Friday, June 23, 2006

Careers in Law and Economics

A student emails me a question about being a lawyer:

Hi Professor Mankiw,

Ever since you came to Boston University and told us about your experiences at the CEA, I've been reading your blog incessantly and I love it. You give out a lot of academic advice and I appreciate it, it is really helping me with some decisions. Anyways, I am getting a masters in economics right now and was thinking about law school but I don't want to leave the field of economics. You mentioned that you can pursue an economic career with a law degree. I was wondering what type of law deals directly with economics? Does it teach you quantitative methods (When I think law, I usually think a lot of writing)? And what type of job besides being a lawyer could someone with a JD but an interest in economics (or masters) go into? I'm specifically interested in the public or international sector (non-private).Thank you and I just want to mention that your blog is much more intellectually stimulating then what I get from traditional sources of information.

[name withheld]

There are at least two areas of public policy in which economics and law are inextricably connected: tax and antitrust. If you go to the tax policy arm of the Treasury Department or to the antitrust division of the Justice Department, you will find lawyers and economists interacting every day. The same is true in several other places in government, such as the Federal Trade Commission and the staffs of Congressional committees that make tax policy. Other policy areas where economists and lawyers interact, but maybe to a lesser extent, include trade law and environmental regulation.

The economists who work in such places often appreciate lawyers with some economics training. (The reverse may also be true, but it is rarer to find economists like me who took a tour of duty in a law school). If you were to go to law school with a master's in economics, you would end up with a great mix of human capital for a policy job of that sort.

There are also international versions of these jobs. I know a tax lawyer who worked at the IMF, helping countries around the world reform their tax systems. That might be a type of job you would enjoy.

Finally, I should call to your attention a more general "law and economics" movement that tries to infuse economics more broadly into the study and development of law. One of the more famous figures here is Judge Richard Posner, whose book Economic Analysis of Law is a classic.