Some students who are considering a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) degree wonder if a law degree might better suit their career goals. For the majority of them, the answer to this question is an emphatic NO. If you're looking for a broad base of skills to launch a professional career in public service, an MPA degree is the best choice. Continue reading for a detailed explanation of the advantages of an MPA or MPP degree over a JD.
To Make the Policies or Enforce Them?
While some lawyers are involved in the formation and administration of public policy, they are members of a group of professionals who play a support role. The majority of leaders in the public service sector are managers who are involved in the implementation of public service programs. These managers may consult with lawyers to ensure that policy and administration decisions comply with current laws, but lawyers do not play a major role in the decision-making process. In reality, there are a limited number of public service career options for practicing lawyers.
Potential Careers for an MPA vs. Law Degree
The primary purpose of law school is to train attorneys to practice law or serve as judges. The knowledge and skills provided by a law degree do not transfer easily to other fields, and the core curriculum of law school includes very little content related to public policy and administration. This is appropriate since most students who enter law degree programs are focused on successful careers practicing law. Graduates of MPA programs, on the other hand, find many public service career opportunities in a variety of sectors, including government, nonprofit and private. Law school graduates looking for public service employment will find themselves competing with MPA graduates who have skill sets that are more applicable to the field. Only a small percentage of lawyers are involved in public service. In contrast, the majority of MPA degree holders follow the trajectory of their degree and pursue public service careers.
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Differences in Time Commitment
There are several key differences between MPA and law degree programs that influence many students who choose the MPA. Full-time MPA programs are shorter in duration (21 months for an MPA vs. 33 for a law degree). Because many MPA students are working professionals, MPA programs are often more flexible in terms of tailoring class schedules to the needs of students. It is also more common for students to complete an MPA degree on a part-time basis. An additional incentive for MPA programs is that they are usually less expensive than law school and offer MPA financial aid and options for loan forgiveness to many graduates who are employed in public service.
MPA and Law: Pursuing a Dual Degree
Students who have strong interests in both public administration and law and who have weighed the pros and cons of each degree and are still undecided may want to consider a joint or dual degree. These degrees allow students to earn both degrees in less time than it would take to complete them sequentially. This is accomplished by overlapping the third year of law school with one year of the MPA program.