Economics knowledge neccessary for legal career?


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Economics knowledge neccessary for legal career?

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juny 27, 2010, 3:35 am

Hello, I am a history undergrad planning to attend law school in two years. I enjoy my subject, but am aware that some knowledge of other fields (i.e. accounting, finance, and economics) will be practical as a future lawyer, and am looking for some book titles to supplement my liberal arts education.

I understand that certain legal fields demand more in the three subjects I listed than others. I am more interested in what most legal jobs face because I will likely be working in a smaller firm with a relative that will demand broad general knowledge.

I have been reading about law and economics and find it interesting, but wonder if this is not just another academic diversion? That being said, I welcome academic recommendations as well as the very practical.


juny 27, 2010, 10:11 am

This is an interesting question. Certainly, any outside knowledge that you bring to the law can't hurt you - it can only help. What kind of outside knowledge is going to be most useful to you in practice depends on what kind of law you wind up practicing.

So, rather than answer your question directly, I'm going to suggest that you try interning or working at the types of firms you think you'd be interested in working for once you get out of law school - get a sense of what they do and how they do it, and what interests you about it. Then, focus on the legal (and ancillary) topics that interest you. And it's ok if your legal interests tend towards the academic - policy work and teaching are both valid uses of a law degree. I guess what I'm saying is don't limit yourself - or your education - based on what you think is going to get you hired down the line. Follow what interests you, and think about it as finding a profession that suits your interests, rather than trying to best suit yourself to a profession. The legal profession is incredibly varied, and you can find a place in it no matter what your interests are. In general, though, it's a very demanding profession, time-wise, so if that's what you're going to spend the rest of your life doing, you might as well spend it doing something that's a good fit for you and your interests.

juny 27, 2010, 10:52 am

I'd echo what upstairsgirl has said.

I have no need for much knowledge of accounting, finance, or economics in my practice. But I do indigent criminal defense, and rarely encounter anything even remotely resembling white-collar crime.

On the other hand, if you anticipate doing real estate work, estate planning, or any sort of business or corporate law, then such studies would be more valuable. I chose the lawyer I used for my own estate planning in part because she's also a CPA.

Don't get me started on the "law and economics" folks!

juny 28, 2010, 9:21 am

I think all areas of practice benefit from a general business knowledge and aptitude. It also aids in the law school experience. Irrespective of what type of work you do, most of the cases you study in law school will have some business element and at least a general sense in this area will be helpful.

I am not sure you need to understand economics per se unless you think you might work in international trade and finance or antitrust or that kind of thing. And even then it depends on exactly what kind of economics you are talking about and exactly what kind of law you are doing.

Business knowledge may not be necessary in criminal work, as lilithcat notes, but most regular old corporate lawyers, civil litigators, even family lawyers and estate planners benefit from a knowledge of this.

Best wishes to you.

juny 30, 2010, 6:34 pm

I wouldn't spend much time worrying about "preparing" as an undergraduate for law school or legal practice. Any liberal arts degree will prepare you for law school and legal practice as long as you focus on learning to read and write critically. A history degree will certainly prepare you very well if you gain those critical thinking skills.

That said, a basic understanding of economics is a good part of any liberal arts education, so a basic macro- and micro-economics course will be useful regardless of your career or practice choices. While it is useful to be able to read a balance sheet, I personally wouldn't waste time taking a full accounting course (I'd stick forks into my eyes first). There are single day courses that can teach nearly anyone how to read a balance sheet.

Note also that most law schools will have upper-level courses in accounting, finance, economics with a legal slant. Finance is usually covered in the Corporations II class.

Otherwise, once you're out practicing there will be plenty of continuing education opportunities (chances are you'll be on the hook for 10-15 hours a year) that include accounting, finance, or economics for lawyers.

Beyond that, Robert Heilbroner's book "The Worldly Philosophers", Richard Posner's "Economic Analysis of Law", and Ronald Coase's classic article "The Problem of Social Cost" in the Journal of Law and Economics, are all worth reading. And there is always the "Dummies" series, which are usually pretty good at giving a basic and simple over view of these and many other topics.

See also:

jul. 5, 2010, 2:23 am

I appreciate everyone's advice!

set. 7, 2010, 8:35 pm

Follow your nose. If you enjoy economics by all means go for it. Personally, my practice is based around small businesses and I felt it was important to take some extra accounting classes recently. Not so much for my understanding of tax law, but to better enable me to speak with other people involved--CPA's and whatnot. The practice of law is broad enough for you to specialize in what you want. If you like economics then try to envision how you would build your practice around it. You will find there are a tremendous number of lawyers who burnout or are stuck in practice groups they despise. This can be avoided by being proactive in specializing inwhat you like, rather than what your firm needs at the moment you are hired. But it takes balls.

Editat: set. 8, 2010, 5:06 am

Some advice from someone with a Ph.D. in Economics who has been practicing law -mostly Chapter 11 and commercial litigation - for 25 years -

(1) What has been said above about the type of law you're going to do is absolutely right. Unless you're going to do a purely "paper pushing" practice, writing and advocacy skills are paramount. You might try English Lit or Philosophy of the more combative sort for those skills.

(2) Economics, at the elementary level, teaches you little or nothing that will be of help to you, regardless of the sort of law you go into. If you are interested in Economics, qua that topic, go for it, but with the cavaet that what you will be taught is axiomatic thinking, not fact oriented thinking. Further, in areas such as AntiTrust Law advanced Economics will be a detriment, since you will realize the basic errors of much of what you are doing.

(3) Accounting, OTOH, may be of some help in a number of commercially oriented legal practices.

(4) Law And Economics is an intellectual game for academics. Very few Judges will buy into an argument based on that sort of reasoning, and the few that will are still going to rest their rulings principally on case authority. Unless you intend spending your career practicing before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, forget it.