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Thread: Law or landscape architecture?

  1. #1
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    Law or landscape architecture?

    Good afternoon. I've been lurking on these forums for some time, and finally decided to register and post this question/decision that has been haunting me for some time.

    I apologize for the typical newbie "what should I do" thread, but there is always value and assistance in simply hashing these thoughts out with others, and hearing new perspectives.

    I appreciate any advice that you have for me.

    I'm an English major, out for a few years now. I had initially planned on going to law school. I decided to spend a few years actually working at a law firm before committing myself to the law as a career. Well, now I really have second thoughts.

    It's a very mundane career, for the most part. I'm not genuinely interested in business/corporate affairs, criminal law, or trial law for that matter. I want to do something a little more noble, with a little more advocacy. Environmental law and/or water law would be a great niche for me, but unfortunately there isn't a lot of gainful employment in this sector, fighting the good fight (as we learn as we get older, our idealism tends to give way to practicality and experience). And even the work there is mountains of regulation and statutes, and very little progress.

    Point being, I have little passion for the law as an idea and as a practice. That said, there are some things I do appreciate about having a law degree. A JD is a very dynamic degree, and is not limited to purely legal work. There seems to be a bit of a security blanket with having a JD. Also, the education is fairly condensed: 3 years is a pretty quick time to get a JD. However, the day to day dealings of being a lawyer, and the hours, really scare me.

    I did well on my LSAT, and I'm in at some great schools, and I have near full rides at my local schools. I'd like to stay in the NW for school and career.

    However,

    Throughout college I held a job with a landscaping company, and I have a strong interest in the industry. I've been considering it for the past 6 months, and nothing in my research has dissuaded me from pursuing my degree in Landscape Architecture. I do have some lingering questions - where do landscape architects work, really? I mean, I don't see a lot around in the NW. I don't hear a lot about them. What exactly do they do, hour by hour, day by day, that sort of stuff. I have an idea, I have testimony, but no experience.

    Because I don't have a design related background, I'd have to back to school for a bit longer. The program I'm considering is also a dual BLA/MLA, which is all I can do right now because I don't have my GRE scores or a portfolio. Otherwise I'd have to wait another year to apply for strict MLA programs, which I don't want to do.

    The time is coming for me to decide between law and landscape architecture, and I guess I'm just looking for any opinions you might have comparing and contrasting the two professions, especially for someone like me, who would be really good at law, but not like it much, and very rough and green at LA, but most likely enjoy it more. Job prospects, actual day to day work, any information is wanted and appreciated.

    Thank you.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    If you are having any doubts about your law degree aspirations, then DO NOT GO TO LAW SCHOOL>
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

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    Quote Originally posted by zmanPLAN View post
    If you are having any doubts about your law degree aspirations, then DO NOT GO TO LAW SCHOOL>
    Yeah, I've heard that a whole bunch.

    I'm not worried about law school. I've actually started a lot of the curriculum this past year to prepare, and I think I'll like the school part of law school (it's the actual work I'm not looking forward to).

    I understand that advice, though. But if I decide to go I'll commit myself to going. This is why I'm going through the mental and emotional anguish right now, before I'm at law school or in a landscape arch program - so I'll be focused then.

    Thank you, though.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by built to spill. View post
    Because I don't have a design related background, I'd have to back to school for a bit longer. The program I'm considering is also a dual BLA/MLA, which is all I can do right now because I don't have my GRE scores or a portfolio. Otherwise I'd have to wait another year to apply for strict MLA programs, which I don't want to do.

    Thank you.
    I'll be going back to school in a few years for an MLA, too. Why would you want to put yourself through 8 years of school?!!! I have a friend who had a bachelors in geography and then went back for a 5 year BLA (what a waste of time). Just apply for a 3 year MLA. If they require a portfolio, put together one that shows your artistic abilities or at least your creative side.

    MLA and MArch programs are very intense, sometimes on par with three years of law school. But instead of studying all semester for a couple of exams at the end, you are spending that time in studio working on projects, sometimes 6-7 days a week. Not all MLA programs would require GRE's, especially if you were in good standing in college.

    http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos039.htm

    http://www.asla.org/nonmembers/accredited_programs.cfm

    Couple of alternatives:
    1. Earn an associates in landscape design from a community college. This would give you an intro into landscape architecture and you can see if you are really interested in the profession. However, to be a landscape architect (and stamp drawings), you have to graduate from an LAAB accredited BLA or MLA program (no exceptions) and then in most states usually practice under a registered landscape architect (RLA) for "x" number of years before you can start taking the Landscape Architecture Registeration Exam (LARE).
    2. Enroll in a master garderners program through your local university (my mom is currently doing this). This will give you a good introduction into plant material, hardscapes, pests, and landscapING. Unfortunately, most of these programs are usually offered during the day in the middle of the week (I guess this is to discourage too many people from applying).

    Hope this helps-

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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    I'll be going back to school in a few years for an MLA, too. Why would you want to put yourself through 8 years of school?!!! I have a friend who had a bachelors in geography and then went back for a 5 year BLA (what a waste of time). Just apply for a 3 year MLA. If they require a portfolio, put together one that shows your artistic abilities or at least your creative side.

    MLA and MArch programs are very intense, sometimes on par with three years of law school. But instead of studying all semester for a couple of exams at the end, you are spending that time in studio working on projects, sometimes 6-7 days a week. Not all MLA programs would require GRE's, especially if you were in good standing in college.

    www.bls.gov/oco/ocos039.htm

    http://www.asla.org/nonmembers/accredited_programs.cfm

    Couple of alternatives:
    1. Earn an associates in landscape design from a community college. This would give you an intro into landscape architecture and you can see if you are really interested in the profession. However, to be a landscape architect (and stamp drawings), you have to graduate from an LAAB accredited BLA or MLA program (no exceptions) and then in most states usually practice under a registered landscape architect (RLA) for "x" number of years before you can start taking the Landscape Architecture Registeration Exam (LARE).
    2. Enroll in a master garderners program through your local university (my mom is currently doing this). This will give you a good introduction into plant material, hardscapes, pests, and landscapING. Unfortunately, most of these programs are usually offered during the day in the middle of the week (I guess this is to discourage too many people from applying).

    Hope this helps-
    It does.

    The program I'm looking at (supposedly) offers a BLA/MLA in 3.5 years for students that already have an undergraduate degree. This was straight from the LA department itself.

    I'm sort of skeptical because most MLA degrees are 3.5 years themselves for UG non-LA. I'm scheduled to meet with them and discuss all of this next week, so I'll report back then.

    I surely wouldn't spend another 6-8 years doing both individually.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by built to spill. View post
    It does.

    The program I'm looking at (supposedly) offers a BLA/MLA in 3.5 years for students that already have an undergraduate degree. This was straight from the LA department itself.

    I'm sort of skeptical because most MLA degrees are 3.5 years themselves for UG non-LA. I'm scheduled to meet with them and discuss all of this next week, so I'll report back then.

    I surely wouldn't spend another 6-8 years doing both individually.
    An undergraduate degree in what? Architecture? Landscape Architecture? What school is this? An MLA is 3 years long for people with a non-design degree. However, that's not the same with how long it takes to earn the degree. Some students might spend an extra summer or semester working on their thesis, if it is required by the program, because there is simply too much studio work to focus on it during the regular year.

    There is also a bias in some firns against MLAs because they have had fewer years in studio than BLAs. This does't mean that MLAs don't work hard for the 2 1/2 years they are in studio, but it's just something to be prepared for. A 3.5 year BLA/MLA still sounds a little odd.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    the first year of a lot of the MLA programs is intergrated with the BLA curriculum (3rd/4th year) so sometimes they may call it BLA/MLA

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    Quote Originally posted by bozerwong View post
    the first year of a lot of the MLA programs is intergrated with the BLA curriculum (3rd/4th year) so sometimes they may call it BLA/MLA
    This is correct.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    But are you earning two degrees or one?

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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    But are you earning two degrees or one?
    This I am unsure about.

    The person in the department I spoke with made it sound like I'd be earning two degrees, but even in my limited understanding I thought that sounded off. I pressed a bit about it and she affirmed that I would get both.

    The website makes it seem like just one, a combined degree.

    I have an interview scheduled with the head of the department next week, and I plan on raising that question to him.

    At either rate this is somewhat of a moot point to the topic at hand, as I'm more concerned with the comparisons and distinctions between law and landscape architecture. I've read some things that suggest that landscape archs, and more specifically planners read and interpret a good deal of code, which is very much in the territory of what an attorney deals with. So there seems to be a backdoor possibility into the general market with a JD, even though one couldn't officially call oneself a landscape architect, or practice therein.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally posted by built to spill. View post
    This I am unsure about.

    The person in the department I spoke with made it sound like I'd be earning two degrees, but even in my limited understanding I thought that sounded off. I pressed a bit about it and she affirmed that I would get both.

    The website makes it seem like just one, a combined degree.

    I have an interview scheduled with the head of the department next week, and I plan on raising that question to him.

    At either rate this is somewhat of a moot point to the topic at hand, as I'm more concerned with the comparisons and distinctions between law and landscape architecture. I've read some things that suggest that landscape archs, and more specifically planners read and interpret a good deal of code, which is very much in the territory of what an attorney deals with. So there seems to be a backdoor possibility into the general market with a JD, even though one couldn't officially call oneself a landscape architect, or practice therein.

    I'm almost 5 years into landscape architecture practice after graduating with a BLA in 2003.

    LA is an interesting profession because it's a bit nebulous and you can take it in almost any direction. For example, I really like urban design and large-scale planning, so I spend most of my days doing that. Some of my coworkers are more focused on landscape plans; others like hardscape detailing...I know some LA's who are in the field doing design-build but that's not my thing. My typical day involves a lot of client and team coordination because I tend towards project management; many of my friends are pure-design (or when they start out, production--whether it's CAD or hand-drafting or renderings depends on the firm).

    One thing that I really (perversely?) enjoy is the lawyer-like mentality required to get designs built. There is a lot of convincing to do--clients, jurisdictions, the general public, design teams... I find that staying extremely knowledgeable on development and environmental issues and being capable of presenting strong, flexible arguments serve me tremendously well in this profession. I debated law school, too (haven't entirely dropped the idea) and need to be challenged in my career to be happy.

    Landscape architecture can be whatever you make of it, which is both a blessing and a curse.

    A note about MLA's--generally, those programs are more "theoretical" whereas BLA's are more concrete (or so we're told); thus the prejudice you'll often find against MLA's. Phrases like, "MLAs can't design their way out of a paper bag" are not uncommon...but I know some fantastic landscape architects who didn't get into it until grad school, so I'd let the strength of the program guide you. (I agree that the "combined BLA-MLA" sounds a little fishy, though)

    DesignIntelligence releases an annual ranking of LA programs that people in the profession actually seem to respect, so I'd check that (just google it) and see if your program's there. Make sure it's accredited, too; it's not worth going if it's not (license requirements vary state-by-state but tend to require graduation from an accredited program OR an additional few years of work experience before you can sit for the LAREs).

    Maybe check out the ASLA website as well to see some examples of what LA's do (look at their design awards; the rest of the site is somewhat disappointing).

    Good luck!

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    cant agree more with rudder's comment about BLA vs. MLA in terms of practical skills

    i m in a MLA program and i have had some experience with undergraduate landscape students. in general, they have stronger sense of translating an idea into an actual design where i see a lot of MLA students tend to focus more on the theoretical approach and concentrate on the "big picture". the thesis project that every MLA student has to complete really reflects that.

    but again it really depends on your interests and background. if you are willing to be more design-oriented, there is nobody to stop you from doing that. one good thing about grad school is the flexibility you have in building up your own interests

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    Quote Originally posted by rudder View post
    I'm almost 5 years into landscape architecture practice after graduating with a BLA in 2003.

    LA is an interesting profession because it's a bit nebulous and you can take it in almost any direction. For example, I really like urban design and large-scale planning, so I spend most of my days doing that. Some of my coworkers are more focused on landscape plans; others like hardscape detailing...I know some LA's who are in the field doing design-build but that's not my thing. My typical day involves a lot of client and team coordination because I tend towards project management; many of my friends are pure-design (or when they start out, production--whether it's CAD or hand-drafting or renderings depends on the firm).

    One thing that I really (perversely?) enjoy is the lawyer-like mentality required to get designs built. There is a lot of convincing to do--clients, jurisdictions, the general public, design teams... I find that staying extremely knowledgeable on development and environmental issues and being capable of presenting strong, flexible arguments serve me tremendously well in this profession. I debated law school, too (haven't entirely dropped the idea) and need to be challenged in my career to be happy.

    Landscape architecture can be whatever you make of it, which is both a blessing and a curse.
    I certainly appreciate this information.

    I agree that whenever a profession "can be whatever you make of it" it tends to be both a blessing and a curse.

    I suppose I'm primarily worried that I'm giving up an extraordinary opportunity by not going to law school, even though I'm fairly certain I wouldn't want to practice law (I've worked in a firm long enough to know the tedium that comes with being an attorney).

    A law degree seems so much more flexible, more useful, but in the end, that flexibility can very much be a curse. I'd be more interested in using my JD in the same means and manner as I would an MLA, as much as I could, anyway - working on environmental and conservation issues is definitely where I'd like to be, and I just see more opportunity within the MLA framework, I guess.

    I'm glad to hear that a MLA is a seemingly flexible degree as well. I'm just somewhat worried that I'd be stuck designing the next subdivision using the same recycled plans as the last 5 projects.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Designing my way out of a paper bag

    I'm uncomfortable with the comparision between design abilities of MLAs and BLAs. Partly because I'm in a first-pro MLA. But partly because its up to the individual to learn the graphic skills necessary to be respected as a designer.

    Unfortunately, when it comes down to it, BLAs typically clock more formal studio time than MLAs. Personally, I'm working on getting class credit for participation in open design competitions down the road.

    Certainly if an MLA program requires a research thesis, I could see a serious design ability deficiency. However, if the program allows or especially encourages design projects as their capstone in lieu of a thesis, I see the ability to make up a whole lot more ground.

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