(Closed) Rethinking Going to Law School, Possibly getting a Ph.D. instead?

posted 8 years ago in College
Post # 3
3569 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: September 2011

If you are on the fence about law school, do NOT do it.  It is a lot of work, the job market is horrible, and you could come out with 200K in loans. 

Post # 4
18628 posts
Honey Beekeeper
  • Wedding: June 2009

I don’t know about either career per say but I would look at your ability to earn more money to pay back the $60k in loans for the MSW and Ph.D. If it will take a long time to pay the loans off, it might not be the best career field to be in even if it is your passion.

Post # 5
8035 posts
Bumble Beekeeper
  • Wedding: December 2013

I think you know the answer. Don’t become a lawyer if you’re not 100% sure you want to do it. Nothing wrong with changing career goals. In fact, I think it’s smart you kept “putting off” law school. I know so many people who did their bachelor’s, didn’t work, went straight into a masters or law school, and now they’re hooped because they either have no job prospects or totally hate their jobs. People change.. it’s normal. You now know what you want to do.

I would take it one step at a time, though. Getting a PhD is a whole different kettle of fish than a masters. Go with the masters, work a bit, and see if you really need the PhD afterwards. You might find that you don’t even need it, but you never know.

Post # 6
11324 posts
Sugar Beekeeper
  • Wedding: February 2011

Don’t go to law school. It is majorly expensive, the job market for attorneys is terrible (and especially considering you really want to do ONE type of law, if you don’t get into a firm doing that type— you’d be extra disapointed). The hours suck if you do work for a firm. And the only people that make big “lawyer money” are those that work like 80 hours/week and hate their lives. I know I’m biased because I am desperately trying to get OUT of practicing law, but honestly of all the people I graduated law school with I know extremely FEW who are actually glad they went to law school. 

Post # 7
521 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: March 2014

Sounds like you have a great job already.  How would a PhD change what you do?  (Not being rude, just genuinely curious.)

I’m an attorney.  Law school will require a LOT of your time and energy and money.  The debt is no joke.  I worked full-time through school so I only took out loans for tuition and I still have over $100K in debt.  Attorney jobs these days are hard to come by, and many family law attorney jobs don’t pay super well.  (If you’re in a big market doing big-time divorce, maybe, but doing custodial work isn’t going to pay much b/c your clients can’t afford to pay much, you know?)

With that said, PhDs are grueling as well.  I don’t know how old you are and what your long-term goals are, but you’d have to consider that it would take at least 5-6 years to get the PhD; that’s a huge investment of time (if not of money).

It sounds like you’re in a GREAT career field already.  If you can get a master’s for cheap (scholarships maybe?), that seems like the best way to go.  You could always go back to grad school as a mid-level professional and pick up a PhD if you really want one.

Post # 8
3679 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: August 2013

Don’t go for the PhD for financial reasons. That’s exactly what I did — I could have gone to medical school and graduated ~$200,000 in debt or gone to graduate school for a PhD and had my tuition waived and be paid a stipend (graduate with zero debt and have my expenses paid for).

I regret my decision every day, honestly. Whichever route makes you the happiest, that’s the one I would go with.

Post # 9
9129 posts
Buzzing Beekeeper
  • Wedding: November 2013 - St. Augustine Beach, FL

@Meant2Bee:  Go for the Ph.D.  It took me just under 3 years after graduating law school to get a full time job as an attorney (and yes, I passed the bar the first time.)  The legal field is over saturated unless you are willing to work in very rural communities for much lower pay.  (By rural I am talking middle of nowhere North Dakota.)  I work in child welfare as an attorney and there really isn’t a significant pay difference between having a Master’s degree and a Doctorate.  The people making the most money are in administration and know the right people.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t go into significant school debt because you won’t see the payoff in salary or job availability.  A Master’s is fine.

Also, I have over $100,000 in debt from law school and my salary is much closer to half that number so paying off my loans is going to take forever.  Most people don’t realize that the average attorney makes significantly less than $60,000 a year, the average is hyperinflated by the very few attorneys that make millions off large class action lawsuits.

Post # 10
2571 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: November 2013

@Meant2Bee:  I actually went to law school for a semester, and I dropped out. If you are not 10000000% sure about going to LS, do NOT do it. You are going to be up against students who want it something fierce and will step on you to get the best grades to get the very few law jobs out there now. You also have to be ready to make LS your entire life. You will be studying 8 hours+ a day on top of classes. I still have a lot of LS friends that I made during my time there, and I remember they would study on weekends and put everything on hold. Then when they graduated, they were not given jobs right away. Many worked for free or endured hellish (4 hours) commutes to get SOME law experience. Unless you really truly want to become a lawyer and also have some law firm connections (the legal market is brutal in this economy), I would not go to LS.

However, I think you already know your answer here:

I currently work for a non profit that focuses on children. I absoutly love the fulfillment it gives me. Everyone I work with has a masters of social work and are either LCSW’s or in pursuit of it. I am leaning more and more towards getting my MSW and my Ph.D. in social work.

Also, if you are wondering what I did instead of law? I pursued my CPA license and am currently getting a Masters of Taxation. I have Big 4 accounting experience and can get managerial/director level finance/accounting gigs. My point is: There are other rewarding careers besides law. 🙂


Post # 12
82 posts
Worker bee
  • Wedding: August 2012

I am getting my PhD right now, in a social science field.  I am about to enter my sixth and final year.

In graduate school, you will easily work 50-60 hours per week taking classes and doing research.  The time burden does lessen somewhat once the classes are over.  But if you want to become full-time professor, you will work 60+ hours a week for the first 5-7 years, trying to get tenure.  Being a professor can be just as demanding, or more so, than being an attorney.  Professors spend a good chunk of their time doing research, writing grants, and publishing papers in addition to teaching; a lot of it is administrative work (managing a research group).  This is different if you teach at a small teaching school, but that is unlikely in social work.

While I plan to finish my PhD because I am so close, I’ve decided that I don’t want academia because the lifestyle can be hard on young growing families, and you’re also not very geographically mobile (if you adjunct, that’s different).  If I were back 5 years, I would not choose to do this again.

However, you can definitely take a PhD in social work into consulting or non-profit work, or even policy research.  However, most PhDs in social work got an MSW first and worked.  You can’t be a social work professor without an MSW and 2 years of full time work, so I would suggest getting an MSW first and work, and then see if you still want or need a PhD.

Post # 13
436 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: January 2010

@Meant2Bee:  If you’re not sure you want to, then don’t. I work for the default portfolio for Sallie Mae and there are literally hundreds of lawyers that I have had to work with… they have well over 200k in loans and nothing to show for it but a professional license that gets taken away because they can’t pay their loans back.

Post # 15
1876 posts
Buzzing bee
  • Wedding: October 2014

If I were you I would do some serious research into phd programs. There is no guarentee that you’d get a fellowship, and this route can also be very pricey. 

Post # 16
906 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: February 2014

I will chime in to say: if you want a good work/life balance a Ph.D., and the academia nonsense that goes with it, isn’t going to contribute to that.

Fiance just finished a Ph.D. (in physics) and I’m currently writing my dissertation (in art history) with the hopes of finishing in the next two years. We’re both shying away from academia because we see our professors NOT having life-work balances. I had a prof. tell me, when I began my MA, that if I wanted children I shouldn’t do a Ph.D. Point blank.

Get the MSW and evaluate your goals when you finish that. Much like someone said above about law school: only enter a Ph.D. program if you 100% cannot live without it.

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