I Should Have Been A Lawyer


I contemplated writing a blog post of who would win a fight between an architect and a lawyer, but it would be an extremely short post.


Even if the lawyer didn’t break the architect’s spectacles,1 the architect would be so worried about getting them scratched that he would concede.

Also, if I were to do research, I would anticipate that the muscle density of architects would pale in comparison to lawyers. There is an algorithm that relates to the skinnier the arm, the faster they are at drafting. I think it has to do with the lever arm in physics creates a faster “whip” action with less drag, thereby moving the computer mouse at faster velocities with relationship to forearm size.

Nevertheless, even if the architect won the physical fight against the lawyer, the lawyer would seek financial repercussions for emotional damages, and would eventually become the victor.

In the eyes of the general public, architects and lawyers are both regarded as strong professions, but hardly anyone actually realizes the value of an architect. 

Lawyers are becoming more relevant within society,2 while the role of architect is becoming diminished. Lawyers are needed within all occupations. The hand of a lawyer directs more American wars than an Army General.3 

Furthermore, within one’s life there are only a handful of life altering decisions, such as building a house, or getting a divorce. When a person decides to build a house, they often first start on the internet, peruse Pinterest, Houzz, and explore floor plans.4 Whereas, if a person were to get a divorce, they might peruse the internet, but only to find a suitable lawyer.

I once was asked, “Oh, you’re an architect; we are thinking about building a house, and we found some great floor plans online, is $800 a good price to purchase them. Or would an architect provide blueprints for cheaper.”

In our world, personalized design is not a needed commodity; nobody realizes the true impact of great design. I doubt many people would ask a lawyer, “Oh, you’re a lawyer; we are considering getting a divorce. I contemplated downloading a form from LegalZoom.com for $800, but how much would a lawyer charge for a more personalized form.” No, they would just hire the lawyer. The average divorce proceedings take a year to finalize, similar to the average length of a small house design, but people somehow believe a lawyer is essential, whereas an architect is a superfluous expenditure only for the wealthy.

Even without the convoluted arrangements regarding children’s visitations rights, people understand hard facts such as math and finances. Therefore, lawyers are regarded as a necessity to adequately distribute finances. It is a much harder scenario to discern what an architect provides.

Somehow, the Mattress Industry created a phenomenal branding technique; everyone always quotes, “you spend ⅓ of your life in bed, shouldn’t you get the best quality mattress.” Well that means you spend almost ⅔ of your life within the built environment. Shouldn’t you want the best designed one?

But I digress.

Before 1897, no legal definition of “architect” existed. Thus to create a comparable sense of prestige relative to the law profession, architects did, and still do, borrow from lawyers.

Architects now require advanced degrees – to be more like lawyers.
Architects now require passing test(s) after receiving their advanced degrees – to be more like lawyers.
Architects now require licensure from state registration boards after passing required tests after receiving their advanced degrees – to be more like lawyers.

Many architects have spent so long protecting the dictionary term of “architect,” they reduce all young practitioners into an inferior derivative form: “intern.”

So what should architects do when they want solutions to protecting their professional image? Simple, do what we have always done, and borrow from lawyers.

Thus, many architectural firms call all non-licensed individuals “associates.” While I realize my preferred title of “baby architect” will not become commonplace, architects need to solve problems internally instead of copying the longstanding trajectory of disparate professions.

Architects even name their practices similar to law firms in an attempt to create a profession of equivalent stature. It has become a simple historical formula, simply list the last names of the partners as the business name, like Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. And when the firm grows larger, and too many partners want their names on the door, simply abbreviate the business name to letters, like SOM.

But architects earn considerably less and require many, many, more constraints to maintain their stature than a comparable lawyer.

Architects require a Master’s degree which typically requires 2 years of graduate education. While lawyers require a Master’s degree which typically requires 3 years of graduate education. But after that 1 extra year of schooling, a lawyer takes 1 test, and then can practice law with substantially superior billing rates as compared to an architect.

Law school is similar to architectural school. Many people complain when studying for the LSAT’s that the logical thinking games have nothing to do with being a lawyer. Similar to architecture school, law school teaches a student problem solving and critical thinking skills necessary for the profession, and expects them to complete further learning within the field post-education. It’s only after you work in the architecture profession do you actually know what a rim joist is. 

But it takes an architect an average of 5.5 years until licensure, whereas a lawyer can take the bar exam immediately after school. I could’ve already become a lawyer, but I’ve been out of school for almost 6 years, and still cannot claim to be an architect.5

The incredible Bob Borson has a great breakdown of the substantial cost differences with becoming an architect vs. a lawyer here.

But the testing to become an architect is ridiculous when compared to becoming a lawyer.

Recently, law schools were outraged after the results of the July 2014 Bar examination nationwide fell 5 percentage points to a 77 percent passing rate.

Therefore, on average, 82% of previous participants passed the Bar examination. Whereas a quick comparison shows the average passing rate of all 7 ARE exams is under 70 percent. And there are 7 EXAMS! The overall passing rates for the average of all the ARE’s hasn’t deviated much since 2012, however architecture schools should be equally as outraged from a 7 percentage drop within the Structural Systems examination.


However, a further check on select law schools shows the nominal variance from previous examinees. The table below shows two reputable law schools and reputable architecture schools, Cornell and Columbia, and their coinciding passing rates.



Yes, prestigious law schools such as Cornell and Columbia produce law students with passing rates in the mid 90’s. But prestigious architecture schools such as Cornell and Columbia produce architecture students with passing rates barely above the median in the low 70’s.

The Bar examination is touted within society as a demanding hurdle in the process to becoming a lawyer. However, architects have 7 exams, with much lower passing rates (even on the easiest division).

I cannot legally claim to be an architect; thus, when people ask what I do, I usually say, “I provide architectural services.” If I were to have gone to law school, I would doubtlessly be able to be a lawyer by now. I do file paperwork from time-to-time, so I think when people ask me that question in the future, I will say, “I provide law services.” 


1 Black spectacles to be precise.
2 And thus can justify higher fees.
3 Lawyers draft the military actions a general can legally take.
4 After watching a marathon of House Hunters on HGTV.
5 I blame the recession on not getting a job for 3 years post-graduation.


  1. Anne

    You forget the substantial difference: lawyers have a degree in arguing.

    Architects have a degree in … what, again? Perhaps if architects could define what they actually do, instead of giving the “hard parts” away, they might be paid like lawyers, who don’t get to give away the hard part of their jobs. Its possible that accountants are the attorney equivalent of what engineers are to architects.
    One of the recent large projects I worked on gave away the whole job — between 12 consultants, the architect sort of figured out the basic shape of the building, and then selected the paint color and showed the interior walls. The roofing consultant, curtainwall consultant, landscape consultant, acoustician, engineers….did the actual building. I’m not entirely sure what the architect did on that job.

    • brady ernst

      Every large project I’ve worked on with multiple consultants requires extra diligence by the architect to coordinate all the collaborative components. More often then not, consultants do not coordinate related drawings with other consultants, and expect the architect to discover discrepancies between the related trades. Also, I would be interested how the building actually got built. Most contractors cant build a building off of a general shape and paint swatches; the engineers have to place their components in relation to the architectural drawings. Moreover, the acoustic consultant will give guidelines and references of what walls or ceilings require certain STC ratings, but ultimately the architect has to provide construction details and assemblies for the building to get built.

    • brady ernst

      I usually don’t like a thousand social media links cluttering my site, but if you want to share this post via twitter or another platform you can copy and paste this shortlink: http://wp.me/p4py97-iv

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      • Theresa

        Hi Brady, I recently came across your blog and am wondering if you still post regularly? Tryna hit #subscribe real hard on this.


  2. Mike

    I’ve been a registered architect since 2008, graduated with a B.Arch in 2002. I’m currently engaged in my first trial… a battle royale between owner and architect. My favorite argument from their side… I practiced architecture without a license (despite working for a mega firm at the time of the project). Through all of this, one thing has become abundantly clear to me… the only ones that win are the lawyers. They command high hourly fees, no one contests those fees, and I feel like our attorney is my best friend because he’s always got my back. That said… this architecture thing is for the birds. I’m no longer interested in having opposing council toss my emails back at me (emails from the design process that corrected errors prior to becoming change orders, no less), so I think law school may be in my future. Both are a lot of work, but at least one of them is fairly compensated.

    • brady ernst

      Wow. Great points.
      You’re right. Lawyers command high fees, but everyone just grumbles and pays it. Whereas, nobody understands the value an architect provides – they think they could do the same job – thereby justifying lower fees.

      As Frank Gehry once said, “I don’t know why people hire architects, and then tell them what to do.”
      Nobody tells attorneys what to do…

  3. An Architect


    I am sorry but this is the most astonishingly ignorance comment I have ever heard about Architect’s Responsibility. What was your role in the project?

    Without architect’s design, all others don’t have a job. There is a reason a software Architect used the title Architect, instead of engineer.

    Architects argue. They argue with the client, the city, the neighbors, the consultants, contractors. Lawyers practice Law. Architects have to know the law first before they can design a building.

    It is also never ending learning for an Architect to keep it up… You have to know everything.

    I had chances to work with a few lawyers, the level of difficulty for the lawyers to understand anything technical was amazing. And it was hard for them to argue without the solid understanding of the issue first.

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