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For a Career in Politics, Should You Get a JD or MPP?

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By George Khoury, Esq. on October 05, 2017 3:57 PM

Traditionally, when the American public looks to the elected officials in Congress, apart from disgust, the people expect politicians to have the legal training to be our nation's lawmakers. However, whether or not that legal training requires experience as a practicing attorney, or even a JD, is open for debate.

With the increased availability of MPP and MPA programs across the country, individuals with aspirations for a career in politics may wonder if a JD is necessary to get your foot in the door. MPP and MPA programs seem to be tailor made for individuals with political aspirations, but are they really worth it if your end goal is a political office (particularly given the dominance of attorneys in the legislature)?

More Than One Way to Get an Education

The Master in Public Policy, or Public Administration, programs indeed have a high placement rate of graduates in the public service sector, much higher than for JDs. However, it is worth noting that the MPP or MPA degree is rather specifically tailored for a career in public service management and policy analysis, whereas a JD is tailored to the private practice of law. These degrees can often help graduates secure post-graduate government employment, which enables them to work their way up the through the ranks, to eventually, maybe, be in a position to run for office.

However, attorneys can also secure government employment and similarly work their way up through the ranks, or just put in years of service, before running. And while an attorney may not have the same educational background in public policy decision making, attorneys do have one extraordinarily significant advantage.

Lawyers Raise the Funds to Win

What might come as a surprise is that lawyers, on average, are able to raise more than twice the amount of money for their campaigns within the first 90 days than other non-incumbent, non-lawyer political candidates. Significantly, early campaign funding is strongly linked to winning. So if you actually want to win an election, you may want to rethink that whole MPP/MPA decision.

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