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Thread: Newly minted lawyer thinking about going for urban planning...

  1. #1
    Jun 2010
    Austin, TX

    Newly minted lawyer thinking about going for urban planning...

    I graduated about a year ago from law school, and I've been unemployed for most of the time since then. In case anyone here is considering law school: DO NOT GO, LAW SCHOOLS ARE A SHAM! They churn out way more lawyers than there are law jobs.

    Anyway, my wife thinks it's probably best for me to go back to school and do something else. I decided I'll give it a shot. I've been researching careers, and I think urban planning would be interesting. But I am wondering if it is a good choice career-wise. I don't want to end up in the same boat as I did after law school (i.e., unemployed). Is it hard to land an urban planning job? Do most students have jobs lined up before graduation? Is there a specific area I should get into to leverage my law degree?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian drjb's avatar
    Sep 2006
    Los Angeles
    Hey Lawguy, urban planning is a very broad field so I suppose your first order of business is to identify what subset of planning you are interested in (i.e., transportation planning, urban design, long range planning, economic development, community development, real estate development, public sector planning, and the list goes on).

    As for going back to school, that may not be necessary, as long as you have a bit of background in land use and/or real estate issues. If not, a couple of extension classes may get you up to snuff on the major concepts. But either way, you need to first figure out what exactly you like about urban planning and what type of job you see yourself doing.

  3. #3
    Jul 2009
    Colo Front Range
    Quote Originally posted by Lawguy View post
    I graduated about a year ago from law school, and I've been unemployed for most of the time since then. ... But I am wondering if it is a good choice career-wise.
    JMHO, there are only a few professions that would consider changing and going planning right now. Law is one of the few.

  4. #4
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
    Jan 2005
    Hang on Sloopy...land
    Having a law background is very helpful in the planning world. You will find many areas where you can be a great asset. Many privates would love to have a law guy as well as a planner. Land Use Law, regulation writing, and other fields, are probably some of the few that are not shrinking that much.

    Since many sign companies, equal rights groups, etc. are now making it their goal to sue every community that doesn't meet their understanding of laws, having a planner that is also able to comprehend law to a greater degree than the normal folk, would be a great asset. You might be getting paid MUCH lower than what a lawyer makes, but you would be a valuable part of a team. I'd hire a Planner II, or Assistant Planner that also is boarded by the State in an instant.

    Good Luck!!
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  5. #5
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
    Jun 2005
    NYC area
    I'd imagine that a J.D. could be very handy when working as a planner, especially in a small community where you must play the role of de facto land use attorney in addition to planner. The hiring situation in the field is currently at least as bad as law, however. If you go this route, be aware that this is a niche field with relatively few job openings even in the good times, and with things as bad as they are now, there are next to no jobs out there. Good luck.

  6. #6
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
    Jun 2003
    at the neighboring pub
    If you have an interest in planning and a J.D., have you considered applying to positions in a City Attorney department? A lot of the legal issues in a city relate to planning & land use decisions. I noticed your location was listed as Austin. I know the City of Austin has three openings right now for staff attorneys and Cedar Park is looking for an Assistant City Attorney. San Antonio also usually has a few openings. Plus, the various agencies of the State of Texas are always looking for staff counsels. The Texas Attorney General's Office is usually hiring, if you can stomach that group. It would at least get you more experience to make you more appealing to a private firm, unless you decide you like the stability of government employment as an attorney.

    Private sector planning firms would like having somebody with a J.D. for code writing, etc. Some of them even make that a requirement (I think maybe Clarion does this).

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  7. #7
    Jun 2007
    Oklahoma City
    I'll echo what SuburbRepairman was saying about municipal employment. Also, there are a couple of jobs up right now on the Texas APA web site that seem like they'd be a good fit for a law-educated person (without a planning degree or experience, even). They involve negotiation with landowners, preparing easement packages, securing entitlements, and making sure regulatory statutes/permitting are being following for land acquisition companies. It probably won't pay as well as a Big- or Mid-Law starting salary, but it's still a step in the door for real estate law issues.

    I'd also look at real estate development firms for in-house counsel positions. The Urban Land Institute is a good resource for these types of jobs. I am contemplating law school and/or planning graduate school (though I'm already employed as a planner) and would probably go in that direction in preparation for a career in real estate development.

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