Yet Another Law School Question
January 31, 2014 12:54 AM   Subscribe

Please help me decide between business and law school! Difficulty level: I need to decide by Monday and also I'm getting married this weekend and my brain is all over the place OH GOSH SO MANY WORDS INSIDE.

I applied for two dual degree programs - one commerce/science, and one law/science. I was accepted into both programs, and now I have no idea which to choose.

- The law program is at the University of Sydney, and will end up being about a year longer than the commerce program, which is at UNSW. Both degrees are undergraduate and Commonwealth supported (ie, not a lot of debt relative to a full-fee JD or MBA place, and the debt isn't payable until I start earning money).

- I'll be transferring a bunch of chemistry credits. If I choose the commerce program, I would likely major in accounting and then aim for a career in management accounting, hopefully within the chemical/food/agribusiness industries. If I choose the law program, I would hope to work as a patent attorney, or in-house counsel in one of the aforementioned industries.

- FWIW, whenever I take the MBTI I always come out as an INTJ. I like numbers, organising things, creating reports, problem-solving, ticking things off to-do lists and generally Getting Stuff Done Efficiently. I am quietly competitive and have an unnatural love of standardised tests. I am a quick reader and a decent essay writer. I'm not a natural leader, but I'm one of those people who always ends up running group-work projects because I'm the most organised. Being around very emotional/confrontational/aggressive people freaks me out - I am generally friendly but fairly reserved.

- I've worked alongside management accountants (their job makes me jealous) and solicitors in a family law practice (their job makes me nauseous). I've never worked around patent attorneys, so any insight there would be great.

I apologise for the scattered nature of this question - I'm really busy with wedding stuff at the moment and I didn't think this all the way through because I genuinely didn't expect to get the law offer, or that they would only give me three days to decide! I'm happy to provide any extra details to help you answer my actual question, which is something like "I don't know if I want to be a management accountant or a patent attorney, how do I decide?"
posted by jaynewould to Education (14 answers total)
Reads here like you want to be a management accountant. Do what is required to be a management accountant.
posted by oceanjesse at 2:11 AM on January 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

what does your prospective bride say? she knows you better than us.
posted by bruce at 2:33 AM on January 31, 2014

There is something about the way you present the question that makes me think you'd be happier with the commerce degree. There just isn't a lot of argument here that says law would make you happier in life.

Have you thrown this out to friends and family for thoughts? I know it's sometimes better asking strangers because they haven't already pigeonholed you with their expectations for your life or beliefs about you, but maybe you could ask for an 'off the cuff, informal, won't hold you to anything, don't overanalyze it' kind of answer and get their thoughts.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:15 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you thrown this out to friends and family for thoughts? I know it's sometimes better asking strangers because they haven't already pigeonholed you with their expectations for your life or beliefs about you, but maybe you could ask for an 'off the cuff, informal, won't hold you to anything, don't overanalyze it' kind of answer and get their thoughts.

Yep, that's exactly why I posted here! Every time I mention accounting I get responses varying from *vaguely distasteful facial expression* to out-and-out "ew, why?!" type responses. I think this has more to do with people's perceptions about accounting than about whether I, personally, might make a good accountant. Like I said, though, I've worked around people doing the sort of jobs that I'd like for myself, and I'm sure they do a lot more than what's covered in whatever first-year Accounting 101 course some of my friends took.

If I ask people what I would be suited to, I generally hear "law", even though I didn't bring it up. This includes friends who actually have law degrees. I do think it looks interesting, and the school I was accepted to is quite prestigious. That said, I'm quite sure that there's plenty of law subjects that are every bit as dry as the accounting subjects that people are so negative about.

I've also had a few people suggest the military (specifically, the Intelligence Corps) or ASIO. I'm actually not eligible for the military due to my terrible eyesight, and frankly, I'm not outdoorsy in the slightest and I have no desire to work for the Australian government. I think that this gets suggested because I'm generally described as being a bright, analytical kind of person (despite the mess of a question I wrote!). Again, I'm sure that's an attribute I could put to good use in a Commerce degree.

tl;dr: I think that I would likely enjoy accounting, and that I've been talking to people who aren't quite sure what accounting is or why I might be suited to it.
posted by jaynewould at 3:38 AM on January 31, 2014

I think the commerce/science degree sounds like it will work better for you.

I have some good friends who are patent attorneys. You don't need a law degree to be a patent attorney, just a scientific or technical background - some of my friends do have a law degree as well, some don't. So that option is open regardless of which of the degrees you do. Memail me if you have something else you'd like to ask about it.

It sounds like you still have some narrowing down of career choices to do, so commerce/science will give you plenty of flexibility to include different things you're interested in. Law degrees don't have much spare space in them for electives, there are a lot of compulsory subjects to grind through and honestly there are many subjects that are just a grind (I went back to uni to do a grad entry law degree).

People are unnecessarily impressed by law degrees, which is part of the reason others may be suggesting it, because 'that's what smart people do'. Don't let that sway you, you're the one who has to get through all those subjects. Bright and analytical is good for science and accounting too.

If you regret your choice, you can swap later. Yes, you'll lose a year, but a few years out, that extra year of uni won't seem like such a big deal.
posted by AnnaRat at 3:51 AM on January 31, 2014

Ignore people's perceptions about management accounting. At the end of the day, lots of jobs end up being about numbers and narratives. This is certainly true of management accounting - the underlying narrative is as important as the number.

Your skillset sounds well suited for any detail oriented job, which is perhaps the issue here. But a commerce degree gives you more options and more opportunity. A law degree gives you a niche. The first is great if you don't know what you want to do. The second is great if there is a market for your skills and you know you want to do it. Anecdotally, because it is more of a closed market, salaries in corporate law are more standardised and known.

It is possible to jump from being an accountant or lawyer to being something else. However, my experience is that very few corporate lawyers actually do change jobs other than switching clientside or law firm. This is partly because they like their jobs and partly because once they've invested time to become a lawyer through the various hurdles they know they want to do it and they've invested all that time. As a management accountant there are more open routes to CFO and CEO, so less in built security but more latitude to branch out.

I'm also curious why you want to be a management accountant for a food business. Not that there is anything wrong with it, but there is absolutely no requirement to specialise almost ever.

FWIW, you sound more like a management accountant to me. You don't sound like a fit for an officer in the military or intelligence to me. As an intelligence analyst, perhaps. If you're curious about that sort of thing then get in touch with them - both organisations are very strong on sorting out the personalities they want and which are a good fit for them. The military should be open to talking to you even at this early stage. I'm less familiar with ASIO's recruitment processes but if they are opening out like ones are in the UK and US then they'll have people on campus from time to time.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:13 AM on January 31, 2014

I don't know about Australia, but I will say that people's social perceptions of accounting tend to be that it's boring, but... well, so are most jobs that actually provide steady work and pay decently, even if they sounded more exciting when you were just getting into the program; the day-to-day of a lot of things is a bunch of staring at a computer. People perceive law to be a loooot more exciting than the actual day-to-day work really is. Pretty sure that Australia is not any different in this regard, re: most people spending almost no time in court compared to the time they spend doing paperwork.

There is a lot of crossover in people who make good accountants and people who make good lawyers. Accounting just requires some very basic capability with math on top of the problem solving. I have a feeling that the accounting will use less of the science background--but you might find that it might be more of a gateway to the c-suite level if you're interested in hitting actual management and not just doing the accounting forever.
posted by Sequence at 5:12 AM on January 31, 2014

Congratulations and good luck with the wedding/marriage thing.

3 days does sound like an artificially short period to accept or not. Can you say yes to both and decide in a few weeks?

The two degrees I would get if I could do it over would be either law or accounting. I don't know Australia but it always struck me that it would be easier to take accounting classes and switch careers if I had a law degree than take law classes and switch if I had an accounting degree.

I would get the law degree.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:17 AM on January 31, 2014

I have a business degree. I am an outgoing, hilarious, witty English major. At my job they asked us to take some aptitude and interest tests and it turns out that I'm a natural numbers cruncher. I have terrible grades in math from my school days that says otherwise, but there it was. I was told:

"Not only do you have an aptitude for accounting, you also have an interest." I made the face too. Me? Numbers? EW!

I was offered an MBA program, fully paid by my job. I wanted no parts of it. My counselor told me, "Look it's only 18 months." I said, "18 MONTHS! That's forever!" She said, "It's going to pass anyway." And there my friends, is how I got my MBA. With honors.

It was the last thing I thought I'd enjoy and I loved every minute of it.

Don't turn it down just because people give you the scootch-face when you say Accountant. I'm loving my Excel spreadsheets. POWER-PIVOT!

But seriously, Commerce-Science, if it's interesting and fun to you, blow what other people think, you're the one that has to do the actual work.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:37 AM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Commerce/science is my vote. Job market in law is weak now, plus if you don't like aggressive people, you might find more such people in law than you like. And science seems to be an exploding and exciting and vast field. Probably more interesting than a lot of aspects of law too.
posted by Dansaman at 7:35 AM on January 31, 2014

Both degree programs sound totally fine, which is why I look at your sentence "I've worked alongside management accountants (their job makes me jealous) and solicitors in a family law practice (their job makes me nauseous)" and think that this pretty much answers itself, despite your friends not liking accounting.
posted by jeather at 7:44 AM on January 31, 2014

I have heaps of lawyer friends in NSW and did half a law degree myself.

Do the commerce/science degree. People who sneer at accounting don't understand the thrill of it or they are thinking of the kudos that comes with the term lawyer without understanding the dull boring drudgery that can happen in law, especially as a new grad.

If you do the comm/sci course you can always go back and add a law degree later part time, especially if you are an organised person.

Plus i am pretty sure that there are more interesting jobs around for a comm/sci than a law grad.

Hehe. On preview, what almost everyone else has said.
posted by Kerasia at 12:21 PM on January 31, 2014

Hey there. I'm not in your area of the world but I also recently made the choice between law and accounting. Everyone "said" I'm make a great attorney. I chose accounting. Some of my reasons will not be applicable to you, but one major thing that swayed me is that there is so much more to accounting than being good at math and doing taxes, and having an interest/understanding of law can be really helpful in your academic and professional career.

(Also, my SO is an accountant, so I had an inside peek on the industry already. We will not be in the same field, because, just no.)

I am also really used to that sort of "what, why?" reaction because I previous studied history. Oh, how people's eyes would glaze over.
posted by sm1tten at 12:35 PM on January 31, 2014

If the legal job market in Australia is anything like what it is in the US, law school is not a viable option if you want to have a career in your area of study.
posted by reenum at 11:38 PM on January 31, 2014

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