Saturday, June 9, 2012

The difference between doctors and lawyers

A law degree is really just a second bachelor’s degree.  Sure, you need a B.S. or B.A. (or B.-something) to get admitted to law school, but there are no other prerequisites.  In other words, a B.F.A. in puppetry with an emphasis in children’s theatre from the University of West Virginia will get you into law school just as easily as a B.S. in bioengineering from Cal Tech.  (In fact, the law degree used to be called the LL.B., or bachelor of laws, but its name was changed to J.D., or juris doctor—probably in an effort to gain respect and prestige.)  But medical schools, on the other hand, require very specific and rigorous coursework before an applicant can even be admitted, let alone graduated and licensed.  (Puppetry majors need not apply.)

In addition to education, another thing that separates lawyers from doctors is supply and demand.  Due to a massive oversupply, law graduates today have very limited employment opportunities, and, for those who are "lucky" enough to land law-related jobs, they often earn very little money.  Doctors, on the other hand, remain highly employable.    

But despite all of this, a brilliant television show called Community hit the nail right on the head about three years ago.  The following exchange between characters Jeff and Abed, in the episode “Beginner Pottery,” brilliantly and succinctly captures the difference between doctors and lawyers:

Abed:  If he wants to impress people, why join a pottery class?  Why not just say “Hi, I’m a doctor”?

Jeff:  Because he’s crazy.  And fancy jobs don’t impress people.  I mean, you weren’t impressed that I’m a lawyer.

Abed:  Well, anyone can be a lawyer.  You can even represent yourself.  You can’t do surgery on yourself; it’s illegal.  You’ll get arrested.  And then you get a free lawyer.

Free lawyer.  Maybe that’s why our pay is so low.


  1. Ok Michael, here I sat reading this and now that I'm in my last year of academics (Criminal Justice major), racking up a huge sum of school debt with prospects of law school in about 18 mos (even more debt!) -all my hard work will be for naught? How reassuring and depressing! {{sigh}} LOL!

    1. Yes, be sure to consider all of your options. Employment opportunities are dismal right now. If law school is something you really want, give strong consideration to applying to several schools and going to the school that gives you a free-ride, i.e., full tuition scholarship. They're handing them out like candy these days due to plummeting applications and lower enrollments. And, you MUST start reading all of the posts at "Inside the Law School Scam" blog. You can still go to law school if that's what you really want, but you just need to be smart about it. Best of luck!

  2. Thomas Mathew, M.DJune 11, 2012 at 2:23 PM

    This argument initially seems like a simple case of supply and demand, but it’s a little more complex. Colin Cowherd, a talking head on ESPN, essentially summed it up as follows (and I am paraphrasing): the value of a profession to society depends on a combination of talent and how much investment it takes to become competent in that field.
    For example, teachers and firefighters are hugely important to society, but are paid low wages. Why? Because these positions are easy to replace with other competent teachers/firefighters, and the training and talent needed to meet minimum competency is relatively achievable by many people, in a reasonable amount of time. The training and investment to become a competent neurosurgeon is vastly greater. The talent and investment needed to become a professional athlete is even more rare, and more highly compensated as such, not necessarily because of a value to society, but because of the rare combination of talent and commitment.
    We’ve all heard of the can’t miss sports prospect who doesn’t pan out, or seen the colleague in school who was smart but didn’t try. Compensation is determined by the end product of talent x drive.

  3. Personally, I would say that in the modern world both are important, but Doctors are a necessity. Imagine an imaginery scenario, having to form your own country and you get a choice of either having a 1000 doctors or a 1000 lawyers !! I am sure in the best interests of the public, most of us would go for the docs.

    Both degrees are challenging, except the ''not so good'' law schools are incredibly easy to get in to as compared to even the worst medical schools.

    As for income, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics doctors make way more than others. And finally US docs are not the only ones with a heavy payscale, Australians are excellent too, and as compared to the rest of the public Aussie docs get paid more than the US docs.

  4. It is my personal belief that every profession is important and everything is NECESSARY. But if you really, really want to argue about it, then try talking about farmers; perhaps they are the only ones who should be billionaires.