Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Why Are Lawyers So Miserable?

It seems to be common knowledge these days that being a lawyer isn't always the best job.  I remember Tom Hanks giving an interview once on Inside the Actor's Studio, when he was asked what the job is he would least want to do.  His answer?  A lawyer, because "it's like doing homework for a living."

How oddly true.

But now, it's official.

According to a recent Forbes article, the number one unhappiest job in America is..... (drum roll, please).

Associate Attorney

I can't say I'm entirely surprised.  But what is shocking is that not only are we an unhappy bunch, but we are also the most depressed.  According to The Dave Nee Foundation, lawyers are the most frequently depressed occupational group in the U.S., lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers, and lawyers rank 5th in incidence of suicide by occupation.

What gives?

I don't really know.

Whether the law profession attracts people who are unhappy and have a proclivity for depression (or really like homework), or whether it makes people unhappy or depressed, I cannot answer.  But I do have a few observations:

1) A lot of people go to law school because they don't know what else to do.  (I was certainly one of those people.)  They are smart.  They are ambitious.  They want to achieve success.  But they aren't vocally talented and they faint at the sight of blood and they don't want to get an MBA.  So they go to law school, without really thinking about what it means to be a lawyer and whether they will even like it.

2) A lot of people go to law school because they want to make a lot of money.  Because all lawyers are rich, right?  Wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  I've been around long enough now to know that this career is not easy.  A lot of lawyers are struggling for work.  A lot of lawyers don't find jobs upon graduation.  And after incurring six figures of debt and working your ass off in law school to do your very best, that can be depressing.  And make one unhappy.

3) A natural product of being a lawyer is that there is always someone waiting to tear you down. That's just the nature of being an advocate - if you are are advocating for something, there is some other lawyer out there advocating for something else.  So if you spend hours, days, weeks, working on a brief, and you put your ALL into it, there will be some attorney out there waiting in the wings to tell you just how crappy your argument is.  Just how sloppy your research is.  Just how preposterous your position is.  There is always someone waiting to pounce on a mistake, and exploit it for all to see - which can make for long days, and nights, of anxiety waiting to be "found out" for what you really are: inadequate.

4) Being a lawyer, particularly if you are at a firm, is a time based practice.  It's not about efficiency, or about balance - it's about billing, billing, billing.  And if you aren't willing to bill, then someone else certainly will.  So there are no time outs for illness, for hobbies, for sick children, for episodes of depression.  An hour not billed is an hour wasted, which allows stress and anxiety to breed, spread, and flourish, and leaves little time for that weird thing called "life."

5) Miserable people breed miserable people.  As discussed, supra, the law profession is home to many miserable people.  If you are unlucky enough to work for such a miserable person, you too will most likely be miserable, as said miserable person will do all they can to make your life miserable, because how is it fair that they be miserable and you be happy?  Not fair at all.  You, eventually, will be miserable like them.

So this is all the bad news.

But I think there's some good news too.

I know a lot of lawyers.  (A lot).  And a good portion of them don't fit into the unhappy, depressed category.  Most of them are.... happy.  Why are they happy?

1) They like what they do.  Maybe they didn't really know what they would do when they went into law school, but for some odd reason, they get really excited about negotiating credit agreements (yes, honey, that's you) or spending hours on Westlaw.  They like it so much that they don't get phased by the potential tear downers mentioned above in #2.  They know someone somewhere may rip their argument to shreds, but they don't care because they are confident, secure, and in some ways, above it all.  They are oddly unphased.

2) They have forged their own path.  Maybe they didn't find a job upon graduation.  Or maybe they left a firm after a few years.  Maybe they are taking a few years off to be at home with their kids (ahem).  But being 8 years out from my own law school graduation, I can say that I am amazed at the variety of careers one can have with a law degree.  I have fellow graduates that are in-house counsel, professors, comedians, writers, freelancers and of course, firm lawyers.  The fact is, if a particular field of law is not a great fit, there is plenty of opportunity to change it up.

3) They work with awesome, happy people.  In some ways, I can't say I am surprised that "associate attorney" was the most unhappy job.  In my six years at law firms, I saw some pretty miserable, bitter people.  Really miserable.  Really bitter.  But, it's not always the case.  Some lawyers are happy (see #1).   And if you happen to find yourself working with a group of those people who really care about each other - who appreciate the importance of the billable hour, but who also recognize the supremacy of family, of mental health, of the bigger picture - then it makes ALL the difference.

4) They don't take themselves too seriously.  When one is a practicing lawyer, it is easy to think that the world will end or continue turning based upon your performance.  And once you get into that frame of thinking, it's hard to turn it off - If I mess up this motion, the entire case will fall apart!  If I miss an important document, I will cause my client to go into bankruptcy!  The fact is, no one is that important.  We aren't saving lives in this business.  All we can do is our best.  And from what I've seen, happy lawyers are the ones that do their very best, and are then at peace with that.

There is hope for us.

But it's certainly not an easy profession.

I remember when I was in law school I would absolutely HATE it when future attorneys would warn me about joining the legal field.  "Get out while you can," I remember a family friend joking to me during my first year in law school.  I even got such comments from attorneys during on campus interviews.  "Are you sure you want to do this?"  they would tease.

Those kind of comments would always annoy me.  Just because you're miserable, doesn't mean I'm going to be miserable!  I wanted to be a lawyer.  I wanted to argue for what is right and do what is right and use my analytical brain and my semi-polished writing skills.  I would do what I wanted and not be deterred by older, bitter lawyers who just couldn't hack it themselves.

Now I am the one that urges young, ambitious attorneys to take caution.  Really think about if you want to do this, I warn. Think about it hard.  

We all want to be the happy lawyer.  But we aren't all that lucky.

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If you are in the legal field and are experiencing depression, or know of someone who is, please check out this great resource:  http://www.daveneefoundation.com/

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61 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for a well-written, thought-provoking piece (and for the plug for the Dave Nee Foundation!). I particularly enjoyed your observations on what makes a happy lawyer -- many young lawyers are looking for tangible, functional advice on how to maintain their sense of self-worth and happiness within structures like law firms that can erode them and I think your observations and advice are right on.

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  2. I am a young associate attorney at a small firm. I have been working here for two years, and I am at a point where I really don't see myself in a legal career long term. My family cannot believe that I don't like practicing law after I was relatively successful in law school (and I enjoyed law school). I think you hit the nail on the head when you said " 'There is always someone waiting to pounce on a mistake, and exploit it for all to see - which can make for long days, and nights, of anxiety waiting to be "found out" for what you really are: inadequate.'" Coming to work everyday waiting to be "found out" makes for a stressful day at work and a restless nights sleep. Thank you very much for sharing your insight.

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    1. I absolutely agree. It was that exact line quoted that me say to myself "wow, I'm not the only one that feels this way"

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    2. Finally got out after 25 year prison sentence called law. Hated it but felt trapped. Feel like the whole thing was a waste.

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    3. Yep. That's the quote that stands out to me too...

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  3. I have been a lawyer for 15 years. I wish I had not waited so long to leave my last firm to work for myself. I wasn't happy with the management of that firm, but I always loved the work itself. I still do. So now I work for myself, doing work I enjoy, and I have nearly complete control over my schedule. There are some drawbacks. I don't have paid vacation. I don't have any fancy law firm benefits. However, I make more money and work less. I pick my daughter up from aftercare usually about an hour after school lets out and unless I have made some kind of grievous time management error, I don't work after we are home. I thank God every day for my law degree. I would never have this kind of earning power or flexibility without it.

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    1. What kind of law are you practicing?

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    2. It may be the area of law being practiced but likely someone who is: focuses on the flat fee, treats each client as innately special and makes their business work for them.

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  4. I agree with every point in this piece. Especially the insidious nature of the billable hour structure, and how it contributes to unhappiness. Specifically, that it turns every "wasted" minute of your life (i.e., time not spent on work) as something to feel guilty about rather than enjoyed. I have found monetizing my time and my life that way to be very depressing and oppressive, and I long for the day of escaping that.

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  5. Great piece. I am sorry to say I can relate a lot to the five points about your observations on why lawyers are unhappy. The anxiety is certainly a huge factor. I've been practicing for over a decade at a top tier Biglaw firm, and I still can't shake the feeling that the recruiters made a mistake when they hired me.

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  6. To be fair, it was just associates mentioned in the article. Not all lawyers. I think being an associate in a big firm sucks. But being a government lawyer isn't THAT bad.

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    1. It still sucks to be a government lawyer yes its THAT bad I worked for one those were some miserable overworked folks!

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  7. I think this is a very fair, balanced piece and point one really resonates with me. I've been practising in a top tier law firm for more than 10 years and would also cite the lack of healthy role models as a reason for depression. When you look around and the people in the levels above you are just as busy/stressed/miserable, it's pretty uninspiring.

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  8. I love being a government lawyer. Pay sucks, but it's something I can live with. I too appreciate that you advise young attorneys to really think about it, I do that too. I also hated when attorneys told me to leave or get out while I can. I appreciate that they wanted to make a point, I don't think they realize how it comes across. I always thought in response, "Just because you're miserable, I won't be miserable." And I'm one of those people who did not have a job upon graduation and scrambled for a few years to get where I am. It was hard, and sometimes I got really down, but it was worth it and I love what I do.

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  9. Great post. While I do counsel many unhappy attorneys who want to leave the law, I always ask them to drill down into their Unique Genius: Those skills each of us have that is so natural to us, comes so easily, that we don't even think of the as a skill. It is upon one's Unique Genius that one should build a career, a life, etc. Takes a while to explore and refine, but so valuable to do.

    So when it comes to why so many attorneys are miserable, the answer is not always, simply "leave the law". Many miserable attorneys should stay in the law, they should keep practicing - they just need to self analyze what they are good at and what they enjoy to make sure that what they do is in alignment with their skills and strengths.

    I often find many unhappy attorneys use the law as a scapegoat ("I hate the law", "I hate my firm") for other issues they have and are not handling.

    Great post, thanks so much for writing this. This post is bookmarked, as I know I'll refer back to it.

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  10. You inspired my blog post this week!! 6 reasons why I don't miss working in a law firm. You can check it out here http://www.kryptogirl.com/2013/04/5-things-i-dont-miss-about-working-in.html

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  11. Excellent post. Some are pretty miserable indeed. I have been practicing law for almost 16 years. I have three children and have worked at the large firms. They made me unhappy, even though I myself am a happy person. I am at a small practice now and realize that I have always been in control. I was working with those miserable people and could have left at anytime! What a waste! If I only knew then what I know now.

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  12. I would say it's a combination of the following:

    1) People who want to be lawyers usually do so for the prestige and the money.

    2) When these people finally become lawyers they pay the REAL price for what they were seeking in the form of family & personal relationships...due to crazy working hours.

    3) Being a lawyer usually means fighting every day while you're on the job. Your whole job is a "fight." That affects mental health.

    4) The "prestige" of being a lawyer also comes with being viewed as "slime" by the average person...so in the end - after all that school and all that sacrifice - you're still alone and miserable.

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  13. I think they must be happy as they are part of a distinguished profession that forms the foundation of a country that enjoys the most freedoms and privileges of any country in the history of the world.

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  14. Thanks for breaking the silence on this. This dysfunction exists even in legal aid agencies with 40-50k range salaries and grant-funded work. After a judicial clerkship and temp/contract jobs outside my home base, I finally found a unionized attorney position helping immigrants if I commuted 5-6 hours per day via car/train/foot. As my competence grew, my supervisors became increasingly, inexplicably threatened. I ended up systematically overworked and bullied by women of color attorney/managers. The place espoused immigrants and workers rights, but when I asked for a health leave, they sabotaged me, called me names, pressured me to peel off of a high-profile case, forced me out, badmouthed me to a client, and appealed my unemployment benefits (unsuccessfully). After I left, they jostled to take credit for the high-profile case I had spearheaded solo for a year and a half. And after slogging away for years, I got no reference, no thank you, just kicked to the curb while I experienced depression, autoimmune disease, and cancer. And this is in a field that espouses justice.

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  15. Excellent,excellent entry. I think your first comment, about a lot of people entering law because they don't know what else to do, is a major factor. That certainly describes me.

    As part of that, I think it's important to note that a lot of law students are intellectual dabblers. They're interested in everything, and law seems to fit that, rather than in one single thing. That means that they may very well have no interest in the law itself. I think that is a factor in why I've never liked practicing law (and I've been doing it for a quarter century now) but I liked law school. Shoot, I still like reading law, even though I hate practicing it.

    As another factor, the real law is about trouble and troubled people. I.e., problems. When you read cases, it's interesting as it's like a novella. But wallowing in people's real problems is not the same at all. And in some areas of the law, such as litigation, those problems are nasty and part of a fight. People transfer their entire burdens of life to you, and you are expected to solve them. And there's no end to it. Problems never take a day off, and never go on vacation. And by extension, therefore, you won't either. I don't think most people are psychologically geared for an endless series of problems, and those who are probably are better off in something other than law, which sees the application of money or a titanic argument as the solution to everyone's problems.

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  16. This is interesting. I have to say many of the reasons cited above don't really apply to my practice of corporate law but it is still horrifyingly miserable. I work at a big firm on the corporate side and have for quite a few years, and I stay for the money but am looking to get out when a good opportunity presents itself.

    My reasons for being miserable, which I think are also shared, are really as follows:

    1. No Control. I could do any aspect of my job, no matter how tedious or stupid and boring from 9-7 every day. I would consider myself grateful and overpaid. However, I never work 9-7. Client/partner demands come in CONSTANTLY at 7 pm, at 8 am on sundays, totally randomly throughout the day, to the point where trying to do anything outside of the job becomes almost impossible. Vacations are invaded or cancelled last minute. I cannot stress how important this is to my being miserable, because it destroys your ability to find joy in almost any other aspect of life. It becomes extremely difficult to cook, be healthy/go to the gym, have hobbies, maintain love relationships/friendships, etc. Loss of control is a HUGE thing and I'm really surprised that it wasn't mentioned above.

    2. No Success Is Yours. As a lawyer, you're always representing someone else. That's what lawyers do. YOu don't decide to bring a case. You don't decide to settle. You don't decide to close a deal, or what the important terms are. You just do paperwork. Maybe you're clever, etc, and add value, but at the end of the day you have the facts on the ground as they're given to you, and if you win, it's the CLIENT's win, and if the deal is successful, it's the CLIENT's deal. I think happy lawyers don't care that all they do is minutiae, or they don't notice. I think some lawyers really think they're making important decisions (unless you're a judge, you're not). An important corollary of the fact that no success is your own is that you will always be an interchangeable cog. Why wouldn't you be? You haven't really done anything but someone else's paperwork.

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  17. When I started practicing law, I loved it because I was working for LEGAL AID Everybody in the profession criticized me and demeaned my job. I foolishly bought into their criticisms and changed jobs. I have more money but I have been miserable for the last 10 years. I feel stuck. I can't afford to go to a lower salary but mentally I can't afford to stay this unhappy. Students and people entering the profession should practice law in the AREA THAT MAKES THEM HAPPY; don't let someone else tell you that you have a bad job. A good job is one that allows you to pay your bills and one that you yourself love.

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  18. Nice piece. i totally agree that most people who practice law fell into it from a lack of anything else to do, then got trapped by loans. That being said, I would not agree with your assessment of the people involved in the law. I have been practicing (litigating) for 20 years, from large NY law firms to being a partner in my own firm, and if I left tomorrow, I wouldn't speak to a single person I ever worked with or practiced against again. Everyday I go to work I cannot believe I am forced to talk to these people. Its like someone found every weasellly lying nasty little nerd out there and consolidated them into a single profession. Its just depressing, I wouldnt cross the street to piss on these people if they were on fire.

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  19. The smartest lawyers take their special acumen and :::wait for it::: become business moguls

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  20. I totally agree with Anonymous who wrote on July 7. I am getting the hell out of this profession after 19 years, the last two years of which (aside from record making money) have been the two worst years of my life. I HATE practicing law. I finally admitted to myself last week as much, which I should have admitted more than two years ago.

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    1. Your remarks are fairly true, Larry. Did you get out? I have practiced for 21 years. Family law, no less. I was a fairly happy person in the beginning, but I really hate this life. I really feel signs of depression setting in. Oddly enough, I have made great money in the law. But, I feel this is just not worth it.

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  21. I just quit my job at a national firm with 2 years in savings and nothing else. I'm under 30 and not married, but some of my peers had kids and massive debt. I think this creates a feeling of being "trapped" which compounds the misery of writing briefs locked in an office all day. Before that I was at a mid size shop that had better work life balance but less pay. Honestly, writing papers all day is depressing and creates loneliness for many. The work sucks regardless unless you like fighting with opposing counsel for a living. The profession is rife with negativity and I have found lawyers have no leadership skills (based on military experience). And most are not businessmen who know how to lead and treat associates and partners with respect but firm guidance.

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  22. What about all the lawyers that are frauds and crooks that contribute to the misery of practicing law? The partners that have the attorneys under them do everything while they take the credit and pad the bills to make it appear that they actually know what is going on in a case. I'm in one of those situations right now. I used to really enjoy practicing law but I never focused on the business of law and building my own book of clients earlier. Now I find myself trapped working for a partner that I no longer respect and who comes in at 10 and leaves at 5 but always manages to bill more than me, even when on vacation!

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  23. Hello:
    I moved from Puerto Rico to NY three years ago. I had a good job working as a lawyer for the Department of Corrections of PR, then I met my husband and moved to NY. I thought things would be easier to find a job here. I've sent lots of RESUMES, taken a lot of civil service exams, I've gone to many interviews even as a stores clerk (and please don't misunderstand me I don't mind doing that job) in a Correctional Facility with no luck at all. At that interview and in some many others one of the people that were interviewing me told me that I was overqualified, but that it didn't mean that I was going to have a problem at all(Yeah right, I haven't heard from them since.)
    The problem is that I have to take the bar in NY in order for me to be able to practice law here. This is driving me crazy because I took the bar in PR an it was really hard and just the thought of doing it again, in another language (I am not a native speaker as you can tell) and different laws, etc. makes me depressed. It's like studying all over again. My husband tells me that I could give my daughter a better lifestyle if i do it and that I should take the bar review course that is not costing me any money (the government in PR is payed for it since they gave me an educational voucher because I was laid off due to budget cuts)
    Also I am not sure that's what I want to do with my life. I have a 21 months old daughter and I am a stay at home mom. I want to work but I want to be able to spend quality time with my family and I don't think working as a lawyer is going to let me do that. Maybe I'am scared to begin the hole process of studying again, or maybe I just want to do something else. Can anybody give me an advice on what to do.

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    1. I wouldn't go ahead with the bar exam if I were you. It is very difficult even for the locals themselves to get lawyer jobs in NY at the moment. Plus, NY bar will be difficult for you given that you have little knowledge in the US law. If you are going to do a bar prep course, you will need to devote all your time to it and that takes a couple of months. I don't know how feasible it would be if you are also taking care of your baby single handedly.

      On a positive note, just take this as an opportunity to change career! I couldn't agree more with the article, so leave while you have a chance!

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    2. The above advice is very apt! I work as a legal attorney with a large corporation in asia, I will move to the US in a few years, as the bar exam is tedious and tough and an llm actually doesn't help in clearing the bar, I have decided to change careers and do a masters in asia itself so that I can do a doctorate in the US.I hate being a lawyer but I loved law school! !!

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  24. I am a solo practitioner, have been for 20 years--I couldn't get a job out of law school. My grades weren't good enough and I'm quite sure my attitude sucked too. I became a solo because I had no other choice.

    Frankly I am mystified how I've survived this long. I am not temperamentally suited for the practice of law and certainly not for running my own business. It has been touch and go and I live in constant dread that it will all suddenly end one day.

    Having to get clients sucks. I am pretty much completely anti-social and lack any talent at marketing myself.

    Looking back it is obvious to me I have engaged in quite a bit of self-sabotaging behavior. I have chronic anxiety and have made numerous stupid and inexplicable decisions.

    There are certain aspects of the practice that I do like--legal research and writing, oral argument. You know--the "law school" stuff. But that isn't really what it's all about, at least not most of the time.

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    1. Marco,

      I, too, have practiced for 20 years, (21 years as of November, 2013). I started my practice on the same day I received my license. Actually got lucky and referred a big personal injury case to a larger firm in 1996. Came back huge in 2000. Got a referral fee and should have gotten out then, but I had only been in practice since 1992, so I felt it was not a good idea to leave so soon. At least I have no debt to speak of, but I have three kids (16, 17 and 19), and my wife is a school secretary (has a college degree, but stayed home with the boys for 10 years when things were financially good. Doing ok now, but I hate this crap.

      I have always been a solo. I went to night school and worked during the days. Just barely got out, but made huge money as a result of that big case...what a hoot! Just dumb luck. Well, I am really thinking of looking for something else, but it is hard. I am thinking of trying my hand at representing screen writers and possibly being a literary agent. What gets me is how relatively simple matters are made so complex by lawyers. Perhaps that is how we can keep the monopoly going.

      Well, thanks for allowing me to have my rant.

      Hang in there, buddy.

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  25. Thanks a ton to share this blog....I totally agree with Anonymous who wrote on July 7. I am getting the hell out of this profession after 19 years, the last two years of which (aside from record making money) have been the two worst years of my life. I HATE practicing law. I finally admitted to myself last week as much, which I should have admitted more than two years ago.

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  26. Marco100, have you ever thought about working as a paralegal instead???

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  27. One of the things that helps create the misery is that whether we admit it or not, our own clients don't like nor do they trust us. They see us a necessary evil that they need to pay in order to deal with their problem. I recently went to an ethics seminar and all the presenter did was hammer home ways to cover our own backsides so as to avoid an ethics complaint. He didn't teach ethics, just how to protect ourselves from our own clients. The profession demands that we advocate enthusiastically for our clients . . . the same clients who will turn on us the second that they don't get the result that they think they deserve. When every day is a fight with adversaries, judges, court staff or your own clients, it equates to a really awful way to earn a living. Only one question needs to be asked and answered...would you advise your child to be a lawyer? I already know the answer.

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  28. What an excellent take on the legal field. I was a person who loved law school and graduated in the top 1/3 of my class. I am the jerk who finds tests easy, finishing sections of my bar exam 45 minutes early. I spent the last five (5) years practicing as an associate attorney for a high profile personal injury firm. My pay was horrific, and I put in 90 hour weeks. I handled incredibly large caliber cases worth millions of dollars, and made my firm more money than most people can imagine. During this time I had two children with my wife and was never home, constantly stress, gaining weight, and hating life.

    Then something happened...my wife told me she wanted to leave and didn't know who I was anymore. I took a step back and looked at my life and where I was. I was in hell, I was missing out on my children's lives, I had no friends (Judge's Clerks don't count), no money, mountains of stress, and nothing to show for it. I looked at myself and had to be honest, I hate arguing, I hate fighting, I hated trying to "network" my old friends into to getting me personal injury cases, etc. What i really didn't like was myself in the legal field. So I did something drastic, I left, I threw in the towel, I hung up the cleats, the turkey was cooked. As of January of this year (2013) I did not practice law. I took a job with a web technology company, and ran.

    It has been the best decision of my life, I make more money, I lost weight, I have minimal stress, my wife and I are happy again, I see my children everyday, I have not missed one dinner with my family, and I have friends again. I want to let all of you know there is hope. There is life after law - and you may love it! Funny thing is, I know nothing about technology but my logical training has allowed me to grow leaps and bounds in a very short period of time. Anyone who reads this needs to know, it's OK to leave. Sure people will be confused, "you're a lawyer, what are you doing here?" Some people are rude, "so you couldn't hack it as a lawyer?" I never answer those questions, I just smile, because when I get home no later than 6:15 pm I play with my kids, eat dinner with my family, and don't stress about work.

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    1. I admire what you did. I worked for 3 different firms in 15 years and then went "out on my own" 13 years ago. In the beginning it was fine. However, i think as a result of cumulative stress: from marketing, to client problems, to administrative headaches, etc. I'm ready to throw in the proverbial towel. I sincerely do not know ANY attorneys who are happy. I have few friends (other than the doctors I represent and other lawyer acquaintences), I never go anywhere because in litigation you can't just take off for 2 weeks on vacation, and as stated above, you fight with your adversaries, you fight with the judges, you fight with adjusters, and then you even fight with the clients who take bizarrely untenable unwinnable positions. I try to go to the gym and eat and sleep right, but mostly I don't have time to take a 'real' lunchbreak. I find myself working late into the night only to have an adversary adjourn the next day's proceedings on short notice. All in all it is soooooo frustrating to practice. It has worn me down. I want to say "No Mas", but unfortunately, I don't know what else to do :( and have to pay a mortgage, etc.

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  29. My lawyer is a burnt out Stanford Law Grad. He is a decent guy but divorced, neurotic, greedy, fat, unhealthy. I became an MBA though was thinking about becoming a lawyer or even doing the MBA/JD combined program. We won 2 judgments(one large) and have collected about half. I AM GLAD I DIDN'T BECOME A LAWYER. There are so many scummy lawyers out there I am shocked that the BARs don't cut the ranks by at least 20%. Law should be like medicine; a noble profession. Instead, it is mostly just scumbags.

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  30. Wow this has been such an interesting read. Thank you so much for posting this! I am in my 3rd year of university in Canada and I want to be a lawyer- or well, I wanted to but now I am seriously questioning whether or not that is the profession for me. I want a family and I want to be able to be around ( especially to cook for my husband and kids because I love to cook ^_^), I want to travel, I have hobbies ( singing, dancing, writing music, stories) but after reading all that, I am not sure if being a lawyer will give me much leeway to do other things I love to do. Something else worth noting is that I took law courses in Highschool and looooooooooovvveeeeedddd them! But I can see that just because I love the courses does not mean I will love the profession. I am conflicted though :( Especially considering the fact that law school is extremely expensive I am really doubting if I want to take such an expensive chance. I hate debt. For that reason I have worked my butt off and have been able to pay for these three years of school ( with the help of my parents of course). I would hate to get debt for something that I would end up hating!

    So now I am stuck ( mentally anyway)...
    Should I pursue law or not?
    I thought I wanted to be a lawyer becauses:
    - I love to read an write
    - I love to do research
    - I like writing research papers
    - and I can see myself doing it

    That being said,
    should I pursue law or just drop it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It depends what you want to do. BigLaw in Toronto? Uh, no. Sounds to me like academia or a non-traditional job might work. I work for the federal government--if you can get in, it's great. You might like drafting (though if you do this for the feds you need to be fully billingual) or constitutional and administrative law or legal journalism. There are options. And research the schools--some, for example, are WAY more expensive (read: U of T) than others (McGill). Good luck.

      Delete
    2. In my experience (over 20 years, in Toronto), private law practice will be very incompatible with your desire for quality family time, hobbies and travel. Client demands are 24/7, and you simply can't expect lots of free time. It's long been said that "the law is a jealous mistress", and that is especially true in these days of emails and texting.

      Your love of travel will be especially problematic, as - regardless of law firms' official entitlement policies - most lawyers can only take one or two weeks' annual vacation, due to the need to hit their billable hour targets.

      The above applies to private practice. In-house jobs, government work and teaching positions typically have better working conditions, and the salaries are almost as good (or better, on an hourly basis). But that fact is well known, and hence such careers are quite sought after. The majority of lawyers wind up in private practice, not necessarily by choice.

      So, should you pursue a legal education? Only you can decide. I would say as follows: (i) law is not a terrible occupation, notwithstanding the entirely valid criticisms noted above (especially the adversarial, hyper-competitive nature of the business). It pays reasonably well, and generally affords some measure of independence; and
      (ii) no way will it allow you to indulge the various passions you've listed.

      Delete
  31. Hi Anonymous from Canada,
    From what you describe, your skill-set and interests and passions fit nicely with a legal education. I really enjoyed reading the blog post and the comments because so much of what folks shared reflects my own experience trying to figure out either how to practice law in a way that isn't excruciating and self-destroying or at least find a way to use my training to work in a way that earns a decent living while permitting me to do something that feels more or less meaningful. (Still engaged in that endeavor, by the way.) On the question of whether to go to law school, my observation is that a legal education is an incredibly powerful thing, whether you practice law or not. There are a thousand ways to be a lawyer, and a billion ways to use a law degree. The biggest limiting factor is the cost of the degree. So many people can't afford not to take a job that pays well but sucks (definite correlation between how much a legal job sucks and how much more you make--with the exception of the contingency-lottery version of being a lawyer, which maybe we all should aspire to . . . ) I went to a state university's law school, and paid in-state tuition, which was one of the biggest gifts I ever (unthinkingly) gave myself. I still worked for big firms for a couple of years, but I didn't have to, and when it became clear that an associate's life in a big firm was basically an un-epic, completely anonymous Sisyphusian journey, I was fortunate enough to be able to at least stop working as an associate at a big firm. Bottom line: I would encourage you to pursue a legal education because it sounds like it will resonate with your talents and interests. But I would at the same time encourage you to do so with an eye toward using that education to craft a career that permits room for all of the other things you mention you love--it's possible to do that, so long as the financial burden of the education is not prohibitive. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  32. Hi Anonymous from Canada,
    From what you describe, your skill-set and interests and passions fit nicely with a legal education. I really enjoyed reading the blog post and the comments because so much of what folks shared reflects my own experience trying to figure out either how to practice law in a way that isn't excruciating and self-destroying or at least find a way to use my training to work in a way that earns a decent living while permitting me to do something that feels more or less meaningful. (Still engaged in that endeavor, by the way.) On the question of whether to go to law school, my observation is that a legal education is an incredibly powerful thing, whether you practice law or not. There are a thousand ways to be a lawyer, and a billion ways to use a law degree. The biggest limiting factor is the cost of the degree. So many people can't afford not to take a job that pays well but sucks (definite correlation between how much a legal job sucks and how much more you make--with the exception of the contingency-lottery version of being a lawyer, which maybe we all should aspire to . . . ) I went to a state university's law school, and paid in-state tuition, which was one of the biggest gifts I ever (unthinkingly) gave myself. I still worked for big firms for a couple of years, but I didn't have to, and when it became clear that an associate's life in a big firm was basically an un-epic, completely anonymous Sisyphusian journey, I was fortunate enough to be able to at least stop working as an associate at a big firm. Bottom line: I would encourage you to pursue a legal education because it sounds like it will resonate with your talents and interests. But I would at the same time encourage you to do so with an eye toward using that education to craft a career that permits room for all of the other things you mention you love--it's possible to do that, so long as the financial burden of the education is not prohibitive. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Law school is interesting, and a legal education does provide general skills that could come in handy for various non-law jobs. However, the same things could be said for virtually any undergraduate degree.

      For all but the independently wealthy, the financial expense (on average, >$100,000) and opportunity cost (three years out of the workforce) are far too great to justify obtaining a J.D. unless one intends to practice law.

      Delete
  33. Awesome piece! Im contemplating law school and all the material i have been reading resonates the message "kill yourself now to save time and money!" I have been scoring in the 170s on my practice LSATs and have successfully defended mysel three times...nothing feels better when the judge scolds your adverssary I thought...so i began looking into law...I have that inadequate mountain on my shoulder, im over analytical, depressed, cocky, and mean....i think i have found my niche ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  34. The situation I am in is that I have always dreamed of becoming a lawyer and simply cannot get it out of my system, no matter how hard I try to convince myself of how difficult, time-consuming and expensive it would be for me to qualify as a lawyer. Believe it or not, I actually have two law degrees (including an LLM) from the UK. But when I had my qualifications assessed for equivalency and advanced standing here in Canada I was given absolutely zero advanced standing towards becoming a lawyer here (most likely due to the age of my LLB degree, my lack of legal experience at the time and somewhat lacklustre grades, although I had hoped to overcome that with the LLM). With a mortgage, a family to feed and substantial credit card debt, I couldn’t afford to complete an entire three year law school program here (Canadian law schools make it very difficult to study part-time). Going back to the UK is impossible as my wife refuses to move there even for a few years.

    Nevertheless, I soldiered on, completed several certificates over the years and established a half decent career for myself as an HR professional. Ironically, however, I finally landed a quasi-legal job about seven years ago, just as I was told the bad news about having to complete law school from scratch. While I told myself that evaluation would finally allow me to get the law out of my system, it hasn’t. My role over the last seven years has been with a legal publisher, focusing on creating HR and employment law content. I even had two fully qualified Canadian lawyers reporting to me until very recently (along with an HR professional). As a result, I now know more about Canadian employment law than many lawyers, and I am co-editor of an employment law publication.

    At the same time, I have been given feedback to suggest that I will likely never get back into a traditional HR role. I also sent out over 100 applications for HR jobs, and I can’t even get a phone call. If I lost my job tomorrow, I don’t know what else I would do. I sometimes think my legal background makes it difficult for employers to know what to make of me (one would think an employee relations job would be a no-brainer, but I can’t even get a phone call for those).

    I have begun to realize that I need to leave HR altogether, and there aren’t really any opportunities to advance where I am with the qualifications I have. Sometimes I get these crazy ideas in my head of taking more UK law courses via distance learning and trying once again to qualify here based on those online courses, exams and some part-time courses that are now offered for foreign lawyers (they have relaxed the requirements somewhat, but that also means that the market is flooded with even more foreign trained lawyers).

    I would love to be a lawyer, but even if I were successful I would be almost 50 years old before being called to the Bar. The process would also be expensive, time-consuming and fraught with risks that I again wouldn’t have my education recognized (although I have researched it to death). I am also aware of the lack of articling places in Canada for law graduates, bias against foreign law graduates, the fact that many lawyers are miserable, the long hours, the endless obsession with billable hours and concerns about legal offshoring, automation and the predicted demise of biglaw.

    I know I am completely nuts to allow myself to start thinking about law all over again, but I don’t want to be on my deathbed wishing I had given it my all and pursued my dream instead of giving up on it. However, I also know that if I can create a life for myself doing something else with a nice six figure salary with interesting work and reasonable work/life balance, I wouldn’t worry nearly so much about not being a lawyer. The problem is that reinventing myself in another direction would take me almost as long as it would to become a lawyer – and there are risks involved in any of the other fields that also interest me!

    ReplyDelete
  35. FINALLY! An article that does not try to talk you out of law school. I'm a file clerk at a law firm now, and everyone is telling me not go to into the law field. Gets annoying really. Most are those that did not know why they wanted to go to law school and went just cause. I know exactly why I want to go into law, and it is definitely not to work at a law firm (I wanna do government/prosecution). I don't think the attorneys there understand that there are different areas of work haha. It is sad tho, because the associates and even some partners HATE their job. I always wondered why they never switched to another job if they hated it so much.. But THANK YOU for writing an article about why you liked it. Never see those anymore.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Here's food for throught: Being a lawyer is a lot like cleaning the toilet. Who wants to clean the toilet? No one. But is it necessary to clean the toilet? Yes it is, absolutely necessary because no one likes a dirty toilet. So, thus, lawyers are highly paid toilet cleaners who must deal with other people's/life's krap. No one likes to do it, but it pays well enough that someone is always tempted to clean it up.

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  37. I came across this posting as I contemplating a fourth attempt at the bar exam. I've been out of law school since 2004 and have make a career for myself in the healthcare industry. It pays well. I work 9 to 5 and work from home on Fridays. I get annual bonuses. I'm fairly content ... but I feel like such a failure for not having completed the bar. I had a very successful career before completing law school. I did very well in undergrad and am thriving in my current career. Reading all of these comments was very eye-opening. I feel like not passing the bar has been a blessing in disguise. Not a single classmate I have is happy with their current situations.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Fork in the road:

    I'm 26, a US attorney, just been offered a junior associate position at a US killer law firm in Paris. The "dream" job to start April 1st. Then yesterday, I get a call from the European Commission offering me a legal officer job. Less pay, less job security, long-distance travel to Brussels ... and happiness.

    What to do?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Easy. Go with the European Commission. (the "... happiness" did me in) :)

      Delete
  39. Good article. I got out of the racket at age 41, having been a partner in an AmLaw 200 firm for a few years. Just a desperate, desperate business. Basically being an overpaid trash collector. Now I am on my third startup and while the exchange of time for dollars isn't necessarily so easy, it's an infinitely more fulfilling life. Small paychecks, except when you sell the companies: BIG paychecks!

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  40. Do you enjoy research? That's the only relevant question to ask someone who wants to be a lawyer, because unless you're a gifted orator (barrister-to-be), you'll end up being a glorified google search engine.

    ReplyDelete
  41. I am a lawyer and the article is sooooo true. sometimes i wish should have never entered in law school in the first place or that if i could turn back time, I would return to that moment when i enrolled in law school and undo it.

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  42. Great article! I have a degree in law but it took me a lot of more time than expected to finish university,which showed in the first place that something was wrong. Even during my studies I realised that the legal system is something foreign to my logic and the concept of being a lawyer sinister to the way I function. I am a shy person, who is very moral and not driven by money. Now I have a boring non legal job and am afraid to apply for jobs in the legal area because I don't feel like being a lawyer is my vocation.

    ReplyDelete
  43. nice article.I have been practicing for 4 years now and I must admit most of them are true and right on the dot. I don't know about my other colleagues, but I certainly enjoy solving other people's misery. Thanks for the heads-up. will certainly try to avoid those miserable lawyers who are hell bent on pulling you down

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  44. I climbed up to partner rank at a BigLaw firm. Then, hating it so very very much, I left the profession and bought a small business and it actually worked and I sold it. I was a corporate finance lawyer, and this may not totally apply to litigation, but in effect 95% of what we were doing was writing long documents. It is impossible to say with a straight face, "I have a true passion for scrivening credit agreements." That's baloney. No one does, period. A job that you hate while being grossly overpaid to do it makes for a bizarre balance. You're just absolutely bored out of your mind most days. Coupled with, you must, must, must get new clients ALL the time so you always have to be on your game -- actually, I enjoyed that part, but spending time on client development makes actually billing hours quite hard. Most colleagues quite rightly don't want to spend time talking to you; they want to spend time with their head down billing.

    The main problem is that BigLaw services are wildly overpriced and hundreds of other lawyers can provide perfectly good substitutes. That is a recipe for a very hard go of it. You've got to find clients to pay your crazy rates, and that takes some real persistence.

    In the businesses I've owned since leaving a law partnership, we have very rarely had the need to call on anyone nearly so high-priced. I don't understand how the big firms get away with charging $1000 an hour; you can get perfectly good lawyers for a fifth of that or less. My company is the defendant in a civil lawsuit; the insurance company hired some superb litigators who it turns out charge them about $150 an hour.

    Take a look at a 40 year old BigLaw partner. Typically he or she will look like she's 60. And their relationships with spouses and kids are often seriously messed up.

    Always having to "keep time" is bizarre, too. Do you bill the client for talking to them for 6 minutes on an unimportant thing? Well, it's an insult to a good client, but on the other hand you must imperatively have something to show for your presence at the office. Many of my colleagues essentially fabricated their timesheets well after the fact.

    Become an important surgeon or startup founder or author or something, but do not waste your time being a BigLaw partner. You have no equity stake in anything -- it's not like they're going to sell the firm and your shares will be worth $XXXXX.

    The net of it is, being a lawyer, you just get to sit there glued to your desk and watch as your clients actually do interesting things with their lives. That can be seriously unsettling.

    ReplyDelete


 
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