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Can a law degree greatly help an Engineer?

  1. Mar 2, 2008 #1
    Hypothetically speaking, why would engineering graduates want to pursue a law degree? I am in my senior year of Mech. Eng. and I am planning to do a Masters in the same field and then work toward the requirements for professional licensure. I would hope to have an exciting career in engineering or be an entrepreneur. The thought of getting a law degree is enticing mainly because I feel the prestige behind it and I would like to know more about its value and worth toward my career goals.

    1) I read and hear Intellectual Property is where engineers and scientists can make a killing salary-wise. Is this true? Even more importantly to me, is it exciting or rewarding work? I can only imagine day-to-day work being like. Engineer X comes to you with a design, you as the IP lawyer with the engineering background goes, "hmm.. interesting design, I wish I could have come up with that." Then you spend hours sitting at your desk writing up a patent with all the technical and legal mumbo jumbo. Is that an accurate picture?

    2) Litigation. I would imagine where there is a plane crash, or bridge collapse, or machine failure there would be a lawyer/engineer who could diagnose the cause of the problem and then assign blame according to what contracts/manuals/drawings say who is responsible for taking care of such things. Then there are those who would fight in court for the plaintiff or accused. I guess there are two sides to this, a forensic side and a legal side. So would you really need an Engineer/Lawyer to do this or isn't the standard way of doing things is having a forensic engineering firm do the investigation while a legal team of lawyers just read the fine print on who's responsible without having the need of any engineering background.

    3) Policy. Work for government and make policy or regulate the engineering profession.
    Sounds boring. I guess it would be a comfy desk job after I have worked in either research or design for many years and just want to take a step back from fast paced work into something more relaxing. At least that's my impression of that kind of work.

    Anything else? To me, it seems like going from engineering to law, you just become a lawyer. If I wanted to be a lawyer, I would have directly done so and maybe read a few engineering books on the side. I am really interested in what can a law degree do to compliment me in my day-to-day activities as an engineer.

    1) If I become an entrepreneur. Maybe selling engineering services, doing design work or that sort, is the two year investment into a law degree worth it? Would I need one if I wanted to write up my own contracts?

    2) Would university engineering departments favor hiring faculty with a specialization in law?

    Maybe you guys can tell me what the possibilities are or if going into law school would end up being a fool's errand in my case.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 2, 2008 #2
    If I was in charge of hiring for a university department I wouldn't like my faculty knowing too much about IP law :smile: . Some universities will make you sign contracts that anything you discover they own anyway, so being somewhat furtive in your actions as part of a university is a must.

    I have seen many people make the argument the other way around (engineering degree helps law), but this is the first case I've seen for the converse.
  4. Mar 2, 2008 #3
    Doubt it.

    Like jhicks said, it might work the other way, since you've already proven you have more than 2 brain cells if you got your engineering degree, but I can't see any direct benefits from going from law to engineering. I don't know much about law school, though. As far as I can tell it's a lot of memorization, which isn't really what an engineer does.
  5. Mar 2, 2008 #4
    Who says engineers going to law school want to or will do anything related to engineering at all? Many just want to be lawyers and had to pick an undergrad major before they could go to law school.

    I don't think a law degree compliments an engineer, but it can work the other way in some cases, such as intellectual property law and construction law.
  6. Mar 3, 2008 #5
    Only go for the law degree if you intend to work in IP. IP is a good field for money. Lawyers are always in demand. It's one of the 1000 year old professions. we always need doctors and lawyers.

    But be warned, you will not design, create, use any hand-on, or physics/engineering math. So if you are the hands-on type of person that likes to create and design projects, then a law degree is not for you.
  7. Mar 3, 2008 #6
    I like to wonder, be creative, design, analyze. I guess upon further introspection maybe a law degree isn't worth the extra time to get it if it won't be of any use to me.
  8. Mar 4, 2008 #7
    Law school is a professional school. Don't go unless you're planning to practice.

    You're right in that it's good money. The three IP lawyers I know are all partners and all make upper six-figure salaries. That is probably not entirely representative of the profession, but there will be a significant salary bump of ~100-200% between an engineer with a BS and a first year associate.

    Oh, and law programs are typically three years, not two.
  9. Jun 24, 2008 #8
    Yes a law degree can help you IF you want to practice law. One field (which you certainly could make good money in!) is the field of contract law. You could get hired by a large engineering firm with the added benefit of understanding the engineering side. You would of course still be mostly focused in the legal portion though. I considered this once myself. It is quite tempting heheh.
  10. Jun 24, 2008 #9
    From what the rest of the people have said, I gather that a Law degree won't really be beneficial to a full time practicing Engineer?

    So would it be wise instead to take a few courses of Law to be well versed in Patent Laws and stuff, but not a full 3 year degree in it?
  11. Jun 24, 2008 #10


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    I've been a professional engineer for ten years now, and have never met anyone who had or wanted to pursue a JD. I suppose this means it's fairly useless for an engineer.

    Keep in mind that "a few law classes" won't help you at all -- you have to pass the bar to do any kind of work as a lawyer. At best, an engineer can try to find their way into serving as an expert witness. It's a great way to make money on the side, but the number of opportunities is vanishingly small. (After all, you have to become an expert in some field of engineering first.)

    - Warren
  12. Jun 24, 2008 #11


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    When my boyfriend started law school, he was still a practicing engineer. His goal was to do contract law because he would get frustrated with the bad contracts that would get written when the engineers didn't understand law and the lawyers didn't understand engineering. He ended up finding contracts kind of boring though, and wound up in intellectual property law where his engineering background helps him to understand the mechanical patents he works on. Probably not terribly useful the other way around to use a law degree as an engineer. Not too much taught in law school will help with patents either. A lot of that is learned on the job while working under supervision of more senior attorneys.
  13. Jun 24, 2008 #12

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    It would be an utter waste of time -- if you want to be work as an engineer. Similarly, getting a masters in electrical engineering won't be of much use if you plan to work as a chef in a five star restaurant. Why waste 3 years of your life to study something that you won't use?

    If, on the other hand, you want to go into IP law, having a degree in engineering or science gives you a big leg up on the political science majors. People go into IP law because they want to practice IP law. IP law is very, very lucrative. A lot more lucrative than engineering.

    Maybe one. Maybe. IMHO, it would be more worthwhile to take a business or management class than a law class. Your job as an engineer is to be creative. You will get on-hands experience in writing a patent when you write your first patent -- with the help of an IP lawyer. If you work for a large technology company, this IP lawyer will be an employee (a better paid employee; life is a b*tch). If you work for a smaller company, this IP lawyer will most likely work for an IP law firm.
  14. Jun 24, 2008 #13
    Also I'm pretty sure law school is expensive.
  15. Jun 24, 2008 #14
    My father knew a man who majored/minored in some combination of civil engineering, architecture, and law. He ended up becoming a (from what he told me) relatively well off individual, so to speak. You can imagine how the three studies would compliment one another when pursuing claims of unsafe structures and etc.
  16. Jun 24, 2008 #15


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    Not that you really asked for it, but in my opinion, the world needs way more engineers and far less lawyers.
  17. Jun 26, 2008 #16


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    If you start out as an engineer and aspire to move into executive management, then it will definitely help you. A JD or MBA are great for engineers who desire to work in top management. Otherwise, it would be best to pursue a graduate degree in your current field of study.

  18. Jul 1, 2008 #17
    I took one law school class (construction law) that has been very helpful to me. It was actually part of the recommended curriculum for my master's degree. I don't know any engineers who got a JD and continued to work as an engineer though.
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