Use a Law Degree to Enter Environmental or Entertainment Fields

Shawn P. O'Connor

Welcome to another installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a monthly feature in the Law Admissions Lowdown that provides advice to readers who send in questions and profiles. If you have a question about law school, E-mail me for a chance to be featured next month. This week, I will address questions from readers about pursuing environmental and entertainment law.

Dear Shawn: I am a 24-year-old environmental consultant. I have a master's in chemical engineering and address air pollution challenges for corporate clients.

The region in which I live has very stringent regulations regarding air pollution, and I have thus been exposed to a diverse variety of clients. We also collaborate with lawyers on numerous litigations. After 1.5 years in my job, I feel the need to understand all the policies and rule-making governing pollution and hence have been thinking about going to law school for environmental law.

I would appreciate if you could share your thoughts with me about this plan. I am curious to know if it is worth it for me to pursue a legal education. Do law schools consider M.S. ChemE's with no law background? My master's GPA was 3.6, which I understand might be low for top tier law schools.

Do you believe having completed rigorous engineering coursework at a competitive school would help overcome that? Appreciate your help! - Clean Air Champion

[Explore the Best Law Schools for environmental law.]

Dear Clean Air Champion: Thank you for your hard work keeping the air a little cleaner for all of us. You will be happy to know that a background in law is not required for admission to law school. In fact, coming from a nontraditional background, like your own, can actually represent a significant advantage in the law school admissions process.

Law school admissions committees are looking for applicants who are passionate about a specific area of the law and have a clear reason for attending law school. You can certainly demonstrate how a law degree will benefit you in your career and are seeking to enter a growing legal field with plentiful job opportunities for those with your technical background. These factors will work to your advantage in the admissions process.

Regarding your GPA, your undergraduate GPA is actually significantly more important than your graduate school GPA. Since most law school applicants have not attended graduate school and grading standards can be different in graduate programs, law schools compare all applicants on undergraduate GPA.

If your undergraduate GPA is not as high as you would like, work especially hard on your LSAT preparation so that your LSAT score can balance out your GPA.

You should choose a law school particularly strong in environmental law, such as Vermont Law School, which has an especially renowned program, and not just a school with a high overall ranking. -Shawn

[Consider these factors to pick the right law school for you.]

Dear Shawn: I read your articles discussing the advantages and disadvantages of JD/MBA programs, and I have a few questions.

I am a senior at a large university and am debating whether a JD/MBA is right for me. Law school has always been my next step, but I have been recently considering business school as well. I am interested in the entertainment industry and have read that many in-house attorneys recommend the dual degree; however, I would appreciate an outside perspective. -Entertaining a JD/MBA

Dear Entertaining a JD/MBA: Thanks for writing. I absolutely agree that attaining a JD/MBA would make a lot of sense if you want to work in the entertainment industry, as you will be constantly challenged with complex financial and legal questions.

I have worked with numerous students interested in entertainment law who have pursued just a law degree and others who sought a JD/MBA degree. While both groups have been successful (as you can take some finance classes as a law student), those students with a JD/MBA definitely have had a significant advantage in today's competitive employment environment.

[Learn how to decide whether a dual degree is right for you.]

You should be aware that it is extraordinarily difficult to gain admission to a top MBA program right after you graduate college. If you decide to pursue the JD/MBA, you will likely need to work, ideally in the entertainment industry, for at least a couple years before going back to school. This firsthand experience may also help you clarify your long-term goals within the entertainment industry and then choose the degree or degrees that make the most sense for you.

As the top entertainment law schools, including the University of California--Los Angeles, New York University, the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, and Southwestern Law School, are located in New York and Los Angeles, you may want to seek employment in one of these cities before graduate school. -Shawn