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Where Did That Perfect Legal Job Go?
I'm too old to learn to do something else,too greedy to give up the money I make.and too burnt out to deserve it.
Mack Malloy; Scott Turow, Pleading Guilty
The legal and lay communities are finally waking up to an issue that many lawyers have known for some time-we do not all want to be Eke Perry Mason. Although there are many lawyers quite satisfied with their choice of profession, not all law school graduates want to appear in court, work for a big firm, handle large or complex cases, spend the majority of their waking hours in their offices, or even earn top dollar. Instead, many want the opportunity to explore and pursue alternative options, both in and outside of the law. They want to do work that they love, or at least work that they feel good about.
Law is an excellent career choice for some individuals. It challenges their intellect, it utilizes their analytical reasoning, it allows them opportunities to write and speak and negotiate and counsel. If you are one of these individuals and are just looking for a different position within the legal field, you may want to skip this chapter and move on to the chapters on self-assessment, career options, and interviewing skills.
Unfortunately, many lawyers are not satisfied with their chosen career. If every lawyer in the country were sitting in a (very) massive auditorium, and I asked who really, really liked their legal practice, studies show that less than one-half would raise their hands! Although the maxim "No job is perfect, that's why you get paid" is as truein law as it is in other fields, a growing number of lawyers are questioning their career choice. If you are thinking about entering law school, or are a current law student, or are waiting to pass the bar exam-questioning where you might find a satisfying and productive Job either within or outside of law-the following discussion of the changes in the profession may stimulate you to think through important considerations before you decide to get into law. Some of the changes are encountered primarily in law firm practice rather than in jobs in less traditional legal practice areas, such as government offices, the courts, or corporations, but many of the issues permeate the practice, how ever and where ever it is done.
After people make enough for food and shelter,they don't work for money, they work for acknowledgment.
A fifth-year business litigation associate from a large law firmI'll. call him Bill recendy phoned me at Lawyers in Transition to set up a career counseling session. He told me he'd gone to a good law school and done reasonably well, clerked for a year, then took a position at his current firm. The first few years at the firm were fine, since he was learning a lot of new things. Then the work became routine and the time commitments overwhelming.
Over this past year, Bill began to dislike the numbing details and repetition that practice required, as well as the voluminous paperwork, contentiousness, stress, competition between the firm's attorneys, and long billable hours. He now has to force himself to get out of bed in the morning to go to work, and he doesn't have time for any life outside the office. He looks at the partners in his firm and sees that they don't seem very happy; he doesn't want to be like them. But he feels trapped in his Job because it pays well-he just bought a house and is still paying off student loans-and he doesn't know what other work he could do and still earn good money. His legal training narrowed his focus and made it even more difficult for him to envision an alternative career.
Unfortunately, like many lawyers who contact me, Bill adrmitted that when he chose to attend law school, he had not talked to many lawyers or given much thought to what the actual practice of law would entail. He went to law school because he was finishing his undergraduate work and didn't know what else to do. He thought that legal training would give him credibility, useful knowledge, and a good general background for any work he chose. Now he's not so sure. He says he hasn't a clue what his work experience qualifies him for, if anything, other than legal work. He's definitely narrowed his perceptions of himself and his abilities since entering law school.
Bill's attitude is similar to a large percentage of the more than 10,000 lawyers who have called me over the past thirteen years, expressing dissatisfaction with some aspect of their own work or the practice of law in general. Of those who contact me, a majority say that since they already have their legal degree, they would like to continue to use their legal skills if they could find some less stressful or frustrating position. My own unscientific study indicates that approximately 80 percent of the people who call me either make job changes within law or make no change at all; only 20 percent leave law completely. But a poll taken by California Lawyer magazine in 1993 found that over 70 percent of the respondents said they would not go into law again if they could begin their careers anew. This poll was reinforced by a study published in the California Bar Journal in 1995, which found...