Investment Banking vs. Law: What's the Difference? (2024)

Investment Banking vs. Law: An Overview

Investment banking and law arepopular career paths for ambitious young people who want the chance to pull in a good salary right out of university. Because these career paths draw from the same broad talent pool, many students face initial difficulty choosing between the two.

On one hand, investment banking requires fewer years of school, which, for many students, translates to less student debt. On the other hand, law is a broader field, and the paths available to young attorneys are greater in number than those for investment bankers.

Key Takeaways

  • Of the two careers, investment banking requires greater quantitative acumen and math skills.
  • The educational requirements for becoming a lawyer are much more rigid than those for becoming an investment banker.
  • Employment in both law and investment banking are projected to grow between 2022 and 2032, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Qualifications for Investment Banking

Investment banking has fewer hard-and-fast educational requirements. However, most firms require a four-year degree at a minimum. Investment banks recruit almost exclusively from top-rated universities, such as Ivy League schools and the University of Chicago. Students who wish to become investment bankers but attend less prestigious schools can better their chances by getting a Master of Business Administration (MBA), preferably from an elite program.

Investment banking and law require many of the same skills, such as a strong work ethic. Rookies in either field can expect to face long hours and demanding superiors during their first few years. The first-year turnover is high for these reasons. But stick it outand the rewards down the road can beimmense.

Undergraduates who want to start making money right away without having to spend three years in law school and accumulate more student debt should gravitate toward investment banking. This is particularly true if you are skilled in math. If your school is not considered elite, getting a foot in the door is difficult. Obtaining an MBA helps your chances significantly.

Of the two career paths, investment banking requires greater quantitative acumen. Math whizzes and those who love numbers should go in this direction. If you struggle with math and frequently make mistakes when computing large figures, tread with caution. Careless mistakes in the investment banking world cost companies billions—and they sometimes cost investment bankers their jobs.

Qualifications for Law

The educational requirements for becoming a lawyer are much more rigid than those for becoming an investment banker. An aspiring attorney must complete a bachelor's degree and then attend law school—there is no way around that. Attaining a law degree, for the vast majority of students, requires at least seven years of post-secondary education.

Following law school, you must pass your state's bar exam before you can practice law. While the test can be intimidating, the pass rate on the first try was 74% in 2021, per most recent figures from the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

Bright students who have prepared sufficiently should sit for the test with the confidence they are going to pass. Because the law is such a broad field, the skills required vary based on the type of law you practice. Trial lawyers need to be persuasive, aggressive, high-energy, and quick-witted. Successful corporate attorneys are focused, detail-oriented, and exceptional critical thinkers. Practicing international law requires being bilingual or multilingual, as well as the ability to understand and assimilate into various cultures.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of lawyers is projected to grow 8% between2022 and2032, more than twice as fast as the average for all occupations.Law is a great choice for students open to furthering their education and desiring more paths when starting their careers.

Getting into law school does not require an undergraduate degree from an elite school. It is more important to have a strong GPA and to perform well on the LSAT.

Work-Life Balance in Investment Banking vs. Law

Expect work to dominate the first few years of your life in either career. Investment bankers work 70 to 90 hours per week on average during their first year. This includes almost every Saturday and many Sundays. Vacation days are few, and leaving the office at 5:00 a fantasy. Though work hours become more manageable as you build seniority, investment banking is never a 9-to-5 gig.

Corporate law follows a similar schedule, with long hours and a lot of weekend work. However, within the broader field of law are career paths with more traditional 40-hour workweeks, such aspositions within the local public defender's office. These jobs, however, pay nowhere near the lucrative starting salaries that you find in corporate law.

Special Considerations

Investment bankers make a lot of money right out of school with just a bachelor's degree. As of 2023, a first-year analyst makes between $100,000 and $120,000 a year in base salary alone, according to Wall Street Oasis. This doesn't reflect total pay, however. Thanks in large part toaggressive bonus structuresalmost all firms pay, they may receive bonuses equal to 50% to 100% of their base salaries. The better you are at your job, the more you make as an investment banker.

The starting salary for an attorney runs a broad gamut based on the field of law. Corporate law is regarded as the most lucrative, particularly for new associates. As of 2023, first-year associates working in the private sector earned a median $200,000 salary, according to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).

Where you fall within this spectrum depends in large part on the firm and the region of the country in which you work. For instance, the NALPfound that first-year associates in markets such as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., could make $215,000 per year.

For young attorneys who eschew this path, starting salaries are more difficult to pinpoint. Trial lawyers, for example, can earn six figures their first year if they develop a stellar reputation quickly and have an expansive warm market. Others take much longer to build a client base and struggle to pay the bills at first.

Employment of securities, commodities,and financial services sales agents, which is the categorythe BLS places investment bankers under,is projected to grow 4%from 2020 to 2030, slightly above the average for all occupations. However, the BLS noted: "Services that investment bankers provide, such as helping with initial public offerings and mergers and acquisitions, will continue to be in demand as the economy grows."

What Kind of Law Pays the Most?.

Patent, intellectual property, trial, tax, and corporate lawyers are among the top earners in the field, according to Juris Education, an admissions consulting firm. It's important to note that salaries and job markets vary by region, however.

What Degree Do Most Investment Bankers Have?

Most investment banks prefer candidates who have earned undergraduate degrees in finance, accounting, business administration, and related disciplines. This matters less for those who go on to obtain a further education, in which case a Master of Business Administration can be particularly useful.

What Does an Investment Banker Do?

Investment bankers hold a wide range of responsibilities. Those involved in company financing may advise on what kind of securities to issue, as well as how, when, and at what price to issue them. Investment bankers may also deal with complex financial transactions, such as mergerand acquisitions or company valuations.

The Bottom Line

Ambitious young people may find themselves drawn to investment and law alike. Both are popular career paths with high earning potential. However, there are differences in skills and qualifications for each field that are important to note.

The field of law requires more formal education, including a degree from law school and successful passage of a state bar exam. This can translate to more student loan debt for prospective lawyers. On the other hand, investment banking is more suited for those with quantitative acumen and math skills. Full consideration of these details, in addition to factors like work-life balance, job growth, and region of practice should all be factored into one's choice to pursue a career in either field.

Investment Banking vs. Law: What's the Difference? (2024)
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