Both psychologists and lawyers deal with human behavior; psychologists explain people's behavior and attorneys attempt to control behavior through the legal system. There are many commonalities between advanced work in psychology and law school--both programs have difficult entrance requirements and place high demands on students. Law school teaches students to be advocates, while psychology programs teach students to be objective evaluators.
Doctoral training in psychology can take seven or more years, although in unusual circumstances a student might finish in four years. In contrast, law school can be completed in three years. Graduates of clinical and counseling psychology programs must pass an exam before being licensed, and lawyers must pass the bar exam of the state in which they will be practicing.
Students in law school take courses throughout their training. Law school classes are large, with students pitted against each other for grades, creating competition. Professors use the Socratic method, asking students provocative questions and training them to take either side of an argument. There is a large drop-out rate.
Graduate programs in psychology admit few students and have small classes in which students discuss issues. Few students drop out. Students cooperate with each other and receive support from faculty members. After the first year of classes, graduate students are mentored by faculty in research and are required to write a dissertation on their original research and defend it to a committee of faculty.
Law school is expensive; the average tuition for a public law school was $16,836 in 2008 and the average amount borrowed was $51,000 for public schools and $91,000 for private schools in that year. Graduate school in psychology is also expensive, but many programs offer scholarships, fellowships, grants, research or teaching assistantships and/or stipends for students.
Economists at the U.S. Department of Labor report that job opportunities in the field of psychology are increasing for those with graduate degrees. Interviews with practicing psychologists indicate that most enjoy their work. Interviews with 2000 graduates of J.D. programs found most of them also to be happy with their choice of career.
You can have the best of both worlds. A few universities offer a combined Ph.D. in psychology and J.D. degree in law. There are also graduate programs in legal psychology, forensic psychology, psychology and law, as well as graduate programs in social or clinical psychology with emphasis on the law.
- "A Psychological View of the Legal System"; Linda A. Foley, Ph.D.; 1998
- "Psychology and the Legal System"; Lawrence Wrightsman, Ph.D.; Edie Greene, Ph.D.; Michael Nietzel, Ph.D; William Fortune, J.D.; 2002
- American Psychological Association: Careers in Psychology
- "Psychology Applied to Law"; Mark Constanzo, Ph.D.; 2004
- American Bar Association: Legal Education
- Photo Credit graduation poster image by robert mobley from Fotolia.com