By Brooke Faulkner • December 13, 2016•Careers, Nonprofits and the Public Interest
Not everyone who works in law practices law. That being noted, are there other degree programs that can better prepare you for working in public service law? Having a JD can certainly get you a job in the public sector, but earning an MPA (Masters of Public Administration) or an MPP (Masters Of Public Policy) is definitely a better option if you want more flexibility and more job opportunities.
In 2014, US News interviewed Ann Johnson, an administrative and business law professor in San Bernardino, California. She earned several degrees before she landed the career of her dreams, one of which was a J.D. While Johnson doesn’t regret any of her studies, her JD was very expensive, and did not provide her a direct route to the career she wanted. She also says that students often pursue a J.D. initially because they’re more familiar with law degrees.
The same article also interviewed Kaneisha Grayson, the founder of The Art of Applying, who notes the importance of thoroughly thinking through your long-term career goals before you make a decision regarding your degree. If you know you want to practice law, then the JD is absolutely right for you, but if you want to work in the public service sector, an MPA or an MPP will definitely give you more flexibility and reach. “The MPA is often referred to as the MBA for the public sector,” says Grayson, who actually carries both degrees, and advocates for advanced study of public policy and administration.
So what are your career goals? Do you see yourself practicing law your entire life, or would you rather be on the ground floor, creating and implementing policies? The public service sector is a great place for anyone who really wants to make a difference, and an MPA will allow you to support many important public issues, like unlawful discrimination, environmental protection, civil rights, women’s rights, immigration issues, and more.
A JD can also help you get your foot in the door, public service wise, but it will likely leave you restricted to advising on the legality and constitutionality of these issues. According to PublicServiceCareers.org, “In most settings, lawyers serve rather narrowly defined advisory roles related to ensuring that policy and management choices comply with legal restrictions. This means that there actually are not that many career opportunities for lawyers in public service.” If you’re aiming for more flexibility, more clout, and more room for career growth, a degree in public administration or policy is a better answer for your and your goals.
Jessie Kornberg had a similar experience to Johnson, saying that she “wanted to work in public policy and was told that a J.D. was a better door opener than an MPA or an MPP,” but found out her first year that her only female professor was the only one of her law school friends still even working in the field.
Valerie L’Herrou is also in a similar boat. She earned her JD, practiced law as a public defender for almost seven years, and then moved to a law school career development office. She says this makes her “typical of women lawyers: more likely to work in the public sector, and more likely to leave the practice of law,” and she’s not quite wrong. She talks about how female JDs are more likely to end up in the public sector, and how this movement contributes to the gender wage gap. However, both the wage and skills gaps for females in the legal field can be further closed by more specialized training.
This is why it’s so important to look closely at your career goals and where you see yourself making a difference in the future while you’re still in school, or even before pursuing a graduate degree. The right degree for the right career can make a huge difference, and while a JD can prepare you for a lot of things, it’s not a one-sized-fits-all law degree any more, and there are other great options out there for graduates seeking a professional law career.