Two of the most widely-respected and seemingly prestigious occupations are lawyer and doctor. However, which one to choose? And when it comes to lifestyle; is there a clear winner?
This article aims to take a look at the popular debate, break down the differences between the two jobs and hopefully help guide those undecided on either of these careers.
First, here’s a quick answer…
Doctor Vs Lawyer: What’s Better?
There is no right answer for which is the better career between lawyer vs doctor. Both occupations are equally difficult and have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Doctors have higher earnings on average, but lawyers reach a higher earning capacity faster (training for fewer years). For most individuals, the choice between the two comes down to personal interests and academic strengths.
Let’s take a closer look at both professions, and answer all the common questions that get asked in any debate comparing the two professions.
Is It Easier to Become A Lawyer or A Doctor?
Studying to become a lawyer takes less time than it does to become a doctor. If we answer which profession is “easiest” by that benchmark alone, then becoming a lawyer wins.
Lawyers typically require four years of undergraduate education followed by 3 years of graduate law school.
The process looks like this:
- Acquire an undergraduate degree (4 years)
- Write and Pass Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
- Acquire Juris Doctor Law Degree (3 years)
- Write and Pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE)
- Write and Pass Bar Exam
Common undergraduate degrees undertaken before law school include; pre-law, criminal justice, philosophy, history, business, economics, and political science.
After graduation, lawyers must pass the bar examination in order to receive a license to practice. Usually, this takes 2-3 months of study.
Doctors, on the other hand, have a longer route to the top of their profession.
Like lawyers, they need four years of undergrad, 4 years of medical school, and then residency training (typically between 3-6 years) before they become certified specialists.
That’s a possible total of 14 years before full certification.
Medical school is also more difficult to get accepted to. Compared to the median law school acceptance rate of 40 percent, the average med school acceptance rate is just 5 percent.
The quick takeaways
|Time (for full certification)||11-16 years||8-9 years|
|Expense (med school vs law school)||$150K-$250K||$100-$150K|
Should I Train In Law or Medicine?
Law school requires critical thinking and analytical work, as well as heavy reading and writing. Medical school requires a lot of memorization and hands-on practical work.
If you want to pursue rights and justice and hopefully make the world a fairer place – then law is probably the better option.
If you want to directly help people, save lives and pursue the sciences – then medicine may be the better choice.
Deciding should come down to personal preference, the subjects you enjoy studying, and the type of lifestyle you see for yourself.
Who works in a better environment?
One thing to consider when comparing both occupations is how and where each works.
For the most part, legal work is desk-based. You’ll be expected to work out of an office, completing consults and paperwork when necessary.
Comparatively, doctors have a less sedentary job. They’re required to move around hospitals and clinics, meeting with patients and, specialty-dependent, performing procedures.
Is Law More “Intellectually Challenging” Than Medicine?
In law, the landscape changes often. To be at the top of the profession and stay certified, lawyers need to understand these changes and show a strong ability to communicate them to their clients.
Medicine, although open to the scientific method and new research, may not be as fast-paced. Outside of the clinical environment, innovations and developments take longer to be introduced in the field.
Whether one subject is more intellectually difficult than the other largely comes down to the capabilities of the individual.
Both careers require substantial time and effort to reach a level of mastery and competence.
Doctors Vs Lawyer: Which Is More Stressful?
Every profession has its nuances. In medicine, stress levels and lifestyle depend a lot on medical specialty. Surgeons and emergency medics, for example, tend to work longer, more intense hours than dermatologists and psychiatrists. But again, this is no hard rule.
The case is also similar in law. Contract lawyers, for example, don’t spend time in front of juries or judges, while litigators work after hours to prepare for cases (sometimes under a lot of stress).
Because both law and medicine are complex, with differing subspecialties of varied duty and responsibility, it’s hard to say which is the more stressful.
Obviously, doctors (at least in most specialties), are involved in direct patient care. Sometimes even life and death situations.
The consequences of incompetence in law, although often high-stakes, rarely have such a direct impact.
Do Lawyers or Doctors Earn More Money?
US Bureau of Labor (BLS) data from 2021 shows that doctors earn more money than lawyers.
According to the BLS, employment in the legal field (as a lawyer) is projected to grow by 9% between 2020 and 2030, with a projected 71,500 new jobs created.
These figures confirm the legal field is growing faster than the medical field, with the job outlook for physicians expected to grow by only 3% between 2020 and 2030 (with a projected 24,800 new jobs created).
Such growth might make law look like a more favorable option for those beginning their education.
If lawyers and doctors are compared in terms of payment, lawyers typically get paid by the hour – with the scope to maximize earnings by working more complicated and longer cases.
This is sometimes argued to incentivize lawyers to work slowly, taking time on jobs.
Most doctors, on the other hand, are salaried and don’t usually bill for service provisions by the hour. But like lawyers, many have the opportunity to work in private practice and effectively run their own businesses.
Is It More Prestigious Being A Doctor or A Lawyer?
Because only about 5% of lawyers make more money than doctors (the ones at the highest end of the profession), it’s difficult to justify law being more “prestigious” than medicine. At least in financial terms.
However, when comparing the average of both professions on terms outside the topic of pay, public perception is probably more favorable to doctors than it is to lawyers.
What’s more, the medical profession also tends to have more flexibility in terms of hours (nights/weekends) and variety in terms of the day-to-day. It’s also more “universal” in practice and application. Medical practice doesn’t vary too wildly between state and country.
Law, on the other hand, can be very specific to both state and country. If a lawyer wants to move from New York to California, he or she would need to retake their bar exam under different state laws.
Law is definitely more 9-5 than medicine, however, and perhaps more in-fitting with most lifestyles.
Who Is Smarter, A Lawyer, or A Doctor?
According to American sociologist Robert M. Hauser, the average IQ of a lawyer is in the upper 120s, while the average of a doctor is in the low 130s.
As a reference, nurses and pharmacists have an average IQ of around 110.
While IQ is by no means definitive in terms of intelligence, it’s interesting that doctors have a nearly 10-point higher mean than lawyers.
Final Thoughts: Lawyer VS Doctor
In terms of education, a career in law seems more attainable to the average person than one in medicine. Admission criteria, pre-requisite requirements, and level of competitiveness, at least in terms of the data, seem to suggest as much.
In terms of money-making and career security, however, the average doctor beats the average lawyer.
What wins in a direct comparison of lawyer vs doctor? That’s for you to decide.
Some things to consider:
- What kind of lifestyle do you see for yourself (the 9-5 of law or the nights/weekend of medicine?)
- How long are you willing to train to reach the top of your profession?
- How much are you willing to spend on education?
- How academically strong are you in the sciences vs humanities/arts?
Of course, many of these questions come under scrutiny when debating the intrinsics of each profession but they can at least serve as some guideline!
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.