Law Degree vs. PhD – a Waste of Time?

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my link, at no extra cost to you.

Should I Go to Law School or Get a PhD?

The hypothetical question is: should I go to law school or get a Ph.D.? Which one is better for successful career – law degree vs. PhD? The short answer: it depends on your aspirations. Law degree vs. PhD choice depends on many factors I will mention in this blog post.

Juris Doctor is a professional degree where law student after passing the bar exam is allowed to practice law as an attorney. Ph.D. is essentially designation for a highly skilled researcher or professor in some areas.

In my opinion, unless you love the area for which you want to obtain a Ph.D., JD may offer some kind of career and a shot of getting paid, especially JD for tier 1 law school.

Well, some people compare law degree vs. Ph.D. and say that law school awarding Juris Doctor is better since JD is only three years and law school newcomers have it easier than PhDs. Then, after passing bar exam former law student, now law graduate, is allowed to work and practice law.

And Ph.D. is six years of low pay with no guarantee of a good-paying position. But comparing a Ph.D. to a law degree is like comparing apples to oranges – they are just different creatures. 

Should I go to law school or get a PhD? Of course, it depends on what you want to do. Do you know what lawyers do at work and not on TV? Many law graduates are surprised by the reality of law practice once they enter the legal world.

This is not what they expected. No glamour – just hard, grueling, stressful work. I do not recommend jumping into law school without first researching what legal work is. 

Same with Ph.D. – years of grueling work and ass-kissing and often no prospect of tenure job, or any job at all, depending on the field. On the other hand, Ph.D. in tech can make an absolute killing in terms of money. Read further below.

Our individual law subject courses start at $14.99!

Ph.D. is a Drag

PhDs are paid a little stipend, barely enough to make ends meet. They have to kiss the ass of a professor they research for. And in the end, there are not many job opportunities other than the university of some research center, and it is very difficult for new PhDs to find good employment at universities these days. 

They go into field work quite often. Usually, they are employed by labs for scientists and fields for engineers. Ph.D. itself is not always a solid credential for an employer at a company or in non-academia in general. I tend to think it depends on the field of Ph.D. 

In terms of practical application at work and a chance to have at least some flexibility of a career, JD probably beats Ph.D. But, I do know someone with Ph.D. in physics who breathes and dreams physics 24/7. They would never change to the law. PhDs do work very hard and a lot of hours. 

Law Degree vs. PhD And the College Rank

Another aspect is the rank of college where you are obtaining JD or Ph.D. Choosing between tier 4 law school for JD and Tier 1 college program for Ph.D., I may tend to say that Ph.D. might be a good option to try. And another way around is, well, another way around – college rank is a big factor in deciding because high college rank gives prestige and reputation and opens up work opportunities in the future. Low college rank – not that much. 

I would not rush into the decision. For a law school newbie, the law school also means incurring substantial student debt. What if you do not like the law? On the other hand, law school may lead to a more specific job opportunity than Ph.D. Ph.D. is even worse for jobs than law school. If I would have to choose between Ph.D. and law school – I would choose a law school.

But, take your time and think about it. One advantage of a Ph.D. is that if you can obtain a funded Ph.D., you can try for a couple of years without incurring student debt. Cannot do that with law school because it usually leads to student debt. 

Ph.D. in STEM degree then to law school

Tip: I saw on forums some commenters suggesting to obtain a Ph.D. in STEM areas then go and obtain their JD, to have a solid shot at making a killing as intellectual property attorneys – 6-figures to start from higher-ranked schools, and even jobs during law school at 50k-70k. 

Well, undergraduate degrees in STEM with few years of either fieldwork or Ph.D. also seem to open doors in law firms. I am talking about one of my former law school classmate-engineer, not even Ph.D., who got a 60K job offer while still in j=her second year of law scjool.

I am sure she got much more when she graduated and passed the bar exam. That could be a long-term but path to take. Non-STEM Ph.D. has almost no effect on the probability of finding a job after law school, except that employers may think this is gonna be one smart attorney employee.

Shall you decide to go to law school – check my detailed reviews of recommended LSAT preparation courses for getting a top LSAT score. 

Law Degree v. PhD not clear cut

Overall, it looks like if choosing between law school and Ph.D. one should either stay away from both or go with law school path unless a Ph.D. is in:

  1. Top school.
  2. STEM area.

And, if one was admitted to tier 1 law school, then I can confidently say to just go ahead and obtain a law degree. Or, if one can go to lower-tier law school for cheap or practically for free, then law school may be more beneficial than Ph.D. care wise. But only if he or she wants to be an attorney. 

This is also reinforced by the serious lack of work opportunities for PhDs, where colleges are contracting due to a decline in applications, and obtaining tenure track teaching position nowadays is more difficult than becoming an astronaut. While a law degree is not without problems and the legal market is competitive, a law degree can open some doors even in the non-legal world. Ph.D. probably cannot offer that. 

Law school is also not a too practical degree, because law students do not learn how to practice law but rather learn general theory and a lot of it. PhDs will probably have an easy time in law schools after their doctorate program, because law school is not so brainy, and Ph.D. research, analysis, and writing skills can make law studies seem like a walk in the park. Some say that Ph.D. in philosophy will make law school seem like kindergarten. Law school admission test LSAT will also be relatively easy after Ph.D. But it all comes down to the job market, right?

Using job search web sites to evaluate law school v. Ph.D. prospects

Here is what I suggest you do: go to, or other major job search site like, and type in “Ph.D.” to see how many Ph.D. positions are open. Then, type in “Ph.D.” and name of the field of your particular Ph.D. interest. And see market demand for yourself. 

I did that search and my impression is that Ph.D. in STEM, and/or quantitative areas are in demand by organizations and companies. This is in line with the overall trend of market demand for STEM graduates. Some positions offer up to $110,000 in annual salary. But others, offer as low as $22,000 per year for a person with Ph.D. Is it worth to spend 6-7 years on Ph.D. just to make $22,000? I do not think so. 

I also see that the overall number of job postings for PhDs is noticeably higher than the total sum of job postings for JDs and attorneys, where some of the latter probably show up in both searches for JD and attorney. But the problem with Ph.D. though is that the total number must be divided by many different Ph.D. specializations, and one should research carefully market demand for his or her particular field of interest. 

The holding: Ph.D. in tech or STEM probably trumps law school, but it is not necessary for a career

Undergraduate STEM degree from a good college may be enough for a nicely paid job and career. It can also give a major boost to law students. Ph.D. may open other opportunities, but this is so specific to each field, that I will need a separate website just to evaluate that.

But right now, law school v. Ph.D. or Ph.D. v. law school comparison comes down to few factors like school or college rank, the field of study as well as natural abilities, passions and career goals of the student.

Having said that, I saw a job posting for a Ph.D. in artificial intelligence or machine learning, offering $300k PLUS partnership equity. Wow, probably in a start-up. AI, machine learning and big data fields are booming right now and Ph.D. in those probably can yield very handsome annual salary.

The world has moved from social studies to tech and quantitative fields. Even me, trying to learn basic coding and database skills just to make sure I do not fall completely behind. 

My childhood career aspiration was biology. I know I would be happy doing that, but life happened and now I am a cynical legal professional. I earned my money, but I still look at science majors with some level of admiration and envy.

The grass is always greener on the other side, right? 

Choose your field wisely and do your research. Whatever you choose, make sure you like what you do – either money side or work side. This is the only way to be happy. Trust me, low paid happy person with passion in life will find more opportunities in life than an unhappy one. 

The other specific advice I will give you is to be very careful about incurring any student debt, even $10,000 or less. Make sure you get sufficient value for it because a modern college education is sometimes outdated and does not offer enough value to graduates.

Here is a good article on why PhD may be a waste of time and money.

Here is a link to MIT Sloan PhD which may be worthy check shall you pursue PhD.