Advice

Will doing a PhD spell the end of my career in private practice?

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A newly qualified solicitor questions a return to education

lewad12

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one newly qualified solicitor harbours concerns that returning to university to complete a PhD will sound the deal knell for his career in private practice.

areer

Is doing a PhD in a specialist area of law the end of my private practice career (as a relatively newly qualified solicitor)?

If you have a career conundrum, email us with it to careers@legalcheek.com.

33 Comments

Anonymous

I don’t think so. I did one a few years back and returned (all be it part time) to private practice

(2)(2)

Soft-boiled Eggcorn

You did a PhD but think that the word ‘albeit’ is ‘all be it’? I suppose it works for all intensive purposes.

(48)(2)

Anonymous

Bravo

(7)(1)

Anonymous

Had a lecturer once who wrote “By enlarge” on the board.

How we rolled around in the aisles of the lecture theatre (we had to take what we got – mirth was few and far between – much like here…)

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Meh, I think your comment is a damp squid.

(1)(0)

I have questions

What specialism? And would that have any connection to your area of practice upon your return?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

You can remain in practice and continue with the PhD. Obviously, say goodbye to your evenings and weekends.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Fantasy.

(3)(2)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)

Taboggan Riding

It shouldn’t be an issue really – I would also consider European firms. It’s usual to see many lawyers with Phds over there.

If a firm doesn’t want to employ you, that’s their loss in the end.

(4)(2)

Anonymous

It’s also your loss if you don’t then have a job…

(26)(0)

Anonymous

I think it would spell the end of your private practice career in an area other than what your PHD is in. It would be difficult to do a PHD in one area of law and then look to practice in a separate or un-related area.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Isn’t it generally very hard to change practice areas once you’ve qualified into (and worked in) one?

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Anonymous

I don’t believe so, by way of an example if you are a 3 year PQE in M&A and decide that you would like to move over to employment, I think it is possible you would just expect a reduction in salary to reflect the level that you are at in employment.

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Anonymous

Typically, UK and US solicitor firms do not care for a PhD. HR departments do not see it as added value. Recruiters see 3 years of practice as greater value than 3 years spent on a PhD .

Slightly different story at the bar.

In mainland Europe, a PhD is highly valued in legal practice.

In my experience, private law/commercial law research is collapsing in the UK.
Low paid and with no career prospects in academia.
Not appreciated in private practice.

Unsurprisingly, law schools are increasingly populated by academics without a law degree….keen on human rights, socio-legal studies, development agendas etc etc

(8)(0)

Anonymous

I would side this comment in particular re Mainland Europe. I have no experience with the UK.

One problem I see with doing the PhD at a UK university is the somewhat unflexible three-year duration, even when doing it full-time. In Mainland Europe, it is commonplace to finish it in two years or sometimes less and often with part-time work commitments (as a research & teaching assistant at your university or in private practice) on the side. Of course, how much time is spent on a paid job will influence how long it takes to finish the thesis, but you are typically free to take as long (or short) as you like until your thesis is done. On the flipside, there is usually a lot less contact-time between student and supervisor and very, very few classes or seminars to attend, which some will like and others won’t.

My bottom line is: If being out of private practice is one of the considerations against a PhD, why not look to Mainland Europe (provided there is a topic you like where that makes any sense). There are no residency or attendance requirements at most institutions so you likely won’t even have to move (maybe fly in once or twice a year for a seminar) – and you’re free to submit the thesis after a year if you’re done and happy.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

And do it before Brexit to ensure you get cheaper (or zero) fees

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Fair point, though a) European PhD fees are typically extremely low anyway (what with you being sort of on your own during the PhD as opposed to a taught degree) and b) not all countries charge higher fees to overseas / non EU students like the UK does, and when they do, it’s usually a few hundred bucks’ difference (can’t speak for all countries of course).

(1)(0)

Alex

No.

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Anonymous

You should ask yourself why you want to do it first and foremost. It isn’t relevant to working as a lawyer, it is relevant to being an academic. Do you want to be an academic?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

No, I just want to have “Dr” as the prefix on my passport.

(11)(0)

Anonymous

Assuming you’re serious: Don’t three years of unpaid and sometimes quite painful work on a piece of research which is going to be read by virtually no one (no hate, it’s the sad truth for most of our theses) seem like an excessive price to pay for two letters? Aren’t you meant to be into the process and at least somewhat inclined to continue on the academic path if you’re willing to spend three years on it?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I really don’t think there’s any glory in it other than putting “Dr” in front of you name. Confuses the plebs, and gives you a few bonus points with your kids’ teachers.

Even real “doctors” are impressed – I had one tell me “Oh law, that must be really hard”. (And I’m thinking, “Hang on a minute geezer, you’re cutting someone’s belly open and playing with their entrails – dicing with death on a daily basis!? Nah, law is piss compared to that.”) But instead “Yes”, manages to slither its way out of my mouth. 🙂

(3)(0)

Anonymous

me too buddy. 1 year to go!

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Anonymous

You haven’t thought this through. What if after using the new passport there’s a medical emergency on the plane, and the flight attendant seeks you out having noted your prefix – it could be very embarrassing to try to stop a heart attack by explaining the effect of international tax law on U.K. Capital markets.

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Anonymous

Oh boy, I was so looking forward to getting into all those mishaps in the “Doctor…” films. Now you’ve gone and spoilt it for me.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Sounds a bit more like Carry on Dr to me

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Anonymous

‘Doctor in the house’, ‘Doctor at sea’, ‘Doctor in trouble’, ‘Doctor in love’… no ‘Carry on’ there:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_%28film_series%29

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Do it part time. Simples.

(5)(2)

Tyrion

Part-time phd whilst working a full time job? Simples? I doubt it. Tbh a phd will add very little your professional career as a solicitor. If you were a youngster and did a BSc and PhD in biochemistry before converting to become an IP solicitor, then I can understand it. But it almost all other cases it will be a massive waste of time, effort and money. I toyed with the idea for a while as I enjoy a specific area of the law, but even then I couldn’t justify it as a solicitor. Even at the bar PhDs aren’t that respected. A masters is a year and a better use of time and resources if you feel you must continue studying. Anything more is not useful and may actually be just as detrimental as not doing anything for 3 years.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Waste of time if you want to go back to private practice afterwards. At best it won’t be valued and at worst you will be seen as an oddball who has shown insufficient commitment to the firm.

If you want to be an academic, just quit and do that.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

You should know by now that solicitors don’t much like educashion.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Do a PhD if the topic/endeavour is truly of interest to you. Don’t do it so you can call yourself doctor, or if you’re hoping it’ll help you advance in private practice. Academia is increasingly a terrible place to work, so you’re probably better off in private practice. A PhD is a long distance race that requires focus and stamina. Do it only for the sake of doing it – it’s a nice achievement and, for me, a very good thing to have done.

(2)(0)

Comments are closed.