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Thread: Went to law school, but interested in urban planning

  1. #1
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    Maplewood, NJ
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    Went to law school, but interested in urban planning

    Hello ... I just stumbled on this website in my search to find information on whether it is possible to work in urban planning with a law degree instead of a planning degree. Before going to law school, I was interested in attending an urban planning/public policy type degree program, and had even taken one course in public management after graduating from college, but ended up going to law shool instead. The thinking was that I could get to where I wanted to be (not sure now why I thought that) and that I would have more career options. I have been working as a real estate attorney for four years now, primarily handling office leases and real property purchases and sales, and have little experience in handing land use/variance applications. Now I am trying to figure out what other career options I might have. Something that I think I would like to be doing (and I'm not sure if this is even a real/common field) is thinking about and trying to implement changes from which a town would benefit, i.e., introduction of mixed-use projects or revitalization of public areas. To that end, I am thinking about trying to volunteer to work on projects with the special improvment district in my own town (population around 20,000 or so), but that seems to more about marketing/promotions for the existing town center and also trying to solve parking shortage issues (not even sure how that is possible in this town). I am working on a project at work right now where a business needs zoning variances because it is a conditional use and does not meet the conditions. It seems that the planner's role is to argue why the specific variances should be granted and, to be honest, that does not seem very interesting to me. It is just one use, and I guess I want to think about the big picture for a town. So, I am hoping that somebody might be able to comment on what might be an appropriate career from what I have described and, if so, whether I can get there without going back to school, or, if not, what type of programs I should consider. Any insight is appreciated.

  2. #2
    Member
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    Apr 2007
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    upland, california
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    I'm interested in asking you some questions...

    Hi,
    I am going to begin graduate school Fall, 2008. I am having a tough time deciding whether to go to law school or planning school. Similar to your own reasoning, my Dad keeps telling me I should choose law school because, "I would have so many more job options as an attorney." I know that I have the skills and aptitude to do either profession, but I'm not sure which would be a better fit for me. It's tough to make serious decisions with incomplete information and uncertain outcomes. Right now I am a philosophy major, almost a senior. My major concern about law school is that I hear lawyers almost always work extremely long hours; Even in the public sector, I hear that working at least 50 hours per week is typical.

    What have your experiences been choosing law school over planning/public policy? What is it like being a new attorney? Do you regret choosing law school?
    Thanks,
    Rick

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by mapleleaf View post
    Hello ... I have been working as a real estate attorney for four years now, primarily handling office leases and real property purchases and sales, and have little experience in handing land use/variance applications...Something that I think I would like to be doing (and I'm not sure if this is even a real/common field) is thinking about and trying to implement changes from which a town would benefit, i.e., introduction of mixed-use projects or revitalization of public areas. To that end, I am thinking about trying to volunteer to work on projects with the special improvment district in my own town (population around 20,000 or so)... It seems that the planner's role is to argue why the specific variances should be granted and, to be honest, that does not seem very interesting to me. It is just one use, and I guess I want to think about the big picture for a town. So, I am hoping that somebody might be able to comment on what might be an appropriate career from what I have described and, if so, whether I can get there without going back to school, or, if not, what type of programs I should consider. Any insight is appreciated.
    IMO, the general public mistakingly lumps real estate and land use lawyers into one larger category because they both address the legal aspects of land. In some ways it is like lumping together pyschiatrists and psychologists: they both deal with behavioral health, but one focuses on the physiological and the other on psychological aspects of health; the former has an MD and the latter has a PhD, etc.

    Why do you want to go back to school? What to plan to get out of another degree? I would highly recommend you try to get appointed to your plan commission if you are interested in guiding development. With your legal background, I would advise that you read up on your states compiled statutes (if you haven't already) and understand what powers are granted to your community by the state. Then I would read through your zoning ordinance, subdivision ordinance, and other related planning documents in your municipal code to understand how the projects you are interested in are processed and approved.

    You might want to apply for a Village Attorney position if it is available, or offer your services as a legal consultant to the Village for a fee.

    Quote Originally posted by rickocracy View post
    Hi,
    I am going to begin graduate school Fall, 2008. I am having a tough time deciding whether to go to law school or planning school. Similar to your own reasoning, my Dad keeps telling me I should choose law school because, "I would have so many more job options as an attorney." I know that I have the skills and aptitude to do either profession, but I'm not sure which would be a better fit for me. It's tough to make serious decisions with incomplete information and uncertain outcomes. Right now I am a philosophy major, almost a senior. My major concern about law school is that I hear lawyers almost always work extremely long hours; Even in the public sector, I hear that working at least 50 hours per week is typical.

    What have your experiences been choosing law school over planning/public policy? What is it like being a new attorney? Do you regret choosing law school?
    Thanks,
    Rick
    STOP!!!! Do not go to law school without thinking this carefully through. Please speak with lawyers who are doing what you want to do as a lawyer. If you only see burnout at the end, it is a huge waste of your time and money and you really doing yourself a dis-service
    Last edited by Planderella; 02 May 2007 at 3:31 PM. Reason: Consolidated double posts

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