“Something That Will Pay” is Not a Career Goal

At dinner recently, my friend overheard our waitress tell another table that she was a law student. When the waitress came back to our table, we told her we were lawyers and asked her about law school. She is a 2L at a local school. I asked what kind of law she wants to practice, and she replied “something that will pay.”

Throwing Away Opportunity

For all that law student knew, I worked for a firm currently looking for summer associates. Or I owned a company that needs in-house counsel. But with her flippant response, I have no interest in recommending her to anyone. And why would I? If someone asks me if I know anyone looking for a job doing civil litigation, personal injury, or oil and gas work, I know that person is looking for someone with a specific interest. If a hiring attorney just wanted some J.D. off the street, they could post on Craigslist.

I am always happy to talk with a law student. If, for some reason, they want my advice, I’m happy to give it. Even if they just want to talk about the practice of law in general, I’m game. If someone has drive and I can recommend them to a potential employer, that’s great. By not showing any kind of drive or interest, this particular law student missed out on a potential hiring opportunity down the line, and she didn’t even know it.

Caught in a Lie

I understand that some people go to law school and don’t know what kind of law they want to practice. I believe even “I’m not sure” or “I haven’t decided yet” is a better response than “something that will pay.” As it turned out, this particular law student was interested in in-house work. Unfortunately, it took two or three questions to find that out. Her original flip response wasn’t even true. Had she come right out and said that, I would have recommended a company I know of that is hiring for those positions.



  1. Avatar denbigh says:

    So you declined to offer help after it became clear she did have an idea of what she wanted to do, because she gave a vague cocktail-party non-answer in earshot? Wow, that’s spiteful.

  2. Avatar Matthew S. says:

    You’re being too hard on this 2L. She’s working at the restaurant as a waitress (b/t/w what law student would choose to do that) trying to make ends meet in this pitiful-and-getting-worse economy, is probably tired and stressed from both school and work, and she candidly expresses her desire to be able to provide for herself after law school. I see nothing wrong with her answer. At least it was honest. True, she could have followed up that quip by telling you what kind of job she was looking for and could have asked if you had any contacts, but geez, have some compassion for her plight.

  3. While I understand that the market is bad right now, and that getting paid allows you to eat, the law student would have been better served with a more specific statement of interest. “Something that pays” is too broad to get anywhere.

  4. Avatar Susan Gainen says:

    Sad that she said it to you in a restaurant. Sadder that it is a common answer given in employment interviews.

    Another oft-asked interview question, “Why do you want to work here?” is all too often answered “Because you pay.”

    Perhaps true, but certainly not inspiring.

  5. Avatar DRB says:

    I don’t have a problem with Josh’s position. None of us stop being lawyers when we go home at night (and some of us get judged for acts we do/commit while off the clock).

    The 2L (especially in this market) should be on her toes in my opinion, or if that’s really her answer follow up with… at least some substance.

  6. Avatar David Williamson says:

    Great article “Something That Will Pay” is Not a Career Goal. For a successful career you need to learn more about your field. Through away all opportunities and try to learn as much as you can to achieve a good career in future.

  7. Avatar Sean says:

    Double-edged sword in the making. Compare “You shouldn’t be too picky about what area of law you practice” with “Why didn’t she describe the area of practice she wanted to a perfect stranger at dinner?”

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