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Law School or Masters (MPP/MPA)

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Hi everyone, 

 

I submitted my law school application for next year (2019) to Queens, Osgoode, Ottawa, and Western, and was very sure that I wanted to go to law school. My credentials are 4.0CGPA/164 LSAT. Now that I have submitted my application, I feel nervous and have some anxiety about law school. Essentially, my biggest fear is my career consuming my life. As much as I want to go to law school and practice law, I also want to have a life outside of it. However, I like the direct path that law school provides (law school --> lawyer). However, I am now considering applying for a masters in public policy/public administration instead of law school. I feel like maybe I read too many posts on the forum about all the downsides of law (no jobs, so much work, so much money, etc etc) and feel like I am scared away. Also, I do not have one area of law that I am 100% passionate about as of yet, and am scared that I will not necessarily find it in law school.

 

Looking for advice about what life in/after law school is REALLY life, the pros and cons, and thoughts on pursuing a masters program instead. thank you all!

 

Also, if anyone has gone to Queens, Osgoode, Ottawa, or Western, let me know your thoughts on the schools!

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Well, for one thing I would say that while most people end up going LAw School -> Articling -> Lawyer, it's not always the case, and it's certainly not guaranteed.

I finished articles, got hired back as an associate, decided to change cities and practice areas so did duty counsel for a while, then worked for a firm for about a year to build up a client base and get some decent experience, and finally went back out on my own. The money as a new-ish call isn't great off of Bay Street our outside of government (there are exceptions, but generally you're not going to be making substantially more than you would in any other job that requires a degree one year out).

While articling, my hours were crazy, but I enjoyed what I was doing for the most part. When I worked for the firm, my pay was mediocre, but my hours were amazing. Like 9:30ish to 5:00 every day, barring times when I was prepping for some kind of intense motion or other major thing. Now that I'm out on my own, the money is way better but the hours are not 9-5. There are days when I can come it at 10 and leave at 4 if I want to, but the bottom line is that as a solo practitioner, your paycheque depends on how committed you are to building the business and putting the work in. There are definitely nights when I stay until 8 or 9 pm, at least once or twice a week, and I usually leave around 6 on other "normal days". That said, you can book off time however and whenever you want - as long as you're not away for too long and you have someone to answer the phones etc. And again, there's a lot more to take home at the end of the day.

There are a lot of government jobs where it won't necessarily be 9-5 either by the way... especially if you want something higher-level and you want to climb the ladder... just saying. I only know because I have a bunch of friends who've worked for Global Affairs Canada, the DOJ, and on the Hill, and if you're ambitious, it pays to stay (even if you don't necessarily see it on your paycheque right away).

As for Ottawa, I loved it. My profs were fantastic for the most part (I had a couple who I didn't like, but that's going to happen wherever you go). The breadth of courses offered was incredible, the practical opportunities were great (I did a placement with the Crown Attorney's office, and worked in our school's community legal clinic), and I really liked the culture for the most part. The fact that it's a big school just means that you have more groups and niches to pick from, in my experience.

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Do you want to live in Ottawa? If so, do the MPA/MPP route.

There are other places to live but recognize the majority of those jobs are in the provincial and federal governments and the market depends on whether those governments are expanding or contracting. Premier Doug Ford is likely bad for the MPA market.

I will add that as someone who lived in Ottawa and loved it (the cold isn't as bad as people make it out to be... but AC is a requirement in the summer), I'm not being derisive about Ottawa.

Edited by benjuryon

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Really? You're having these doubts now, but not before you achieved a 4.0 GPA and studied to a 164 LSAT? 

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On 11/1/2018 at 7:18 PM, Deadpool said:

Really? You're having these doubts now, but not before you achieved a 4.0 GPA and studied to a 164 LSAT? 

Better to think about it now than after debt, years of OP’s life and golden handcuffs on...

OP, law school is not necessarily a direct path to being a lawyer. It is if you’re lucky.

It’s hard to answer the question re: your career consuming your life. To an extent, I think any professional career does that at times. If you’re going to get paid in the top few percentage of Canadians, it’s not unreasonable that you may have to work more than others. If you’re responsible for peoples’ important interests (their families, liberty, money etc) you may need to be available to them outside of normal business hours. And you will generally put in more hours at the beginning of your career than later on. But there are so many  variables with type of law, type of firm or practice, geographical area etc that it’s hard to give you a definitive answer as to how much you will work.

 I can say that you should make sure you really do want to practice law. Talk to lawyers, go to court and watch, do some research. If you love the work, the hours are less of a burden. I’m lucky in that I fell into law school with not much idea of what I was doing but I really do love it. I work a fair bit, but I rarely feel burdened by it, and I still have a life outside of work. In some ways, being a lawyer opened up my life outside of work. I’m in a situation that is right for me and gives me the flexibility I need. 

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I agree with a lot of what providence said.  Your question is very broad which is fair since you're not sure what kind of law you're interested in, but the type of law you practice and where you choose to practice factor in heavily to some of the questions you posed.

Again echoing providence, I really think researching, talking to lawyers and going to court to watch what happens are great ways of trying to determine if this is something you're interested in. 

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I struggle with this one, because I wish you had considered this before applying. You're a textbook case for needing to take a year or two off and figure it out a bit. 

I'm definitely with Ben, if the goal is living and working in Ottawa, MPA/MPP/MPM is the way to go. The legal market there is a struggle and a half (my very limited perspective). 

Other posters are far more qualified to talk working hours, but know you're not the only one concerned about them. You're not going to get any sympathy on this forum, though. 

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OP, you're situation sounds eerily similar to mine.

I can't necessarily offer you advice since I'm in the same boat pretty much, but just my thoughts over the last while. 

Throughout university, I was pretty dead set on heading to law school. I worked my ass off for the sole purpose of getting good enough grades to make me competitive. My thesis professor and family convinced me to take a year or two off after I graduated to maybe work a bit, save some money then decide whether law is really still something I want to do. I got a job working at a firm (as a corporate paralegal which was not something I applied for, I was just offered the position with zero training because the firm was desperate) and seeing the articling students dead tired half the time and busting their asses off for mediocre pay made me do a complete 180 on law school. 

I left my job at that law firm because I had never gone to college; never obtained a paralegal diploma and was offered zero training. On top of it, the lawyer I worked under treated me like shit, which made me almost dead sure that law wasn't for me.

It's been about a year and a half since I graduated university and about a year since I left that firm. I'm currently working an unfulfilling government job right now, which made me realize that I will have to obtain more education if I'd like to get ahead. Now that the dust has settled from my shitty law firm experience I realize that it wasn't the work that turned me off, I was just put in a bad situation. 

I'm pretty torn on whether I should obtain a Master's in Public Policy or go to law school. On one hand, getting a MPP/MPA would be cheaper, less time consuming and you'd have a pretty good work life balance with respectable pay if you got a good job. On the other hand, an MPP/MPA is a bit more of an unknown and is a more niche area then compared to law. Whereas, for me, law school is an area which will open more doors, lead to higher pay (dependent on many factors) and be a bit more "rewarding", however the lifestyle scares the shit out of me.

Ericontario is right in that not all good, high paying government jobs are not necessarily 9-5, many times you'll also be hustling for 10 plus hours a day. As well, a degree in MPP/MPA doesnt necessarily mean you'll be heading into the public sector; a lot of private sector corporations target policy graduates and you can bet that a new grad has to hustle in that environment.

The only thing I know is that I want to settle in Ottawa. For that sole reason, it almost makes it obvious to go get the MPP/MPA degree since, as whonknows said, the legal market in Ottawa is pretty shit right now and has been for awhile. 

Anyway, not to hijack your thread, but just know that there are others in a similar boat who share the same concerns and would like similar advice haha.

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7 minutes ago, ZedsDead said:

OP, you're situation sounds eerily similar to mine.

I can't necessarily offer you advice since I'm in the same boat pretty much, but just my thoughts over the last while. 

Throughout university, I was pretty dead set on heading to law school. I worked my ass off for the sole purpose of getting good enough grades to make me competitive. My thesis professor and family convinced me to take a year or two off after I graduated to maybe work a bit, save some money then decide whether law is really still something I want to do. I got a job working at a firm (as a corporate paralegal which was not something I applied for, I was just offered the position with zero training because the firm was desperate) and seeing the articling students dead tired half the time and busting their asses off for mediocre pay made me do a complete 180 on law school. 

I left my job at that law firm because I had never gone to college; never obtained a paralegal diploma and was offered zero training. On top of it, the lawyer I worked under treated me like shit, which made me almost dead sure that law wasn't for me.

It's been about a year and a half since I graduated university and about a year since I left that firm. I'm currently working an unfulfilling government job right now, which made me realize that I will have to obtain more education if I'd like to get ahead. Now that the dust has settled from my shitty law firm experience I realize that it wasn't the work that turned me off, I was just put in a bad situation. 

I'm pretty torn on whether I should obtain a Master's in Public Policy or go to law school. On one hand, getting a MPP/MPA would be cheaper, less time consuming and you'd have a pretty good work life balance with respectable pay if you got a good job. On the other hand, an MPP/MPA is a bit more of an unknown and is a more niche area then compared to law. Whereas, for me, law school is an area which will open more doors, lead to higher pay (dependent on many factors) and be a bit more "rewarding", however the lifestyle scares the shit out of me.

Ericontario is right in that not all good, high paying government jobs are not necessarily 9-5, many times you'll also be hustling for 10 plus hours a day. As well, a degree in MPP/MPA doesnt necessarily mean you'll be heading into the public sector; a lot of private sector corporations target policy graduates and you can bet that a new grad has to hustle in that environment.

The only thing I know is that I want to settle in Ottawa. For that sole reason, it almost makes it obvious to go get the MPP/MPA degree since, as whonknows said, the legal market in Ottawa is pretty shit right now and has been for awhile. 

Anyway, not to hijack your thread, but just know that there are others in a similar boat who share the same concerns and would like similar advice haha.

I'll go ahead and once again hype the MPM program at Carleton. Every person I've seen go through that program has jumped ahead in hiring/career path. It's small, practical, and incredibly good for networking. 

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1 hour ago, whoknows said:

I'll go ahead and once again hype the MPM program at Carleton. Every person I've seen go through that program has jumped ahead in hiring/career path. It's small, practical, and incredibly good for networking. 

I've heard good things about their MPM program. Definitely something to consider (along with other schools) if I am certain I will go the Master's route. Still need to be 100% sure before I commit though.

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I don't think that anyone should attend law school if they are not reasonably sure, or as sure as an applicant can be, that they want to be a lawyer. It's not uncommon to have a certain level of doubt but if it passes that level of uncertainty, then it's wise to take a year or two and do something else. That doesn't necessarily mean to head into a grad program as an alternative, without giving serious thought to the alternatives. Not saying that that is what anyone here is doing, or suggesting, but taking some time to figure things out, working at something else, isn't a bad choice.

I don't have any particular advice re: law vs. these policy grad programs, or the probability for a good job in policy upon graduation. I am, however, a little surprised by the comments about the lack of law jobs in Ottawa these days. That certainly isn't my experience, having practiced here for 6+ years.

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18 hours ago, whoknows said:

I struggle with this one, because I wish you had considered this before applying. You're a textbook case for needing to take a year or two off and figure it out a bit. 

I'm definitely with Ben, if the goal is living and working in Ottawa, MPA/MPP/MPM is the way to go. The legal market there is a struggle and a half (my very limited perspective). 

Other posters are far more qualified to talk working hours, but know you're not the only one concerned about them. You're not going to get any sympathy on this forum, though. 

Just because OP applied doesn't mean they'll get in, and doesn't mean they have to go if they do. They can withdraw their application. They can also defer or refuse acceptance if they get it. It is not too late. They should not go until they are certain. 

OP, you didn't mention it, but some people worry that they "have" to go to law school right out of undergrad at 22 years old or thereabouts or they will be "too old." If this is the case, this shouldn't even be a concern. Lots of people go well into their 20s or even 30s (and sometimes beyond, though that is less common.) I was 24 and I was not even close to the oldest in my year and I met lots of people older than me. I had friends in 3L who were a few years older than me. Plenty of people had taken a couple of years to do a Masters, a few had phDs, some had worked in other careers and so on. I found that people who were 24, 25, 26-ish had that little extra maturity and life experience that stood them in good stead for being grounded during their studies and the hiring process, but were still young enough to be flexible, have lots of time ahead of them, etc. So there is no need to rush. 

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55 minutes ago, providence said:

Just because OP applied doesn't mean they'll get in, and doesn't mean they have to go if they do. They can withdraw their application. They can also defer or refuse acceptance if they get it. It is not too late. They should not go until they are certain.

4.0/164 is an auto admit. On top of that, there's a reason why the application asks if you have applied/got in before. I don't know for certain, but I can imagine not accepting any of your offers would not be looked on favorably if you apply again. 

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On 11/1/2018 at 2:45 PM, s2019 said:

Hi everyone, 

 

I submitted my law school application for next year (2019) to Queens, Osgoode, Ottawa, and Western, and was very sure that I wanted to go to law school. My credentials are 4.0CGPA/164 LSAT. Now that I have submitted my application, I feel nervous and have some anxiety about law school. Essentially, my biggest fear is my career consuming my life. As much as I want to go to law school and practice law, I also want to have a life outside of it. However, I like the direct path that law school provides (law school --> lawyer). However, I am now considering applying for a masters in public policy/public administration instead of law school. I feel like maybe I read too many posts on the forum about all the downsides of law (no jobs, so much work, so much money, etc etc) and feel like I am scared away. Also, I do not have one area of law that I am 100% passionate about as of yet, and am scared that I will not necessarily find it in law school.

 

Looking for advice about what life in/after law school is REALLY life, the pros and cons, and thoughts on pursuing a masters program instead. thank you all!

 

Also, if anyone has gone to Queens, Osgoode, Ottawa, or Western, let me know your thoughts on the schools!

Hey, I was sort of a similar boat to you. I noticed you didn't include UofT on your list, but since you included Osgoode, I am assuming you would be fine with coming to Toronto. Your stats also make you somewhat competitive to UofT. Regardless, my advice might apply more broadly, I am just most familiar with UofT's offerings. 

No one has mentioned the possibility of doing both in a combined program. UofT offers a joint 4-year JD/MPP program (so you finish 1 year faster than doing them separately - the UofT MPP is 2 years on its own). Other schools may offer something similar. At UofT, you are allowed to apply for both together from the start, or enter in the JD stream and apply to add the MPP before the end of first year. So, you could see what law school is like during 1L, and then make a decision (you also buy yourself a bit of time this way). Other schools might have something similar. From speaking with the MPP students at UofT, many end up with the OPS, many with the Feds, and the rest with a jumble of private stuff. 

Alternatively, you can just do the JD but make yourself more competitive for policy stuff later. For example, take more policy oriented courses, take non-departmental courses at the MPP faculty and have them apply to your JD (UofT allows you to do this for one course per year, I am assuming other programs have something similar), and work in your summer/articling at Ministries that include policy/legislative development work (e.g. the legal services branches of Correctional Services and Community Safety, Health etc.)

One thing to consider is this: doing the JD allows you to do law OR policy stuff (albeit more difficult to get into the policy stuff than if you had a MPP, but if you follow the stuff above, you can still be competitive) while the MPP only allows you to do policy stuff. So, if you have a real interest in law, but aren't sure as to exactly where you want to end up, I think the moves that hedge your interests best are doing a JD with a policy focus or a JD/MPP. 

Edited by Muskiehunter

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16 hours ago, whoknows said:

I'll go ahead and once again hype the MPM program at Carleton. Every person I've seen go through that program has jumped ahead in hiring/career path. It's small, practical, and incredibly good for networking. 

I agree. I have a lot of friends who did that program and all are incredibly positive about it - it can train you to be a political staffer but it also is a background people like for industry groups and consulting firms in Ottawa and there you get a real feeling like you're contributing positively to public policy.

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On 11/1/2018 at 1:45 PM, s2019 said:

Hi everyone, 

 

I submitted my law school application for next year (2019) to Queens, Osgoode, Ottawa, and Western, and was very sure that I wanted to go to law school. My credentials are 4.0CGPA/164 LSAT. Now that I have submitted my application, I feel nervous and have some anxiety about law school. Essentially, my biggest fear is my career consuming my life. As much as I want to go to law school and practice law, I also want to have a life outside of it. However, I like the direct path that law school provides (law school --> lawyer). However, I am now considering applying for a masters in public policy/public administration instead of law school. I feel like maybe I read too many posts on the forum about all the downsides of law (no jobs, so much work, so much money, etc etc) and feel like I am scared away. Also, I do not have one area of law that I am 100% passionate about as of yet, and am scared that I will not necessarily find it in law school.

 

Looking for advice about what life in/after law school is REALLY life, the pros and cons, and thoughts on pursuing a masters program instead. thank you all!

 

Also, if anyone has gone to Queens, Osgoode, Ottawa, or Western, let me know your thoughts on the schools!

You're right that the career path is a lot less certain with a masters in public policy and similar areas. Several of my closest friends have that degree and they all took some time to find jobs in the field - years in some cases. They are happy with their jobs now and they earn well, though not like most lawyers, and as they work with government, they have good benefits and fairly reasonable hours (though it can still get busy at times.) But there could be a long  job search, periods of contract work and so on before landing that plum gig. 

Nothing is ever 100% certain in life, but law is still a reasonably certain career path to a reasonably high income for those who are motivated and have a minimum level of talent. And law also still opens doors to a lot of those policy jobs and other things as well. So you need to ask yourself how comfortable you are with career uncertainty in general. I was an artist before law school which is one of the most uncertain careers there is, and as much as I loved the arts, I realized that I was not interested in the bohemian life I saw my colleagues living. I wanted to have a family and provide certain things for them. I wanted to be able to travel for fun and enjoy various luxuries. The stress and over-work of law do get to me sometimes, but when I look at what I get in return, it is the right choice. I know artists who could never work in an office or have a steady job because they love the flexibility of gigging at night, having time to create and so on, and they are willing to make less money, rent rather than own, not have kids or have them and provide a more modest material lifestyle, in order to have their freedom. Public policy will still give you a stable income but it will be lower than in law, and the work may or may not be as exciting to you as law, but you probably will have more time for a life outside of law, and less stress. 

 

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As someone who completed a MA in Crim/Policy and is now in law school, my suggestion is to just go to law school.

After graduating law school you will come out with the opportunity to be a lawyer,  and if not, you can really do whatever you want. A JD opens just as many doors as a MA (if not more). If your goal is to be a civil servant or work for the feds, then just go to grad school. My buddy is currently finishing his MPA and loves working for the feds.

Like a poster above said: A JD will not close off government/policy jobs to you, but a MPA/MP closes the door to being a lawyer.

If you really have the drive, you can try a combined program like suggested above. But make sure you have the drive and focus to do another 4 year program. 

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