T14 Law School as a means for advancing in "high finance" ?

So I've adequately researched this topic and know the consensus on the forum, and on analogous law school forums, is to not go to law school unless you plan on being a lawyer. However, I believe I am in a relatively unique situation. I graduated from a non-target (ranked somewhere in the mid #200s) and currently work as an Analyst at a relatively niche-focused boutique. I truly enjoy investment banking. I lack a great deal of respect for the directors and MDs at my firm and have no desire to emulate their career paths. The deals we structure are relatively simple and I would like to move on to more complex deals within the next year or two. Being totally honest with myself, I can / will lateral to a middle market boutique such as WB or Baird and, given my resume, that is probably the upper threshold of where I could get. Maybe I could bounce around other MM firms, make MD, and have a pretty decent life. On the other hand, I've been admitted to Northwestern and Duke Law plus have been waitlisted at Penn, UVA, and Michigan. If I pursue this path I have a non-zero chance of elevating my career opportunities to an entirely different echelon. With a JD from a T14 school working at a distressed HF or having an opportunity to work in restructuring or M&A at an EB / BB aren't as completely impossible as they are now. I'm 25 and really do not have any appetite at all to pursue an MBA (sounds miserable.) Seems like getting a JD is a big risk in the forgone salary but it opens up the possibility of reaching the upper echelon of the finance world which I currently have zero chance of getting to. So, where is my reasoning flawed?

Comments (11)

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  • Analyst 2 in AM - Other
Jun 19, 2022 - 8:40pm

Here's my opinion, others may easily disagree. First you should narrow in on what your goal actually is. You say "high finance". It sounds like you already work in "high finance". You say "upper echelon of the finance world" but what does that even mean, and why do you want it? Can you articulate why an EB fits that bill but WB or Baird do not (without using the term "prestige")? If not, I would re-examine. I'll suggest you are likely underestimating the path of lateraling to a MM bank, and continuing on from there. And I think you're overestimating the utility of a law degree in finance. The truth is that if someone in your group- or a client- needs legal advice, they will talk to a lawyer. They will not ask the associate with a JD who has not once actually practiced law. Most law schools only have 1, 2 at most, courses relevant to RX/distressed. You can learn 80% of that same info by reading those same relevant law school text books. Same with M&A, but the legal perspective outside of what your lawyers will tell you is even less important (as in M&A law outside of surface, inch-deep level is not very useful to a banker). JD's don't have much value in and of themselves because you do most learning on the job. Similarly, nothing you learn pursing a JD will be useful for finance. Lastly, you suggest an MBA would be miserable. To each their own, but the MBA is two years of partying with some case studies on the side. JD's are three years of writing case reviews about the 13th amendment.

Jun 20, 2022 - 11:08am
mrharveyspecter, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Agree with the above, the points I'd pull out and highlight are, what do you actually want to do in high finance, how do you think a law degree gets you marginally closer to those, and why do you think business school sounds miserable while law schools sounds like fun. The last point is honestly my biggest curiosity. B-School is known to be universally fun whereas law school is known to be pretty brutal. 

A JD could help you in certain areas within finance. Restructuring comes to mind and some of the top EBs come to mind. Outside of that a JD won't prepare you as well as an MBA for most finance roles. The JD signals some prestige and capability, but my immediate question to you would always be, why did you get a law degree if you knew you wanted to work at a hedge fund/be a banker. yes, you could dance around it and say you like the framework of thinking that law gives you, etc but it's not like you intended to practice law and then pivoted, you're going in full well knowing that you're learning a skillset that is largely irrelevant for what you want to do actually do with that hopes that some of the ancillary skills will help you. It's like saying you want to be a pro soccer player but the best way to get there is actually to train for track and field because if you're a great runner that ability will apply to soccer. It's not untrue...but you could also just train for soccer. Same concept applies here.

I guess the synthesis of my thoughts is that you're taking a circuitous path for no evident reason. JDs aren't hired in droves for any high finance roles. A couple of folks slip into restructuring roles and other HF/PE/IBD roles, but it's generally pretty rare and more of a result of networking and right place right time. Maybe if you had a Harvard/Yale/Stanford law acceptance in hand, you could argue that the pure prestige of the top law school degree could carry you, but you don't, and even that argument I'd only half buy. 

So yes, your logic is flawed, either lateral your way up if you don't want to go to B-School, or just apply to B-School to rebrand yourself.

  • Teller in Non-profit
Jun 20, 2022 - 1:08pm

If you're trying to rebrand yourself with the T14 school name, it could work, although your opportunity cost is higher (3 yr law degree vs. 2yr MBA from) and potentially a mismatch in long term career (support you receive from career services/any potential stigma of law school/being a lawyer working against you). I'd weigh this one carefully.

Jun 20, 2022 - 5:06pm
CharlesMonsoon, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I appreciate your input. I've lived a life, thus far, that is relatively un-extraordinary. Yes, I'm an analyst at a well respected boutique firm (whatever that is worth). I barely graduated from high school, went to community college, and now find myself in a position to attend two extraordinary schools. You sound jaded, maybe for good reason, but I fully understand what you are saying. My thought process is, would getting a JD or a JD/MBA from a top tier institution allow me exposure to a "black swan" life event? Would it not crack open the door to where the upside / best case scenario for my career is largely expanded? I could toil away at my boutique and reach director or I could extend myself into a very difficult situation and possibly succeed. Yes, I am exposing myself to significant risk. Worst case scenario I end up back in my current boutique but with debt. That would suck. That would not be the end of the world. I have seen a handful of individuals that have transitioned from a few years are a lawyer to EBs and BBs. Would you mind expanding on your perspective?

  • Associate 2 in IB-M&A
Jun 20, 2022 - 3:55pm

I work at an EB.   In the past, I have seen MBA/JD dual degree candidates as associates in Rx, but really only 1 or 2 over the past 4/5 years or so, zero JD-only associates.  JD to finance is increasingly rare these days - the 3 year program is just not conducive to our associate hiring process that is completely geared towards 2 year MBA programs. 

Agree with other statements that you seem completely twisted and geared towards prestige. Law School SUCKS - it's 3 years of complete drudgery. What happens when you are ranked in the middle of your class? 

This is what will happen - you're gonna ignore this advice and go to the highest ranked school you get into. You'll work insanely hard your 1L year, then you'll get nervous/FOMO and join the crowd recruiting for big law. You'll land at Simpson or Davis Polk and work in M&A, and hate your life working banking hours for ~300k. In contrast, if you had gone to mba and recruited for EBs given you're clearly smart and are high value given existing IB experience, you'd make 400+ that first year, a year earlier than you would have, and, oh yea, you'll have gone to 5 continents during those 2 years of debauchery (instead of the aforementioned 3 years of drudgery)

  • Associate 2 in IB-M&A
Jun 20, 2022 - 4:26pm

Doesn't law school skew younger too? I met my now-wife when she was in law school and recall being floored by how many of her friends went straight from UG -> JD and had no real world working experience whatsoever and largely seemed a bit disconnected from reality when it comes to understanding the professional world. MBA average age is 27/28, so you get less of this. 

Jun 21, 2022 - 3:36pm
Lawrence3, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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