Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bad Reasons to Be a Lawyer

Well, interest in law school has increased, despite the bad market.  And it is a terrible market for new attorneys right now.  While some of the bigger firms have started hiring again, the numbers aren't as high as they used to be, nor are the salaries.  I just have this to say about going into law: make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.  If you are going to law school for any of the following reasons, don’t waste your tuition money:

1. You just graduated from college, can’t find a job in your field, and think it would be a good way to spend a few years until the economy recovers. (So, are you killing time, or are you really interested in being a lawyer?  Make sure you really want to be a lawyer before you waste the money.)
2. Your life dream is to be like Nancy Grace or Judge Judy or Insert the Name of a Celebrity Lawyer. (I’m not saying it’s wrong to aim high – or low, as in the case of Nancy Grace – but to be fair, both of them put in a lot of time and work practicing the law before they got to where they are, and most famous celebrity lawyers have done the same.  You don't graduate from law school and the next day become a famous attorney.  You do it through a lot of hard work, successful wins, and long hours.)

3. You think you will make a lot of money. (You might, but you might not. There are a limited number of $150,000 starting salary positions. As many of my classmates found out, it is more likely you will start at around $50,000 or $60,000. How does that $180,000 in student loans look against those numbers? Here’s some information on average pay for lawyers. You can’t go into this profession entirely for the money. Make sure you really want to be doing it, because you could end up doing workman’s compensation law or insurance defense because those were the only jobs available.)

4. Everyone always told you that you should be an attorney because you are such a good arguer or debater. (In the real world, oral argument is only a small portion of practicing the law. I do litigation 100% of the time, and have to do an official oral argument (district or appellate) maybe ten or twelve times a year.  (Official meaning argument on an actual motion or brief, not including status hearings and things of that nature.)  The number is small not only because arguments get split up amongst my team members, but because most cases settle, so we don't even get that far.  Also, most decisions are made off the briefs, so writing skills are much more important than oral skills.  The Judge has usually made up his or her mind by the time you get up to argue.  I think Judges only let us do oral argument because most lawyers like to do it.) 

5. You like to pontificate on the law. (Contrary to popular belief, this is not what being a lawyer is about.  The law pretty much is what it is and you are stuck with it.  Very rarely will you get a case dealing with a new or unexplored issue of the law. You don't get to make new law.  Maybe you get lucky and can sneak in a new interpretation, but generally lawyering involves taking the law as it is and applying it to the facts of the case.  You can be creative while doing this, but it is not nearly as exciting as having deep conversations over a glass of sherry while discussing the ramifications of the latest Supreme Court decision.)

6. You think getting a Juris Doctor means people have to call you Doctor. (They don’t.)

7. You hate people and think you can just bury yourself amongst musty law books for your entire career. (First off, nearly everyone uses Lexis or Westlaw for on-line legal research. Second, you will have to deal with clients, opposing counsel (who can be assholes), Judges, mediators, experts, witnesses, and a variety of other people on a day to day basis, depending on your area of expertise. And you have to be somewhat friendly to these people.  Usually.)

8. You think it must be easy to be a lawyer since someone you know made it through law school and they are an idiot. (Grades matter, and law school is a ton of work. While someone has to end up at the bottom of the class, for the most part your classmates won’t be idiots, and you will need to spend a lot of time studying, reading, and writing.  Idiots get through it because law school involves a lot of memorization.)

9. You think law school will help you find your passion. (Figure out your passion before you shell out the tuition money.)

10. You think you will get to mingle with the bigwigs, Judges, and other important people. (If you can find the time to do this after working a 70 hour week, then more power to you. Realistically, the last people you will want to see at the end of the day are Judges and other lawyers, and all of this takes connections. Which requires time and energy. Which takes away from practicing law. Etc….)

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