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What are the advantages of a dual degree in MSW/JD?

CloudyafternoonsCloudyafternoons Posts: 195Registered User Junior Member
edited December 2012 in Law School
What do people with a dual degree in MSW/JD end up pursuing, law or social work? Is the dual degree worth it?
Post edited by Cloudyafternoons on

Replies to: What are the advantages of a dual degree in MSW/JD?

  • stacystacy Posts: 1,097Registered User Senior Member
    I know someone who got the degree. I think it did help her in talking with clients. But I cannot imagine going that much more deeply into debt. Social workers nor public interest lawyers (where a JD/MSW would likely be the most useful) don't get paid enough to pay off what would likely be well over $150,000 in debt...not to mention that the extra year or two of school is time you can't be working.

    I am a public interest lawyer and work with a lot of clients with mental illness, addiction, and other issues. My organization has both attorneys and social workers and I have a ton of respect for the social workers. They are fantastic listeners, extremely calm with people in crisis, and able to really help people in complicated situations discern and achieve their own goals. Often folks' problems are better solved outside of the judicial system and I am glad there are social workers to help in those ways. But I think they are also glad for our skill sets...sometimes, just having an attorney make a phone call or write a letter really helps overcome barriers a person is facing!

    I wish I had taken a social work class or two while in law school (my law school allowed students to get credit for up to 3 graduate level classes in other schools at the university; even in schools that don't have such a policy you might be able to audit). But even with LRAPs, public service loan forgiveness of federal loans, etc. I cannot fathom having more debt to pay off. I think it's only a good idea if you got a fabulous scholarship. Otherwise, shadow people working in both fields, think about which one is a better fit for your personality and goals, and pick ONE.
  • CloudyafternoonsCloudyafternoons Posts: 195Registered User Junior Member
    I'm interested in issues related to elder law (e.g. Medicaid/Medicare, disability, Social Security, nursing home abuse/neglect, and financial planning for when one is going to go into a nursing home). The social workers I know in nursing homes have never done anything to really help the families, only appease their complaints. But I've also heard that lawyers do nothing but push papers around. Ultimately, I just want to help people, and I thought a legal career would give me more power, versus a career in social work where I feel I would mainly make referrals and give advice. I want to do things for these people and families, not just make plans and suggestions.

    Stacy, do you feel like you make a difference in your job? Or is it more focused on paperwork?
  • NeonzeusNeonzeus Posts: 1,226Registered User Senior Member
    Cloudy -

    Stacy can answer your question best, but I had to chime in. My spouse is in a nursing home and is terminally ill with a degenerative disease. I can tell you that the social workers that I have dealt with in hospitals and the nursing home have been incredibly helpful to our family. I would never view their job as only appeasing complaints or just making "plans and suggestions." They are in the front line of working with the families. They are the experts in a world that we only met through my spouse. (They are not paid enough.) You have previously posted that you have experience with nursing homes, so you should have some understanding of this. I suggest job shadowing to get a better picture. Imagine that you are the family talking to the social worker in each situation.

    However, if you really want to DO more things for "these people," I'd suggest becoming a nursing home aide and getting your hands dirty. The aides are in the trenches with patients and families every day. The aides who change diapers and spoon food into my spouse's mouth are the ones who are really saints, and who make the biggest difference to our lives.

    OK, now that I'm coming off my high horse, I can also tell you that I worked with an elder lawyer. The elder lawyer provided general advice about Medicaid/Medicare and disability, helped with our applications and wrote a letter or two, but didn't do financial planning. It sure seemed like a focus on paperwork to me.

    Both the social workers and the elder lawyer made plans and suggestions. That's their job. As the family, we make the decisions. They both then helped with the follow-through of the suggestions that we chose to implement.

    I felt the question about whether someone feels they "make a difference" in their job is horrible, although I know I'm splitting hairs again. Do you really expect someone in public interest law to say that their career doesn't make a difference? Heck, I make a difference in my job and I'm a corporate lawyer. I help to maintain the health of my company, keeping jobs for employees, the value of my company in countless retirees' portfolios, etc. A mechanic makes a difference to people's lives when he or she keeps a family's car on the road. Everyone's job can make a difference to society or to individuals within society, if it's done well. And there are countless examples of paperwork that is critical to someone such as filing paperwork in time to preserve a lawsuit, to get someone admitted to a hospital, to file a patent to preserve someone's original work, to keep someone from losing their home, etc.

    This one set me off a bit...it hit a nerve. I think you're correct to try to weigh all factors in future careers, and you're asking some good questions. I would imagine the JD/MSW's can go into either line - wherever they can find jobs upon graduation. Unfortunately, they'll have a lot of debt upon graduation which would mean that they might have to take the highest paying job they could find instead of the job doing the kind of work that they might prefer at the end of the day.
  • CloudyafternoonsCloudyafternoons Posts: 195Registered User Junior Member
    Neonzeus wrote:
    My spouse is in a nursing home and is terminally ill with a degenerative disease. I can tell you that the social workers that I have dealt with in hospitals and the nursing home have been incredibly helpful to our family. I would never view their job as only appeasing complaints or just making "plans and suggestions." They are in the front line of working with the families. They are the experts in a world that we only met through my spouse.

    I'm sorry to hear about your spouse. I know it must be very hard on you, as it was on my mother and me. It's good to know that you were lucky enough to have good social workers. I guess my mother and I were just unlucky? The sad part is that the last nursing home where my dad was, where the social workers did very little for us over the three years that we were there...that was actually significantly better than where he was before. The first nursing home was literally killing him. There was even a nurse there who wasn't even really a nurse; she had stolen someone's identity but was actually practicing on patients. I don't even know how that home is still allowed to remain open. My mother and I complained to some government agency about that home (I don't remember which one) about that nursing home, and apparently their inspectors found nothing wrong with it. I guess there just aren't very good nursing homes where I live.
    Neonzeus wrote:
    However, if you really want to DO more things for "these people," I'd suggest becoming a nursing home aide and getting your hands dirty. The aides are in the trenches with patients and families every day. The aides who change diapers and spoon food into my spouse's mouth are the ones who are really saints, and who make the biggest difference to our lives.
    The aides at my dad's nursing home hated their jobs. Again, I suspect this is something to do with the quality of the nursing home. Unfortunately, due to my dad's health issues, the best nursing home in our area wouldn't accept him because they weren't equipped to care for him. However, there were a handful of aides who really did make a difference, and I know they truly cared about him. And you're right; the good aides that helped my dad were saints. Sadly though, they are underappreciated.
    Neonzeus wrote:
    I felt the question about whether someone feels they "make a difference" in their job is horrible, although I know I'm splitting hairs again. Do you really expect someone in public interest law to say that their career doesn't make a difference? Heck, I make a difference in my job and I'm a corporate lawyer. I help to maintain the health of my company, keeping jobs for employees, the value of my company in countless retirees' portfolios, etc. A mechanic makes a difference to people's lives when he or she keeps a family's car on the road. Everyone's job can make a difference to society or to individuals within society, if it's done well. And there are countless examples of paperwork that is critical to someone such as filing paperwork in time to preserve a lawsuit, to get someone admitted to a hospital, to file a patent to preserve someone's original work, to keep someone from losing their home, etc.
    I admit that my question was worded poorly; I don't see why you'd say it was "horrible," but hey, that's your opinion. What I was trying to get at with that question was whether or not a career as a public interest lawyer is still rewarding. I read somewhere on a different forum that someone who was a public interest lawyer was so overrun with paperwork that the whole job was meaningless to him/her. That person didn't feel like s/he was helping anyone because all that there was to do was push papers around. Now, I understand that there is a lot of paperwork involved in many careers, including law. So when I asked whether Stacy thought she was "making a difference", I was asking whether she felt like she was actually helping people, despite all the paperwork.

    I feel that I cannot accurately word my question in a way that you would find acceptable, so perhaps on this we should just agree to disagree? Or you can just tear it apart again; it's up to you.
  • entertainersmomentertainersmom Posts: 730Registered User Member
    What type of service would you like to provide to elders and their families? Knowing where your interests are would be helpful. Do you want to change the elder care delivery system? Do you want to work within the system or outside in some capacity? I earned my MSW a million years ago from Boston University and I know they offered the dual degree in the 80's.
    My MSW concentration was Community Organization, Management and Planning. Would that concentration interest you?
  • stacystacy Posts: 1,097Registered User Senior Member
    "do you feel like you make a difference in your job? Or is it more focused on paperwork?"

    One of the interesting things about being a lawyer is that these two options are not mutually exclusive ;)

    A lot of what I do could be classified as paperwork: helping clients fill out forms, making sure agencies get forms and process them properly, reading confusing documents, requesting (and following up on requests for) and analyzing records, writing and sending documents, etc.

    But when I am successful and a client achieves his or her goals--whether that is getting disability benefits or health insurance, reducing the amount they owe or how much they have to pay each month, finding affordable housing, etc. then I do feel I make a difference.

    But the social workers I work with also deal with lots of paperwork and also make a difference. We just have different skill sets, ethical rules, training, and approaches.
  • JonLawJonLaw Posts: 180Registered User Junior Member
    I am a disability attorney and I feel like a social worker. What I need more than anything else is a medical background, since I read a ton of medical records on a daily basis.

    I suspect that getting a physician's assistant degree would be more helpful than a MSW.
  • JonLawJonLaw Posts: 180Registered User Junior Member
    I am an attorney in private practice, by the way.

    However if you have a JD/MSW, you can always help burntout and depressed lawyers. Lots of them.
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