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Tips for choosing between law and psychology careers

Hi, my name is Abby! I am a junior in high school and have to start thinking about how I want to spend the rest of my life making money (fun!) and would really appreciate some help. Some of the paths I am considering are psychology because I love the psych classes I have taken, and law because the subject has always just interested me. Some of the careers I have considered within these two paths are: corporate law, in-house counsel, district attorney, human resources, forensic psychology, and Industrial/Organizational Psychology. If you have experience in these fields I would deeply appreciate it if you could answer some of my questions:
- How has your experience been?
- Do you find your job rewarding?
- How deep was your student debt and did you/will you take a long time to pay it off?
- What did you major in during college?
-What path did you take to get your job?
-Is it hard to get a job in your field?
- How many years of schooling did you need? Was it worth it?
- How did you know this is your calling?
- Is your job fun, at least as far as work goes?
-Do you make enough to live a comfortable life?
-How or what is your work environment?
-Do you have downtime?

Here are some things about myself. If you have time to look over this list and tell me if you think your job and I are compatible, that would be appreciated.
- I love structure. Knowing what to do and when to do it is what I live off of.
- I am a people person. I love working in teams, and when feeling bold, I am open to taking a leadership position.
- I'm one of those random people who really like paperwork. Like, a weird amount. It probably has to do with the structure thing.
- I like to do research and writing papers. Yet again, probably me and my weird liking towards the structure.
- This is not super important, but I would like to start a family one day. A solid 9-5 job is IDEAL but if I was super passionate about something I would make it work.
- Social-Cognitive Psych is my favorite class
-I read for two hours everyday

Thank you all very much for your time. Any amount of information is super helpful and appreciated.
#law #money #law-school #politics #politicalscience #lawyer #inhousecounsel #generalcounsel #psychology #iopsychology #organizationalpsychology #industrialpsychology #humanresources #forensicpsychology #exams #corporatelaw #team #psychologist


Hey Abby, these are great questions but it might be more helpful to separate them into their own individual questions to pros can go into details n each one! Gurpreet Lally

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Charles’s Answer

Abby,

You sound wonderfully engaging and extremely well-spoken for a high school junior. (All of that reading has obviously paid off!) I am sincerely impressed that you have put so much thought into your career at such a young age. My major was "Undeclared" during my freshman year in college, with a possible preference for Biology. However, I quickly found out that words were my forte, not math or science. Even then I decided to work for four years in the insurance industry as a claims adjuster and supervisor before attending law school here on the West Coast (UCLA - go Bruins!). I say all of this to provide encouragement that you have plenty of time to select a major and career, and that you should remain flexible, so that you can pivot if necessary, during school, or even after you start your career.

I started out in private practice as an attorney for 5 years at a small firm in Orange County, CA. You mentioned that you wanted to have a family some day. That was "super important" to me. But I found with a young daughter at home that I would often leave for work before she woke up and return home when she was ready for bed. So, I decided to look for work as an in-house attorney. I secured positions at various insurance companies for 20 years, before finding my ideal job as managing attorney for a start-up in-house legal department for a 6-year old insurance company. I love my job - it's making it difficult to think about retirement, even though I now qualify for Social Security.

Now to answer your specific questions:

How has your experience been? Absolutely wonderful. I have worked just as hard as an in-house attorney; I just didn't have to worry about billing for my time and didn't have to work so many extra hours. Having weekends free for the most part allowed me to actively participate in the lives of my two daughters, one of whom we adopted at age 6. She required a lot of attention and TLC.

- Do you find your job rewarding? Yes, I do. I am a creative person who gets easily bored with routine jobs and tasks. I need to analyze the big picture and attempt to create and implement strategies to best handle workers' compensation cases, which is my field of expertise.

- How deep was your student debt and did you/will you take a long time to pay it off? This is the embarrassing question. Compared with the cost of law schools today, I had it easy. When I attended law school I was already married, had a small condo with a yard and two dogs, and an extremely long commute. My wife worked full-time, but I quit my job to attend UCLA. In those days, the public university law schools were relatively inexpensive. So, I was able to fund my law school degree program by having saved money (one year's tuition); borrowed money (one year's tuition) and by working during the summers and part-time my third year to pay for that year’s tuition.

- What did you major in during college? Government (Political Science), with an emphasis in American Government and a secondary emphasis in Political Philosophy. Although it I were to do it all over again, I would most likely major in History or perhaps English Literature

-What path did you take to get your job? As indicated above, after graduating from college I obtained a job as a liability claims adjuster and was soon promoted to supervisor in the workers' compensation department. Then I returned to school after four years, where I worked as a law clerk during the summers and part-time my 3rd year. My boss then offered me a job upon passing the bar. I've never been without a job since that time. Job changes were initiated by me, most of the time because someone I knew encouraged me to sign on with the new company.

-Is it hard to get a job in your field? Yes, it is hard to pass the California Bar Exam. When I took it in 1984, only 41.6% of first-timers passed. Since then, the rate has usually been much higher. The exam will soon be shortened from three days to two days. Over the years, there have been periods when it was harder or easier to obtain a job in the field of law. But qualified, exceptional candidates have generally not had much problem securing jobs in the legal field here in California.

- How many years of schooling did you need? Was it worth it? 19 years. It was definitely worth it. I am a professional, which provides a great degree of flexibility and security. My primary allegiance is to the State Bar of California over my employer.

- How did you know this is your calling? As I have described above, it was a gradual process. Two attorneys whom I respected strongly encouraged me to enroll in law school. I do remember a distinct moment as I was negotiating a claim with a workers' compensation attorney (who later became a Superior Court Judge), when I thought to myself - "I can hold my own with attorneys!"

- Is your job fun, at least as far as work goes? "Fun" is not always the right word, since in every job there are more boring, routine tasks to perform. But intellectually challenging for me, as someone who loves to continually learn? You bet. I try to use good-natured humor to lessen the tensions in what can be a stressful job.

-Do you make enough to live a comfortable life? Definitely. I have no regrets having chosen the "in-house" path rather than potentially more lucrative positions in private practice. It's a cost-benefit analysis. There are upsides and downsides to every decision that we make.

-How or what is your work environment? Quite enjoyable. I work in an office with my legal team, and of course make appearances in court and at depositions. That helps to mix up the work, so that I'm not sitting at a desk, all day, every day. (Except of course, during COVID-19 lockdowns.)

-Do you have downtime? No, not at work. I tend to plow right through so that I can enjoy some down time in the evenings and on most weekends.

I hope this helps. Take care and best of luck to you!

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Desiree’s Answer

Great questions, Abby! And it sounds as if your interests/skills are well-aligned for either career choice. If I can find more time, I'll try to come back and answer your questions more specifically. However, I think your headline, choosing between law and psychology, might be too binary. You really don't have to choose either until after you graduate from college, because before you go to Law School, you have to earn a "Bachelor's Degree" (often referred to as an "undergraduate degree"). Also, I'll share with you two little-known-facts about law school...

LITTLE KNOWN FACT #1: The good news there is you can major in ANYTHING you like as an undergrad. (For example, I have a Bachelor's of Science in Marine Science & Biology. Not necessarily a traditional path to law school! ) You need good grades with your Bachelor's Degree to get admitted to Law School, so pick a subject you love and will enjoy learning about. For instance, you can major in Psychology in university, and take elective classes in govnt, political science, history, etc (typical "pre-law" classes), and then better assess what you want to do. You can also double-major (it's a lot of work!) in both Psych and more traditional Law School-feeder major like Political Science/History/English. If Law School is something you want to remain open too, do ensure your elective courses demonstrate an interest in the field of law, so it will be easier to demonstrate your interest in Law School when you apply. (To be honest, a wacky major like Underwater Basket Weaving with no law-related electives might be a tough sell to a law school admission officer. But Psych shouldn't be.) Depending on what classes you enjoyed most and any internships/externships you were able to land during your studies, you may wish continue on directly to law school, pursue further degrees in psych, or take a break from school and join the work force for a while.

LITTLE KNOWN FACT #2: You don't have to go directly from university to law school! You can take some time, figure out if that's the right career path for you (and save some money to help offset the cost of law school!). I spend several years working before I decided to go to law school. Again, be prepared to explain to Law School admissions officers how your time in the work force prepared you for law school.

PS To answer another one of your specific questions: Assume minimum of 7 years of schooling to become a lawyer: 4 years (typical) undergrad + 3 years (typical) law school. And, as I mention above, those don't have back-to-back.

PSS Also, note that most in-house counsel positions are filled with attorneys from law firms making lateral career moves. It is uncommon to go straight from Law School to an in-house position. If you decided to pursue law in hopes of working in-house, finding employment with a large law firm after Law School and working there for a few years is the most common path to an in-house role.

Desiree recommends the following next steps:

Research law school admission criteria - including undergraduate course requirements/suggestions
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Plan your undergrad courses to allow you maximum flexibility to pursue either career
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Take opportunities for internships/externships/mock trails/etc to get a better sense of what careers in either field will be like
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Research on-line attorney work-life balance
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Research on-line law school costs and lawyer salaries
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"To be honest, a wacky major like Underwater Basket Weaving with no law-related electives might be a tough sell to a law school admission officer. But Psych shouldn't be." I would say that I was always told the exact opposite was true. I have BFA with AAS in visual arts and every one told me that I had the diversity thing working for me. Law school have literally thousands of poli sci grads applied Joseph Caraccio

Mr. Caraccio makes a great point! (And I would never disparage a BFA -- I deeply respect artists!) I recommend that you consider how your degree is an asset in studying and practicing law - whether it's a different perspective, unique insight, first hand-experience, etc. Part of practicing law is being a zealous advocate, so if you're taking an unusual path to law school, you should be prepared to advocate for YOURSELF. Standing out is one thing. However, convincing the law school to admit you (or the law firm to hire you) will depend on your power of persuasion. Just be prepared to explain any non-traditional major or unexpected career path btwn university and law school :) Good luck!!! Desiree Giler Mann

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Jennifer’s Answer

Hi Abby! Desiree's answer was really great, but I also wanted to add that you can actually pursue both if you'd like to do more research in both fields! Some programs like at University of Pennsylvania or Cornell University have programs where you can pursue both a PhD and a JD and you can choose whether you'd like to only continue law or do research mixing both psychology and law.

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Allyson’s Answer

Hi Abby:

Great questions and I am happy to provide my perspective.

- How has your experience been? My career experience has been interesting, in that I arrived at my perfect career kind of accidentally. But that doesn't mean you have to, and you asking these questions indicates you want it to happen on purpose! I worked my way through school, both undergrad and grad school, and it was the job I had in undergrad that got me exposure to my current career. I worked at an oil and gas company, but was working as an administrative professional ( secretary). I always did my best no matter what the job - and that is very important. To always have a great attitude and be willing to learn and do more. People will remember it. I learned a lot and then years later, after I had left the company and was working in another industry, they called me when they had an opening in the International Human Resources office. This was for an Immigration Specialist role that cared for our US foreign workers, as well as expatriates and their immigration/work permit requirements to work in foreign countries. Since then, I have been in this profession.
- Do you find your job rewarding? Extremely. I am able to tangibly see the efforts of myself and my team on the lives of immigrants from all over the world. They come from very difficult situations in many cases, and being able to help them achieve their goals, and my company's at the same time, is personally fulfilling.
- How deep was your student debt and did you/will you take a long time to pay it off? That was a long time ago, but it was around $10,000 since I also worked all day to pay for school.
- What did you major in during college? Undergraduate was BBA with a major in Marketing; I have a Masters in Public Administration.
-What path did you take to get your job? See above. ALWAYS do your best in any job you have because you never know when people will remember you and open doors!
-Is it hard to get a job in your field? Medium difficulty. A good place to start and get great experience is a law firm that specializes in immigration if this is an area you are interested in. You get great exposure to clients and companies that way.
- How many years of schooling did you need? Was it worth it? 6 - yes definitely worth it.
- How did you know this is your calling? I love my work and have always enjoyed what I do. My company is great and it is rewarding. When you are willing to go always the extra mile and look forward to your day- you know you're in the right place. For me, it combines the legal world which I love, with tangible positive impact on people. Law and immigration specifically are very structured and lots of paperwork, so you may like that aspect as well. But constantly changing - the last 4 years have been constant change with immigration regulations - so you're always learning something new.
- Is your job fun, at least as far as work goes? Yes - my team are similar in that it takes someone who needs or wants to see that what they do every day positively impacts people. We also are able to craft policies and communicate with stakeholders (foreign nationals, Human Resources, Staffing, legal, etc.) daily.
-Do you make enough to live a comfortable life? Yes
-How or what is your work environment? With COVID we have all moved to virtual offices for the forseeable future. That has been a change but ultimately a good one. I personally do not work in the headquarters office or hub location, so personal interaction with my colleagues has not been something i had anyway before COVID. But I have a team in Europe as well as in the US so we have already had to function cohesively as a global team for several years now.
-Do you have downtime? Yes. I have to with two small /young children! If you plan your time and work hard and focus on your job during your work hours, you can schedule your down time. It is critical to have I agree.

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