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Thread: Blending a J.D. and a M.U.R.P: possible career paths?

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    Blending a J.D. and a M.U.R.P: possible career paths?

    I have been lurking in the forums for a while, but this is my first post. I am currently finishing my law degree and a joint Master's in Urban and Regional Planning. I want to specialize in Land Use, Planning and Economic Development. I am trying to plot a rough course for my career. My end goal is to create my own consulting firm specializing in land use, urban planning and contingency planning, but I will need experience for that. My previous experience was two years as a network engineer, which may help me with the GIS aspects of planning.

    It seems like most people in the forum believe that working for a municipality is the best way to go to fully utilize a joint degree. Is that because they usually have smaller staff that must do multiple jobs? Is there another major reason?

    I also know that planners do a lot of code and statutory analysis in their work along with the actual planning. Do any of you planners interact with land use lawyers regularly? Do you feel that having one person that understands both the planning and the legal side adds a lot of value to your work? Or would you rather keep the two sides separate? Any advice would be appreciated.

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    Cyburbian rcgplanner's avatar
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    This is an interesting post, as I am looking at potentially going back to school p/t in the next few years to pick up a J.D. in land use law. I graduated with a M.U.P. in Dec. 2007. I would be interested in seeing what others think.

    I would think having a J.D. would be a positive thing for a planner, since planners are required to analyze and write code often. I know a city in my area just hired a new planning director. He has both a M.U.P. and a J.D. and worked for a firm for a while. In the town I work for, a former planning director, left the public sector and worked for a law firm for a while as a land use consultant. I would think it would be a valuable asset to have as planners constantly interact with attorneys.

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    Quote Originally posted by rcgplanner View post
    I would think having a J.D. would be a positive thing for a planner, since planners are required to analyze and write code often. I know a city in my area just hired a new planning director. He has both a M.U.P. and a J.D. and worked for a firm for a while. In the town I work for, a former planning director, left the public sector and worked for a law firm for a while as a land use consultant. I would think it would be a valuable asset to have as planners constantly interact with attorneys.
    Do you know if the new planning director specialized in land use law in his practice? I am curious about the ability to transition from law practice to full time planning. In the legal field, it is tough to go into a firm if you were not a practicing attorney before. Experienced non-lawyers with J.D.'s are looked down upon somewhat in the legal field. Is the transition from land use law to planning difficult?

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    Cyburbian rcgplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by rltyler63 View post
    Do you know if the new planning director specialized in land use law in his practice? I am curious about the ability to transition from law practice to full time planning. In the legal field, it is tough to go into a firm if you were not a practicing attorney before. Experienced non-lawyers with J.D.'s are looked down upon somewhat in the legal field. Is the transition from land use law to planning difficult?
    I believe the attorney did do some land use law before he was brought on as the planning director. He was a planner at one time for this community while he was in law school part time, so that may have had some reason why he was hired as the planning director.

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    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Well, I have a JD and I am the planning director in my small town. I am AICP. Before I took this job ten years ago I had had my own consulting firm, practiced land use law, and acted as a planning commissioner. In a municipal planning situation you will use your legal training every day. Sometimes to draft new regs, and constantly to interpret them, as well as be aware of what other legal constraints exist for land use planning (e.g. Nolan and Dolan). It's also great for not being pushed around by land use lawyers representing applicants and others. I often have conversations that go like this:
    Me: It says you can't do that.
    Them: I'm an attorney and the way I read it is I can.
    Me: [Thinking "f'ing attorneys"] I'm an attorney, too, and I say you can't.
    Them: Oh.

    I think people suggest working for a municipality so you can understand how they work relate to the exigencies of municipal planning. Book knowledge is not enough. Internships probably aren't either. You need to get some experience so you know what a planner does, what a planner needs in terms of information, and what constraints a planner operates under.

    By the way, the transition from practicing attorney to planner was easy. I use exactly the same stuff, just stand on the other side of the counter.

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    Quote Originally posted by Otis View post
    It's also great for not being pushed around by land use lawyers representing applicants and others. I often have conversations that go like this:
    Me: It says you can't do that.
    Them: I'm an attorney and the way I read it is I can.
    Me: [Thinking "f'ing attorneys"] I'm an attorney, too, and I say you can't.
    Them: Oh.
    Hilarious!

    I appreciate the great info! You took the reverse career path. Do you still yourself going back into consulting or private practice at some point? I have always like the idea of working in municipal govenment but I thought that consulting might be a better option long term. Municipal governments tend to have high turnover leadership (i.e. city manger), which could make for a less than optimal work environment.

    There is the money and the "being your own boss" aspect at work for me too.

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    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by rltyler63 View post
    Do you still yourself going back into consulting or private practice at some point? I have always like the idea of working in municipal govenment but I thought that consulting might be a better option long term. Municipal governments tend to have high turnover leadership (i.e. city manger), which could make for a less than optimal work environment.
    I have thought about going back to consulting from time to time, but I think that time has passed for me. I may do it on an occassional basis after I retire to bring in a little extra cash.

    It is true that municipalities have relatively higher turnover (though I have been blessed with the same city manager for ten years), but don't think that consulting firms don't have substantial turn-over as well, and consulting has very little job security. I was hiring a senior planner recently, and got close to 200 applications, about half of which were from laid-off consultants. The land use business is cyclical, generally following the real estate business's cycles. I got laid off in the Reagan recession and couldn't find work for a year. Anyway the municipal turn-over rate probably won't affect you much if you follow my recommended career path of working for City A for two or three years, and then City B for two or three years, then going into consulting.

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