Law School Discussion

Basic questions for someone considering law with a MS in Biomedical Engineering

Originally I was considering medical school, after the completion of my MS in Biomedical Engineering but have strongly considered studying law. I am pretty burnt out, and am not sure how I am going to feel when I finally get accepted to a decent medical school in the states with all of that education and training left to go. I have thought about law because I always felt I would be successful at that particular profession in terms of my writing and speaking is concerned. I am going to take the LSAT, to see how I do, but during that period also think long and hard if it is right for me.

One consideration I have, is what kind of salary does a lawyer make with that kind of background? Also, is it easy to get a job? Do I have to go to a top law school, or does my engineering background put me in a different, more specialized category when applying to positions? I am considering patent or intellectual property law. Do most lawyers live in pretty decent houses?

I'm considering the field because people always told me I would be a good lawyer, ever since high school in fact. The engineering field has really drained me out (very miserable in it), and I do not feel I am a very good engineer, but I feel I would be natural and excellent in the law field. The medical field I love as well, but something makes me want to start earning money sooner that is pushing me towards law, as I'm really feeling stressed out right now. Considering law is only 3 years, where medical (4 years) plus residency (orthopaedic surgery = 6 years; one route to plastic surgery is 5 years general + maybe 2 or 3 years plastic), the second choice makes me feel the pressure.

The admissions process is something I am thinking about as well. I feel like I have the grades, background, and given a good future LSAT score, the ability to get into a half way decent to upper tiered school, although I may not want to attend a top school because of financial reasons (but I have zero debt now). The problem is I have a criminal record with a theft charge (changed name of the crime to sound nicer) just over 2 years ago, quite a few traffic violations (although my last 3 potential violations I talked myself out of), and several little "boys will be boys" mishaps in the high school years. For quite some time though I have a clean record except for parking tickets. Also the state where I got in the most trouble I am not sending in any applications to, does it matter? Does a criminal record make a big difference in law applications, I have no felonies by the way.

Your science background will make it easier to get a job out of law school.  Lawyers with technical backgrounds are in high demand for patent and IP law.  Also, if you do well in law school, the money will be great.  Starting salary at large firms in Manhattan is $160,000 (but you would have to do very well at a good law school to get there).  As to your criminal record, it might harm you in your law school applications and it might harm you in your bar applications after law school (i.e., the Character and Fitness Committee will ask you about it before admitting you to practice).  It's by no means insurmountable, but it's a potential problem.  You can definitely work around it, and I would be happy to give you more specific advice if you share more details about the conviction.

All that said, think long and hard about whether law school is the right decision for you.  Forget the fact that people say you would make a good lawyer -- most people have NO idea what lawyers do all day. Before you make any decision, talk to a bunch of lawyers.  Ask what their day is like, ask what kind of hours they work and ask how often they appear in court.  More importantly, ask whether they would go to law school if they could do it all over again. 

While arguing in court seems glamorous, it's not what most lawyers do every day (at least not the lawyers who work at large firms).  If you work at a small firm, you can appear in court more, but the money is not very good.  Also, law is a very detail-oriented profession, and much of your job as a young lawyer will involve boring minutia rather than big picture issues.  I suspect it's not very different from engineering in many respects.

In short, talk to a bunch of lawyers before making any decisions, and only decide once you're well-informed about what it means to be a lawyer.  Don't go to law school because people tell you that you argue well.  That is not a good enough reason.

Sometimes I feel like I'm the only person from my undegrad school who isn't an attorney.  So, your questions are the ones I have been asking.

With your background, it will open up the possibility of working as a patent attorney, also IP is a strong fit for you.

Do you have to go to a top school?  I'd recommend it.  The better the school, the greater the number of firms at on campus interviews (OCI).

Money?  The average for salaried attorneys (according to BLS) is about $110,000 a year.  The average for primary care physicians is $160.  The average for medical specialists is over $300,000.

By and large, doctors make a lot more money than lawyers.

However, if you'd be miserable doing it then, so be it.  Personally, if I could chose between the two, I'd chose medicine.  More money.  More job security.  More interesting work.  (You're not huddled over a desk or staring at a computer all day.)

On the other hand, if you decide to start your own firm, or you make partner (which takes you out of the "salaried attorney") category, it's not out of the question to make seven figures.  Senior partners at some firms are charging $1,000 an hour right now.  This means if they can bill 2,000 hours a year, they're making $2 million just on their direct billing alone.  Not to mention their cut from the associates working for them. 

Or, you could work personal injury and after 10 years in the profession, have handled a few $30 million verdicts and be retiring on a $20 million nest egg. 

So, at the upper end, I think attorneys probably make more.  In the middle doctors make more.  At the bottom, doctors make phenomenally more.

For instance, if you graduate last in your class out of med school and pass your boards, you'll make six figures.  If you graduate last in your class out of law school and pass the bar, you'll be lucky to have a job offer at all.

Best of luck.  You sound like a smart guy who is going to succeed no matter what.  If you're feeling worn out, why not take some time before making this decision?  Get a biomed engineering job and work it for 2 years.  You'll have a better idea what you want to do, then.

I wouldn't put too  much faith in the "you should be an attorney" comments, unless you heard them from successful attorneys.  What most people think a good attorney is  has little correlation to the things that allow a person to pull down $160,000 in Manhattan.

Just for the record, I agree with every part of FalconJimmy's response.

All the responses are spot on. 

The only thing I would add is that IP law is as boring and detail oriented as normal engineering.  If you are unhappy doing that, you probably won't enjoy IP law.   To be an IP or patent lawyer you have to have a degree in a hard science.  You do, most lawyers don't--which would make it easier to find a job.  To get the 6 figure jobs with your background, you need to be in the top 30% range of a law class at a decent school.  You will be surrounded by a lot of other smart people.  Top 30% is not a given. 

The engineering field has really drained me out (very miserable in it), and I do not feel I am a very good engineer, but I feel I would be natural and excellent in the law field.

I, too, echo the previous posters' comments, except to add one additional caveat:  You don't need a technical UG degree for IP litigation (but it is desirable).  As Mike Ping suggests, patent prosecution work is often boring and monotonous, and you might get pigeonholed into prosecution with your background.  Maybe its something you would enjoy, maybe not.  I recommend that you talk to a patent attorney before determining whether you want to go the litigation route vs. the prosecution route.  I have.  He told me that he wished he had picked litigation.