Everyone hears about discontented lawyers. The hours are long. The clients are impossible. The work is tedious and boring. I could go on, but I do not have to. You know where I am coming from.
I have been a lawyer now for more than 25 years and have worked in a wide variety of settings. Some jobs were pretty good; others not so good. None were awful. In any event, whenever I am asked if I have any regrets about becoming a lawyer, the answer would be a resounding “No, I am glad that I decided to become a lawyer.”
What Was The Deal, Anyway?
Why no regrets? Let’s go back to my first year of law school and what I learned in Contracts. When I attended, this was the deal. I donated three years of my life and $15,000 to the University of Wisconsin. In return, I will be able to tell the world that I am a “professional.” Chances will be pretty good that I will make a respectable living. The work will not always be the most exciting in the world, but at times, it will be satisfying. Finally, any debt will be gone when my kids are still young.
Speaking for myself and I think for most in the boomer generation, I got the benefit of the bargain. No breach of contract; no lawsuit against my alma mater. I’m proud to tell people at cocktail parties that I am an attorney. I have made a respectable living, although I am hardly rich. There have been satisfying days at work. As for debt, it was gone in five years. Now the problem is figuring out how to pay for the college educations of my three children (remember, I am not rich).
What’s The Deal Now?
Now let’s fast forward to the present. Is this new generation of lawyers getting the same benefit of the bargain that I obtained? Well, you still can call yourself a professional. Check one box. Can you make a respectable living? Not so sure. The job market has been awful for recent graduates and few expect that to change soon. Even top graduates from top law schools have been laid off and cannot find work.
And what about those who are not top graduates or did not attend top law schools? Did you really go to law school to review documents at $25.00 per hour? Will you become what I call a “not by choice” solo practitioner? Is that a realistic alternative when so few law schools provide the necessary training to manage a practice (at least today, some schools are genuinely trying; in my day, hardly any even made the attempt). Furthermore, the marketplace for legal services is becoming more competitive. No pundits today predict significant increases in demand in the future and the law schools continue to crank out thousands of graduates every year.
Sadly, many will be forced to abandon the profession before ever having a chance to ever actually be in it. Here’s where the deal is really going sour. Many recent and future graduates leave school with a debt load well into the six figures. It’s the equivalent of paying off a home mortgage and is not even dischargeable in bankruptcy (at least that is what I am told by those who practice in the area). One can afford to look for a legal job for only so long or practice law as a solo with minimal revenues. At some point in time, it is time to abandon ship, thus rendering the part of bargain about satisfying work entirely “irrelevant” as we were taught in Evidence. There will be no opportunity to determine if the work is personally rewarding or not because there was never a genuine opportunity.
Quit Bellyaching and Word of Caution
So now you may be thinking, OK Roy, what is the point of this post? Well, there are actually two points for two separate audiences. One is for my generation and the other is for those considering going to law school.
To my fellow boomer lawyers, quit complaining; you have nothing to complain about. Little in this world is perfect so you should not expect practicing law to be. Be grateful that you can still impress some people at parties, you can afford to pay the mortgage in your house in the suburbs and that on occasion, you can sit back and say to yourself that you helped solve someone’s legal problem and felt good about it.
For those thinking about becoming a lawyer, think long and hard. The deal is not what it once was. I do not want to sound all gloom and doom. Certainly many newly minted lawyers will find jobs, earn a nice living and find practicing law to be satisfying, just not nearly as many as in the past. The warning here is if you are one of those pondering law school only because you cannot think of anything better to do after graduating college, there probably are better things to do.