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Thread: another lawyer bent on planning seeks advice

  1. #1

    another lawyer bent on planning seeks advice

    I'm an attorney exploring more self-satisfying career routes. One field attracting my interest at present is planning. I discovered Cyburbia forums for the first time today and spent some time scanning the threads. After a somewhat cursory examination, I am confident even as a newbie that the professionals and pseudo-professionals who post here have ample knowledge and wisdom to reply to my thread in a thoughtful fashion. I have a certificate of concentration in Envt'l Law and have accumulated some experience doing legal consulting for school districts challenging CEQA actions and interagency levy assessments and also private plaintiffs challenging redevelopment agency actions. My career experience is mainly in H.R./administration but I have gathered a number of interesting other career experiences such as webmaster, copy-editor, compliance officer, etc. My B.A. is in political science with a healthy science/math component.

    I take a strong interest in politics and the rules governing municipal, county, special district, and state decision-making. I understand that the best route to an entry-level planning position is a B.A. in Geography/Architecture/Civil engineering followed by a masters in planning and passing an examination. I have a few questions:

    (1) what route to further academic credentials might I pursue that would make me more competitive in the marketplace and that would occupy a short time-frame (a year or less) without having to go all the way back and earn another B.A.?

    (2) Assuming that it takes between 2-5 years of experience in public entity work (e.g. planner, surveyor, recorder, clerk, consulting, project management, etc.) to get a job with a mid- to large-sized law firm specializing in public entity work (e.g. legislative consulting, legal representation, etc.), what do you think a good "raw experience-gathering" job would be for a J.D. who specializes in environmental law and interpreting the Gov't Code? Reading lots of attorney bios on law firm websites, I have learned that a large percentage of them were hired not on the basis of their legal experience but on the basis of their practical experience in fields such as preparing EIRs and mangaging surveying projects. I think I would really enjoy working with teams of professionals in one of these areas while I accumulating a sufficiently relevant and sustained work experience that would attract the interest of some of the more reputable (and more salary-generous) firms out there.

    Thanks for your interest. I look forward to some thoughtful replies. One of my faults has been underappreciating the desire of people to help others succeed. I'm posting this thread as part of renewed effort to appreciate and incorporate the wisdom of the collective (excluding "the Borg").

  2. #2
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Well, I think your first step would be getting into an Urban Planning Master degree program. They are generally 2 years (at least mine at full-time), and most any program would fall over backwards to admit a seasoned lawyer. It would help the diversity of classes and be a real asset to in-class and group project discussions.

    Once you get a Master's in urban planning you would be practically indispensible to any public agency (due to you law experience) or a private law firm that works with public policy agencies.

    You could also look at getting a job as a staff planner with a municipality to get the requisite practical experience that land development and policy creation entail. Once you have a couple years of practical development review experience that can help you better understand the reasons/methods public agencies use when developing and implementing plans/policies.

    Good Luck!!!

    Off-topic:
    Is your HR experience from a law perspective, because my wife just finished law school and wants to pursue a career in HR, and in particular, labor/employee relations without actually having to be a "lawyer", but just use "lawyerly" skills.

    Got any advise
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  3. #3

    Human Resources

    Thanks for the advice.

    If she's had any real-life HR or admin experience, even at the admin asst level, that would be an asset. HR depts are usually looking for a few years of experience for any available slot (even the low rung). If she wants to head an HR dept at a medium- to large-sized firm, Iaw school alone isn't going to cut it, but the law school does give job seekers an edge if they do have some kind of management experience already under the belt. If she likes employment law, she might consider taking a job as a paralegal or admin asst in the Legal dept (junior associate positions are generally harder to get with in-house counsel) or look for a position that is interdepartmental allowing her to work in HR but work more closely with Legal than a non-law grad would be expected to. I imagine if hiring decisions are made collectively across deparment jurisdictions, a law grad (especially one who's taken courses in e-ment law) would help. I got all of my HR experience on the job. I worked for 1.5 years as a receptionist/mailclerk/admin assistant until I was scouted by a VP who set up his own firm and was looking for a director of admin to run the office. The "lawyerly skills" of effective communication and clear and concise writing will serve her well in most any job, but HR is a special kind of work that values loyalty, interpersonal skills, and effective management skills. With the ever-increasing slew of regulations faced by any industry, HR will continue to value someone with a legal background. Good luck to her.

  4. #4
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pericles
    ....
    (1) what route to further academic credentials might I pursue that would make me more competitive in the marketplace and that would occupy a short time-frame (a year or less) without having to go all the way back and earn another B.A.?
    Don't sell short the UC Extension courses in land use and planning. When I was in California I annually took two or three courses thru the UC and UC Davis. Invaluable in my opinion.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian The District's avatar
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    don't underestimate your law degree, either. since you've done some work with environmental regulations and municipal law, you might be able to get an entry level position without going back to school. however, i would also concur that your JD will probably KICK DOWN the door for you for practically any planning school you want to attend, assuming decent grades and the like. but i would try getting an entry level position first, i know it is possible.

  6. #6
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    are you nuts?

    considering every time i see my dad he reminds me i should have gone to law school like he told me to....

    i agree with the district - i actually know of 2 people who did what you are trying to do without going back to planning school

  7. #7

    I've got my eye on an entry-level planning position

    Quote Originally posted by The District
    don't underestimate your law degree, either. since you've done some work with environmental regulations and municipal law, you might be able to get an entry level position without going back to school. however, i would also concur that your JD will probably KICK DOWN the door for you for practically any planning school you want to attend, assuming decent grades and the like. but i would try getting an entry level position first, i know it is possible.
    Thanks for the encouragement. I might have to ramp up my learning curve in certain areas like hydrology, gps, etc. but I don't think it's something I couldn't do on the fly on the job.

    ---------
    Action expresses priorities (Gandhi)

  8. #8
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pericles
    Thanks for the encouragement. I might have to ramp up my learning curve in certain areas like hydrology, gps, etc. but I don't think it's something I couldn't do on the fly on the job.
    Knowing about hydrology is not oo important, unless you want to be a hydrologist, that is what engineers and other professionals are for. Some things just are not im,portant to know, unless it is your specialty. As for GPS, it is only a tool not a meant to an ends same with GPS. Your writing skills and analytical skills ar emore important than tools. I can look at something and know it won't work much quicker and better than a person who has to use tools to make that determination.

    If you don't want to go back to school, your best bet is to focus on process based aspects of planning to get your experience (ie land division, condominium, policy, by-laws) and learn "planning" on the job.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

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