presuming that I’d go to law school when all was said and done. The only law school I applied to didn’t want me, in spite of a 162 on my LSAT and a pretty decent GPA. I felt pretty upset for a long time about that. I went back to do my master’s, because I thought that would keep me busy and improve my application until the next time I applied. I excelled at my master’s in musicology, doing well on my coursework, and have received great reviews from academics in my field at the conferences I’ve presented at. A lot of people think I could be good at this musicology business, were I so interested.

To make a long story slightly less long, as my thesis is winding down, I applied both for law and for a PhD program. And today, the same law school that turned me away two springs ago gave me an offer of acceptance, and before Christmas at that. I was on top of the world for about 5 minutes at the mail box. But then I began to think: is this really what I want to do?
I really don’t know whether academia or lawyering would make me happier in terms of a profession. I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve had writing about music history, but I can’t be sure I want to do this for another 4 years, much less 40. Money is way off my radar, and isn’t really a concern at this point for me. Here are the thoughts that I’ve compiled thus far:

  1. Both degrees have their unique difficulties. Both of my potential future schools have good reputations, and it stands to reason that regardless of how I spend the next three years, I will develop a considerable amount of knowledge. Both would really test my skills as a writer, researcher and thinker.

  2. Academia would probably compel me make the world my job market. You hear the horror stories all through the university of PhDs roving through the North American continent like a nomad in search of the fabled tenure track in the humanities. Choosing where I can live is really important to me. I could go away for school if need be, but a permanent relocation would feel like torture. And even if I were willing to go for broke, God only knows how many years I’d have to work as a contract instructor before I got that tenure track position. Law just seems like it would offer me the versatility to work in the public or the private sector, and be able to find a niche in far more varied venues.

  3. I’ve heard my fair share of horror stories about work in law, as well. The 70 hour work weeks, the gut busting stress. Apparently it’s not the fast track to the six figure salary that one commonly associates with a lawyer. And even if you do get it, you hear stories of those who are miserable doing it. I read the piece all about the number of Harvard Law Graduates that don’t practice law, that got republished in the (NYT?) when Greg Giraldo died. His story sounds like something that could very well happen to me: I’m confronted with the very real possibility that I will do this for 3 years plus a year of articling, and decide that I can’t stand it.

  4. I have a constant fear that I will run out compelling things to write and research. Some people seem perfectly content vexing over one tiny section of a movement of a Beethoven symphony for 300 pages, even if it’s been done to death. I couldn’t do that, and I’m already struggling to think of a dissertation topic that I want to do badly enough to write 250-300 pages about.

  5. People talk down on musicology. Sometimes even to my face. Sort of in the same way people will make fun of a philosophy major, only maybe not quite as bad. They look at my interest in a PhD as being a sign of flippant immaturity, stupidity, laziness…a lot of things that I don’t think it is. I know we’re always told as kids not to care what other people think, but it eats at me a lot. I want my career to command an amount of respect equal to how much work I put into it.
    There are more thoughts, but this is already the longest post I’ve ever made on a message board, lol. I would like some thoughts and opinions. Particularly from anyone on here who is a lawyer or a professor. Do you like your job? What are the pros and cons of it? What sort of person is/is not cut out to do what you do?

I’ve been thinking about making this thread for over a month, and I’m hoping that I may get a bit of valuable insight. Thanks for reading through the entire monstrosity! :slight_smile:

Academia is a tough one. It isn’t for the faint of heart. You say you aren’t interested in money at all but are you interested in full-time work when you are done or do you have a trust fund? You may need the latter if you go with a PhD in humanities no matter how smart or talented you are. Scrambling to teach enough community college classes somewhere to pay the rent for years on end is a very real possibility. A good rule of thumb is the fact that you are questioning it at all means you probably shouldn’t do it. You can get burned easily by PhD work even in an in demand field. The supply and demand is simply too lopsided for any given person to count on it paying off even intellectually in the long run. There are tons of people out there that wished they just threw away their PhD grad school application even after they completed the degree.

Law school? Plenty of lawyers hate their jobs and many struggle to pay back loans at least in the beginning but there is usually something you can do with it even if it means working in corporate America rather than traditional law practice.

Are these your only two options? You don’t have to do commit to either one of them if you aren’t sure right now. It is still possible to get other types of jobs if you are open to a broader range of things.

Neither are good options except for people that have an overwhelming desire to pursue one of those courses in the face of many rational reasons not to (with the possible exception of people that have an LSAT which can guarantee entrance to a T-14 school, and even then only for a reasonable possibility of a well compensated job they might hate).

Your OP certainly does not convey a burning passion to do either nor the LSAT score to make a well-compensated law career a reasonable likelihood, and there is exactly zero market interest in people with combined JD/musicology PhD’s due to that degree. Neither of these options are things you should do as a back-up for a lack of other good ideas.

I don’t wish to delve into finances on a public forum like this (I apologize if that comes off as frosty), but let’s just say that I really don’t need to worry about money. I’m not rolling in money, but I’m never going to be hard up for cash. Whatever I choose to do as a career, my primary goal is a personal sense of self-satisfaction and accomplishment. I chose these two because I found them to be the most intellectually stimulating. Well, in a field that I could do well in (cross “theorhetical physics” off of the list).

Both certainly interest me, but I’m not sure that anything I could hope to do as a career fills me with a “burning passion” as such. Are there people who are just super stoked about the law? I really don’t know the answer to that; well I mean, I presume they are, but I’m not sure what form that passion takes. Is it just the excitement of being argumentative and rational, or is it more a feeling of rabble rousing and creating change in the system?

The single most important prerequisite for postgraduate education is a very clear idea of why you want to get it. You don’t have that, and so you need to take a third option.

See, I hear this a lot, and I really have to ask: why does someone want to do it? What is the rationale for one or the other? Someone must surely have it, even if I don’t, or is there no one clear cut answer?

If I had it to do over again, I would not have gone to law school. I’d have stayed in the military and retired two years ago, with guaranteed income and medical care for life. Instead, I’ll be working a long time yet. Loans to pay.

That said, I don’t know what musicology is. I strongly suspect career options there are going to be limited.

In law, there are lots of options. You can go beyond the J.D. to an LLM or S.J.D. if academia is your thing. You can practice, or not. The degree, with or without a license to practice, opens some doors to corporate jobs.

Yes, I could have just said “music,” but it’s a degree aimed towards music history and music theory, rather than composing or playing on my instrument.

If you’re havering between the two, choose the PhD. You can always stop the PhD and go to law school; doing the reverse will be difficult.

25 years as a lawyer and currently an administrative law judge, and I would STRONGLY advise against anyone going into law school unless - for whatever reason - they HAVE to be a lawyer. Only exception would be for someone with an undergrad in engineering or science. The job market is abysmal, and I see no reason it should improve anytime soon. And if you are fortunate enough to get a job - well, there is no guarantee it will pay well or provide any enjoyment/satisfaction.

With music, at least you will be studying something you love, and in the company of like-minded folk. The more you say about your interest in law, the lessit seems like a viable option for you. I predict you would hate the schol, and hate the work even more.

I agree that you should look into additional options. My kid just got a BME in music ed, and said she wished she had gotten a degree in library science as well. Another possibility would be an MBA. Personally, I tend to think they are of little value, but folk in hiring positions think otherwise. What can you do to expand your options within music?

Or maybe you shuld take a couple of years off school, and wait tables or something and otherwise LIVE for a while while you try to figure out something that DOES thrill you, and then pursue that.

One year as a lawyer and one year without a job. Do not go to law school unless you love the law and can pay for it upfront or in a reasonable amount of time. The costs/benefits of obtaining a law degree has become heavily tipped to the costs side. It is simply too much money for too little return in most cases.

And this isn’t even factoring in the stress of actually making in through the courses, which is a whole other issue.

I agree with the first part, but can’t get on board with the second. When I was in law school there was a weak (if any) correlation between our LSAT scores and our GPA and job prospects.

Do not pursue the PhD if you feel this way. With a PhD, especially in the arts/humanities, you’re lucky to get a choice of two, maybe three, satisfactory locations. Only the very, very lucky ones (often the stars) get to live where they would want to live regardless of the job. You’ll always be sacrificing, either the job or the life. It sucks.

I vote to get a job using your current degrees and see where it takes you. A year or two outside of academia will probably clarify what you really want to do. You may even discover that the job is unimportant as long as it enables other life choices. If so, then you may be set already.

ETA: How old are you? If you are in your early 20s, stop sweating it. You’ve got plenty of time to redirect your life should you desire to.

I, myself, strongly considered law school but chose against it. I’m an engineer so the job market was decent when I was finishing up my education. I do not know what you can do with a degree in musicology. I voted for law school because it seems like that was your intent all along and you seem to have more reservations about going into academia.

Best of luck to you, whatever you choose.

Well, let me chime in to say that some people really do love practicing law. I love researching interesting legal questions, and trying to convince judges and juries to do the right thing. I enjoy trials, appeals, and even motions. I don’t love every moment, of course. The stress is considerable, and other lawyers can be certainly be obnoxious. Few people probably enjoy fighting over discovery responses. It is quite satisfying, however, to feel like you actually did something to make someone’s life a little better.

I’m not saying it’s for everyone, and there certainly are a lot of different paths within the law you can go down, but I thought I’d offer a different perspective than Dinsdale.

When I read the title I thought “Well if you have to ask then don’t do either”. Reading the OP didn’t change that for me. You go to grad school because (a) there is a specific job/career you are aiming for, and the degree is necessary to get that job, or at least puts you years ahead of the game, or (b) it’s a personal pursuit but you can afford to take time away from your career/life. (Or a combo of (a) and (b), which was the case for me.) I don’t see either case applying here. It doesn’t really sound like you know what you want to do, and you haven’t even started your career so you can’t really say you’re “settled” and can take a few years to do your own thing.

That’s just my read. Maybe you do have a focused idea of what you want out of law school, and how you will turn a JD into a job that you want and will pay off those loans, in which case law school would make sense. And you’ve already said you’re not sure about the PhD, and generally speaking your passion for your field doesn’t increase in years 4,5,6 of grad school.

It kinda sounds like you just see 3 paths: music, law, or some generic job that you’ll think about later. I think you really need to give a little more attention to #3. I know lots of people who got some not-romantic job because they needed to, and then met people and developed skills and then a few years later they had, you know, a professional skill set and network and had the flexibility to do what they wanted to do. Some of them then went to grad school. And “get a job” doesn’t mean sit in an office cube all day. You could … I dunno, give music lessons and start your own company, or join Americorps, or something else that doesn’t put you into debt and gets you out off the black hole that is academia.

Just my $0.02. Best wishes on the decision process, it is a process.

The thing about post-graduate school is that you’ll have to do an insane amount of work. It’s nothing like the amount of work you had to do to get a graduate degree or a masters. For a graduate degree, even if you didn’t like the subject, you could still suffer through the work. That’s not possible for post-graduate degrees. If you don’t like law, then law school will be brutal. If you make it through law school, you won’t get far once you start working.

If you go for a PhD, you better love researching musicology. If you like the work it takes to earn the musicology PhD, then in theory, you’ll be satisfied no matter where you go as long as you get to research and write about musicology.

Don’t focus on the end result. Focus on the process, whether you’ll like what you’ll be doing day in and day out at your job. That’s what’s going to determine whether your happy and successful.

This. I have the highest LSAT score in my law school class (at a fourth tier school). I got C pluses in all of my first semester classes. It’s becoming increasingly clear that I’ll have to give up drinking to improve my grades…

…so I guess I’ll have to make do with Cs. :smiley:

ETA: Don’t go to law school. Even the damn student bar association rags are blathering about how unlikely it is that any of us will have jobs after graduation. The only reason I’m not quitting is I have a job more or less guaranteed afterwards.

Lawyer who graduated in 2003 checking in: I would strongly advise against being a lawyer too.

There are people to whom the law speaks and flows through them. They eat drink and breathe court opinions. There will always be a place for them.
There are people out there who are workhorses and dedicated to the task of working 90 hour weeks for a shit ton of money. There will always be a place for them.

Then there’s the rest. The people who find the law kinda interesting because they enjoyed debate in high school or aren’t making any headway in the current market and think getting a law degree will open doors or wanna give it the old lawschool try or just can’t think of anything better to do with their life for the next three years. So they go, and they work, and they graduate in the middle of their class of 300.
Then they discover that they have a specialized skillset that really only qualifies them to be a lawyer and that the economy is horrible and, far from this being a recession-proof industry, it’s like a recession-magnet industry and EVERYONE is looking for jobs and NOONE is hiring. So you spent three years trying to get ahead…just like everyone else…and you’re right back where you started. Worse than that. You’re in debt.

I’m lucky. Boring as it may be, I’m gainfully employed. The people that came after me aren’t so lucky and I’ve gotten numerous e-mails from friends and friends of friends seeking advice on what the hell to do to get a job. I help where I’m able but…well, shit if I know. Not even law partners are safe from losing their jobs these days.

Lawyering sucks right now.

Someone who “really loves” practicing law would fit within what I meant by someone who “has” to be a lawyer.

The OP has certainly offered nothing to suggest that he would love the law in such a manner. And, of course, there is the issue of whether or not he would be hired into the type of legal job that he would love.