Can a federal scientists become a lawyer?
January 2, 2013 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Are there ways for a federal research scientist to attend law school and remain a government employee after graduating?

I am an environmental research scientist with the federal government, and I'd like to know more about what opportunities may exist in the legal field. I earned my PhD about 4 years ago, and recently a friend told me there are scholarships for scientists to attend law school and work for the government after graduation. I don't want to leave my job as a federal employee, but if there's a way to attend law school and return to work for the government after graduation I'd really like to learn about it.

The reason I'm interested in making the transition to law is because I feel like I'd be more effective in a field with hard and fast deadlines, and I suspect that the legal field has more of an impact on environmental issues than research. I also wouldn't mind making a bit more money, but that's a distant third.

I've seen some information on scientists making the transition to patent law, but I'm not as interested in it as a field, and my background in science actually doesn't include as many "hard science" classes that I think would be necessary to make such a transition.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total)
 
This likely depends on the agency, but if you can make the professional case for the classes you're taking, you can have the cost picked up by the federal government, your employer, so you could attend law school part time while having the tuition fees already paid for.
posted by deanc at 11:05 AM on January 2, 2013


I'd like to know more about what opportunities may exist in the legal field

To start, go to USA Jobs and use the advanced search function to search for series number 0905 (attorney).

There are other fields that people use being an attorney as a qualification for, like Criminal Investigator, GS-1811.

Pay attention to the grades of the jobs available, which may be lower than your current grade if you have a Ph.D. and are working in your field/at the Ph.D. level. Some jobs, like with the SEC use a different salary scale, but may require additional qualifications.

If you have a permanent career competitive civil service appointment you'll be at an advantage in the civil service application process, but all lawyer jobs are currently massively bombarded with applications. Lots of people take non-lawyer federal jobs in hopes of moving over to lawyer jobs. Other appointments are in the excepted service. As I understand it, you likely won't have an appointment advantage there and will give up much of the security of a competitve service job. (If you have career status, you can return to the competitive service, but if you haven't yet achieved it, you'll lose the potential of aquiring it by entering the excepted service.)
posted by Jahaza at 11:11 AM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


recently a friend told me there are scholarships for scientists to attend law school and work for the government after graduation.

Oh there are, are there? Pray tell, what might these scholarships be? Because I'm damned if I've heard of any of them.

If you have specific information about such programs, those programs will tell you what you need to know. But if your question is just more generally whether such programs exist, I, for one, don't think so.
posted by valkyryn at 11:38 AM on January 2, 2013


Do you interact with any lawyers in your current position? They might be the best people to answer this question. They will probably discourage you from going to law school. It's a thing lawyers do.

And now I will do it: In terms of whether you would make more money, please keep in mind that law school can be quite expensive. A salary increase in a new position might not cover your loan payments.
posted by Xalf at 12:01 PM on January 2, 2013


I don't know of any such scholarships but you could always keep your job and go to law school part time in evenings.
posted by emd3737 at 1:43 PM on January 2, 2013


you could always keep your job and go to law school part time in evenings.

While this is technically true, it rarely produces a good outcome. Reputable law schools don't offer part-time programs, almost by definition. Getting a part-time law degree costs just about as much as a full-time degree, takes more time, and will pretty much disqualify you from any of the jobs that might enable you to make a respectable middle-class living, much less pay off your debt before you retire.
posted by valkyryn at 3:25 AM on January 3, 2013


Reputable law schools don't offer part-time programs, almost by definition.

I can only speak about the DC area, but Georgetown has a part-time program, as does the University of Maryland and George Mason University. While the latter two are outside the top 25, they are considered "good enough for DC" in that their recent alums seems to be peppered throughout the city employed in various capacities. But, frankly, the sort of job you end up getting is "mid-level bureaucratic functionary", which sounds a lot worse than being an Environmental Scientist, even if there are "hard and fast deadlines." I really don't see how someone who is a government employee who might know other lawyers in the government in the sort of jobs that he'd likely get could decide that such a job is preferable.
posted by deanc at 5:40 AM on January 3, 2013


This seems like a really bad plan. Even if you get in you would start at GS-11. You are likely higher than that now, right?
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 12:14 PM on January 3, 2013


their recent alums seems to be peppered throughout the city employed in various capacities.

Right, but how many of them were graduates from the part-time program? Employers care.
posted by valkyryn at 3:28 AM on January 5, 2013


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