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Author Topic: CPA and Law school  (Read 8881 times)

masticore99

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CPA and Law school
« on: March 27, 2011, 12:53:15 PM »
Hey guys,

I'm graduating this year and will work Big 4 accounting (audit) for 2-3 years.  I will get my CPA this summer.  I've always wanted to be a lawyer, and am really working as an accountant to learn business.

What is the value of a CPA for law firm recruiters?  I don't think it counts for much in law school admissions, but my goal is to go into an area where accounting will be useful, such as corporate or tax.  Are there other legal specialties where accounting will be helpful?  How much does the CPA count for BigL?  I would like to make more than 70-80K per year after graduating law school, because if I stay with Big 4 accounting, my salary would be 80-100K anyways (less law school debt). 

Does anyone have experience or know of people in this situation?

Thanks in advance. 


masticore99

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Re: CPA and Law school
« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2011, 05:14:57 PM »
IrrX,

Thanks for the reply. I appreciate the pragmatism in your post.  I'm not planning to go into law for just the money. Economically, I'm probably not going to come out ahead.  Accounting's a good career with good money, but I don't find it interesting.  I just see accounting as a necessary tool.   The reason I want to go to law school is because I envision myself in client service helping business clients with legal advice, consulting, advocacy, etc.  I figure that a CPA and a business perspective will allow me to add value for my clients.  Right now I'm helping a friend of mine start a nonprofit with basic legal and accounting stuff, and I really enjoy it.   

I'd like to start my own law firm one day, but that's not possible without many years of experience beforehand.  Right now, all this is dreaming though.  I brought up salary because I would like to at least try to break even financially, if not immediately after law school, than say 5 years out.  I'm going to shoot for BigL, but if it doesn't happen that's just life.  I'm sure that I can get into at least Top 25 school though, since my GPA's a 3.6 and I'm in graduate level classes.

From reading your other posts, I gather you're a lawyer.  Out of curiosity, what kind of law do you do?  How did you get there?       

MikePing

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Re: CPA and Law school
« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2011, 11:51:38 AM »
To answer your question, BigLaw cares much more about grades than your CPA.  If they have a choice between a history degree in the top 5% of law class or a CPA in top 25% of class, the history degree wins every time.  You might get a very small concession on grades because of CPA.  But, if you want to be in BigLaw, you will have to finish first year in top 10% of class--especially in the current environment.   



Morten Lund

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Re: CPA and Law school
« Reply #3 on: March 28, 2011, 02:12:33 PM »
I think MikePing's last post highlights the issue that needs to be addressed before you can determine whether law school is for you.

As pointed out, there are no jobs that pay 80k out of law school.  Fresh lawyer jobs either pay <75k or >150k, with not much in between, and they are very different kinds of jobs.

If you get (and keep) a BigLaw job then you will make more than you would as an accountant, AND your CPA experience will be valued.  A good understanding of tax and accounting is essential to any big firm corporate/finance/securities practice, and having that experience will make you attractive to those firms, and will also contribute to your success on the job.

BUT - as other posters pointed out, BigLaw jobs are hard to come by, and you should be realistic about your chances.  If your grades and test scores make you think that you could get into a T14 school, then it might be worth a shot.  Otherwise, frankly, it will be tough going.  It isn't that these jobs aren't there - BigLaw still hires thousands of fresh JDs every year - but the academic criteria are pretty strict, so be honest with yourself.

Non-BigLaw jobs basically put you in that second financal category.  These are still fine jobs and careers, but qualitatively different from BigLaw.

Law school can be the start to an excellent career, or an expensive waste of time, so make sure to educate yourself well ahead of time.


jack24

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Re: CPA and Law school
« Reply #4 on: March 28, 2011, 04:37:32 PM »
It's true that many law students change their minds about what type of law they want to practice, or they are forced into a certain career path.  I believe that those students on a tax or patent law path are much more consistent though. If you asked 1Ls what kind of law they want to practice, you would get a broad range of responses.  If someone says they want to be an I.P. lawyer, a tax lawyer, or a criminal defense attorney, it's much more likely that they'll end up in that area than someone who says they want to practice constitutional or environmental law.

I'm a 3L, and I basically hunt for jobs all day long.  I have seen several job postings where a firm was looking for a CPA.
There are also many government jobs that heavily value a CPA/Law combo (FBI, IRS, etc).

However, most of these jobs don't really pay much more than you could make as a CPA.  I was an accounting minor, so I have a very limited knowledge about the market for CPAs, but I would say that investing in law school is probably a poor financial investment for you.  However, there are many non-financial reasons to go to law school.

FalconJimmy

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Re: CPA and Law school
« Reply #5 on: March 29, 2011, 09:39:03 AM »
Hey guys,

I'm graduating this year and will work Big 4 accounting (audit) for 2-3 years.  I will get my CPA this summer.  I've always wanted to be a lawyer, and am really working as an accountant to learn business.

What is the value of a CPA for law firm recruiters?  I don't think it counts for much in law school admissions, but my goal is to go into an area where accounting will be useful, such as corporate or tax.  Are there other legal specialties where accounting will be helpful?  How much does the CPA count for BigL?  I would like to make more than 70-80K per year after graduating law school, because if I stay with Big 4 accounting, my salary would be 80-100K anyways (less law school debt). 

Does anyone have experience or know of people in this situation?

Thanks in advance.

Just wanted to throw a couple things in the mix, here.

First, you could look for a Masters of Taxation degree.  That will get you somewhat into the sphere of tax law.

The other possibility, if you go to law school, is that you could get an LLM in Tax after finishing law school.

The value of the CPA?  If you go to law school, who knows.  The most important factors will be your school and GPA, but maybe if all other things are relatively equal, a background in accounting could help you get a job on Wall Street or with a federal regulator.

However, I think most folks will agree:  once you start down the JD path, your job prospects down the road will depend on your school and your class rank.  Really, anything else is a secondary consideration of very little importance.

Best of luck.  Being a CPA is a good thing to be right now.

masticore99

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Re: CPA and Law school
« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2011, 07:55:04 PM »
I understand that there's a huge disparity in starting salaries between BigL and nonBigL jobs.  I have a few questions about the two tracks.  What are the salary outlook like for the two tracks after a few years?  Suppose I were to go work for a mid-tier or regional law firm.  If the salaries start at 70K, what are the salaries like after, say 3 years, or 5? 

What about the job experience differential?  I want to eventually start my own firm, so I am very interested in what kind of legal experience I would get if I do not go to BigL.  A first year associate is probably going to get grunt work anyways it seems.  Understandably, I will not be working on Fortune500 clients, but I would rather work with middle market or  SME's.  Is this market served also by BigL?

I'd think BigL culture is similar to Accounting Big4 (i.e. Up or out, sweatshop conditions, etc).  On the other hand, I'm sure the exit ops for BigL is much better, and is much more marketable anywhere, so most people don't stay more than a few years. 

Oh, also, one more thing.  How generous are laws schools, say in the T20-T40 range, with scholarships or financial aid?  I'm  considering GMU since I live in the area.  My GPA's about 3.63 +/- 0.02, and let's say my LSAT would be around 163 (GMU average).  I speculate that I can save at least 50K in two years working with my salary, so I will try to minimize debt.   

MikePing

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Re: CPA and Law school
« Reply #7 on: March 31, 2011, 11:52:05 AM »
To answer your salary question, midLaw is going to proportionately lag biglaw.  If you start at 70, you shouldn't expect 160 until you are a partner.  But, after 3 years you will be making 6 figures.  You will also be working the same kind of hours as biglaw.   

Midlaw, however, will usually give young associates significant experience much quicker.  And, good-sized midlaw firms, do work for fortune 500, they just don't take the lead on certain types of cases.  For normal law suits, they are used all the time.