“What do you do?” It’s the ultimate small-talk conversation starter in social situations. What is no doubt an innocent attempt to elicit chit-chat has always seemed rather silly to me. What do I do? Well, I do all kinds of things: I run, I spend time with my husband, I bake delicious muffins, I clean my house, and I read, to name a few things.
Why must people always define what they do in terms of their means to make a living? Few people are lucky enough to have a job that allows them to pursue their life passions. For the rest of us, it is what we do outside our time at work that defines who we are.
When I was a lawyer, that aspect of my identity was a very small facet of who I was. In fact, I tried to disassociate myself with my profession as much as possible because I felt it was such a poor match for my personality. My time outside of work is what best illustrated my personality.
When you tell someone your job title, it creates instant associations. For example, the moment people hear “lawyer,” they may assume I am aggressive and/or serious. They may draw inferences about my life such as how much money I have or even my political beliefs. None of these conclusions are necessarily correct, nor are they the business of cocktail party strangers.
It also strikes me that asking someone “what they do” is rigged to favor traditional careers with the greatest degree of social caché. Careers valued by society as prestigious such as doctors and lawyers are recognized as having high “worth,” and thus are the ideal responses to the question. These responses evoke certain stereotypes that are easily processed in casual conversation. On the other hand, responses indicating a non-traditional career, a period of unemployment, or no professional career at all do not lend themselves to definite stereotypes and often provoke awkward explanations, delve too deeply into personal matters, or elicit unwarranted social judgments based on people’s conception of a social hierarchy.
↪ Is Increased Debt Inflating The Self-Esteem Of Recent Grads?
A recent study conducted by Rachel E. Dwyer, an assistant professor at Ohio State, suggests that educational debt may actually benefit college graduates by bolstering their self esteem:
After sampling more than 3,000 young people between the ages of 18 and 34, she found that many people under the age of 27 were positively impacted by debt; her data showed that both higher levels of credit card and college loan debt equated to higher rates of self-worth. Additionally, these respondents reported feeling not only in control of their lives, but uniquely primed to achieve their goals.
Seriously? When is debt really a good thing? If this study is at all accurate, it sounds like there are a lot of people out there in total denial of reality.
↪ At Well-Paying Law Firms, a Low-Paid Corner
The New York Times recently posted a piece on the growing popularity of “career associate” positions at large law firms. What I find most interesting are the comments. Here are some snippets:
Real Money from Orange Co says:
lawyers charge way too much for what they do. Rates still need to come down 30-40%. I’m tired of getting ripped off for legal bills for mediocre work.
AA from Cambridge, MA says:
A few years ago I hired a lawyer for the first time and was amazed that a very expensive billable hour often involved him doing nothing more than reading and sending a few e-mails. It’s about time they found ways to reduce their fees like this and by using software to do routine investigative work.
It’s too bad for these people who are stuck with mountains of debt, but frankly the country does not need so many lawyers. Hopefully this will reduce the number of people attending law school when it’s not seen as a guaranteed ticket to a high salary.
Joseph from San Francisco says:
Nobody has told the law schools that the $160,000 jobs are dying out. Tuition has skyrocketed and wages are collapsing. Take it from a 2007 graduate, get thee to plumbing school. A J.D. isn’t what it used to be. Prestige won’t pay your mortgage.
Dave E. from St. Paul, MN says:
Having spent several years in a large law firm where non-partnership track positions were nonexistent, I can confidently say there are many, many attorneys who would jump at the chance to get paid less for lower billable hours and a regular schedule.
You quite simply cannot dedicate yourself to your family as a full time partner or partnership-track associate in private practice, unless you can literally survive on less than five hours of sleep at night. There simply are not enough hours in the day to do both effectively.
I know countless attorneys who left firms not because they disliked the work, but because they disliked the lifestyle. It’s not as if these attorneys are stamping in an manufacturing plant.
Trudy from RI says:
Many well-educated, highly competent people would be happy to have a $60,000 job that also let them have a life. Like one individual quoted in the article, not all of us are driven to acquire large piles of cash.
AnnieNYNY from New York, NY says:
I wish that my firm would offer a second-tier track. I would gladly accept less pay for more flexibility. As it is, I wonder how I can possibly maintain a decent work-life balance when my husband and I are both at big firms working 12 hour + days and don’t want to farm our children out to nannies. Instead, we’re all stuck on the treadmill with few options for getting off of it that don’t involve a massive pay cut (we’re not talking 60-70K less, we’re talking 100-140K less) and/or much less sophisticated work. Law firms need MORE flexibility, not less.
↪ Law Firm Code Speak
I used to think my family was bad at communication. Until I started working at a law firm. There, no one says what they mean and outward appearances are all rosy and full of self-congratulatory propaganda. “So-and-so secured a big victory for Client X. Just another example that we are awesome and committed to exceeding our clients’ expectations.” Right.
So when I read this recent People’s Therapist article, I found myself nodding in agreement, as I usually do with his musings. In a nutshell, he argues that speaking one’s mind in a law firm is completely taboo and instead firms resort to “code talk” to deal with unpleasant situations. For example:
For the most part, “I think we should talk about” is reserved for the single most crucial conversation in the entire law firm conversational repertoire, the ne plus ultra of conversations – to wit: “I think we should talk about your billable hours.”
This exchange, undertaken under secrecy at the highest levels of power, plays out something like this:
“I think we should talk about your billable hours.”
“Well, it has been slow. Work doesn’t seem to be coming in.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
This conversation, which fuses the twin forces of “I think we should talk about” and “I’m sorry to hear that” into one redoubtable melange, roughly parallels the situation of being called into Don Corleone’s office – well, let’s say tied up, packed into the truck of a Chrysler, and delivered to his office for a little chat.
I remember back to a few years ago, when business was particularly slow and I rarely had enough work to fill my days. I repeatedly offered my services to partners, to the point where I was probably an annoyance. “You need any help with anything?” As though I was actually eager to pick up a few billable hours here and there doing such exciting tasks as cite-checking a brief or triple-checking a big document review.
My hours fell behind and by the end of the year it was impossible to make up for the time when the work simply wasn’t there. What did they expect me to do? Work around the clock for that last month to compensate for the months when they, the people who are supposed to bring in the work, could not fill my plate despite my demonstrated willingness to work? I could not say this, of course, because that would make me a “bad” associate. And of course, one would expect a “good” associate to do just that - suck it up and dutifully swallow the abuse. The fact that no work was actually pressing enough to warrant lost hours of sleep was irrelevant. Just make up those hours.
So it came as no surprise to me when I got the “I think we should talk about your hours” lecture in my annual review. Despite my best efforts to defend myself with all the reasonable explanations, that just doesn’t cut it in law firm vernacular. In my case, all it amounted to was a $0 bonus that year, but I secretly hoped it would provide an escape route. Instead of “sleeping with the fishes,” I had to take it upon myself, a few years later, to politely excuse myself from the “family.” And thankfully, that’s where the Godfather parallels end.
↪ If Your Job Makes You Miserable, Focus on What Would Happen if You Changed
Andrea Kay reflects that, quite often, people hold on to jobs that make them miserable because the job is familiar and safe:
[P]eople fall into what I call the These-Days Trap, as in “These days, you should be glad for what you’ve got and hold on to it.” Have you said that yourself?
If all of this sounds way too familiar, maybe you should examine what you hold on to and whether you have the stomach to change.
But instead of asking what you would give up if you left, maybe you should be considering what you would gain if you did:
What are you holding on to? Is it the familiarity of something? If so, what? Is it a feeling of something, fitting in?
What do you gain from it? Is it social status? Money? Comfort in knowing what to expect each day? Acceptance from others?
What is it keeping you from getting or doing other aspirations? As long as you keep doing this work, what else don’t you get to do or have?
What will you lose if you give it up? Respect? Money? An identity? A particular group of friends?
Is what you lose worth more than the new career satisfaction you want?
May 13, 2011 | File under: On the Job
Sometimes, one’s work colleagues can feel like family. In small offices, or among close-knit groups in larger companies, people tend to form tight bonds that are either facilitated by the actual work performed, or simply by proximity to others and non-work socializing. These connections, when forged by the employees themselves, and having nothing to do with top-down management engineering, are authentic and really can mimic family bonds.
On the other hand, it is exceedingly irritating to me when companies (especially large, impersonal firms) latch on to this “work as family” concept in an insincere attempt to boost employee morale when morale is shown to be severely lacking. They publish glossy newsletters filled with smiling pictures of office birthday celebrations and numerous other suggestions that “we are all one, big happy family,” but behind all the overcompensating propaganda lies the truth that many people are truly unhappy in their jobs. It is all an illusion —- a gesture that masks the symptoms of disease without looking to its causes.
I knew it was time to leave my job when it became apparent to me that I had reached a dead end. In my professional life as a lawyer, I was no longer growing and had no desire or ambition to climb that next step to becoming a partner in my law firm. My tactic of hanging on to the status quo of being an associate and just going through the motions of my job was not going to work for much longer before I would be prompted to take on more responsibility than I desired. And in my personal life, I was beginning to feel the effects of many years in a job that wasn’t right for me. I was pushing ahead, but I wasn’t going anywhere either professionally or personally. In fact, I felt like I was falling behind personally, which was what really mattered to me.
There is much to be said for tolerating a job you don’t like because you’re able to appreciate its necessity or beneficial effects. Few people are fortunate enough to love their job or feel a passion for their work. Most people go to work every day because they need to pay their bills or feed themselves or their families. They may not like their job per se, but they may not mind it either. In the grand scheme of things, the job’s benefits outweigh its costs.
But somewhere along the cost-benefit continuum, there’s a tipping point. Your job provides some benefit, but not enough to justify the cost to your well-being, your future, your relationships and your state of mind. It’s the point when you realize pursuing other options, no matter how difficult they may be, is more attractive than remaining stuck where you are. You may face financial hardships for choosing to leave, but they are neither ruinous nor worth continuing on a path leading nowhere. It’s hard to predict where that tipping point lies, but from my experience, it’s like a moment when you find yourself teetering on the edge of a cliff. You’ll just know.
↪ Buying an Education or Buying a Brand?
So student loan debt in the United States is now approaching a trillion dollars, five times what it was five years ago. Seth Godin asks whether degrees from elite institutions are actually worth their drastically higher price tags.
What would happen if people spent it building up a work history instead? On becoming smarter, more flexible, more self-sufficient and yes, able to take more risk because they owe less money…
There’s no doubt that we need smarter and more motivated people in our organizations. I’m not sure we need them to be better labeled or more accredited.
↪ Great Site: But I Do Have A Law Degree
I’m really enjoying reading this blog chronicling a former BigLaw associate’s new life as a stay-at-home mom. Insightful and provides lots of food for thought.
Since leaving my job, the most frequent question I am asked by people I don’t interact with on a regular basis is: “So, what have you been up to?” I am never quite sure how to answer this question, and quite frankly, it annoys me a bit.
Asking how I’ve been spending my time is, however, a completely understandable curiosity. It’s been nine months since I bid farewell to my legal career, and I think many people assumed I would move quickly into some other type of conventional “job,” but that was never my intention. My family, knowing my eagerness to distance myself completely from the law, sometimes remarks that I’ve “retired,” and thankfully doesn’t press me for much information on my plans, but retirement is probably not an accurate term for my current state. After all, I was too busy paying off loans while I was working to build up that huge nest egg to live off of for the next half century!
I am a fiercely private person (hence the anonymity of this site), and my annoyance simply stems from my long-standing “it’s none of your business” attitude. Sharing too much information about yourself with the world just makes you vulnerable to questions you can’t answer or sets you up for disappointment when things don’t work out like you planned. The only person I completely open up to is my husband, and I’m perfectly content with the bit of distance this creates in other relationships.
Aside from the privacy issues, there is the honest fact that I just don’t know what to say when people ask me what I’ve been up to. Do they want to know how I spend my days, or are they just inquiring into my work situation? The reality is that my life since leaving the law has been full many different things, interests, and phases that I can’t neatly summarize my non-working life even to myself. I wear several different hats throughout the day —- wife, chef, writer, runner, housekeeper —- that begin to capture what I “do,” but the way I wear those hats has constantly changed during several phases I’ve passed through since last summer.
These “phases,” which I’m not really sure is what you’d call them, make up the process of my journey from lawyer to a destination that is still unknown. First, I was decompressing. It took a while to stop thinking of the day in terms of billable hours and to let the negativity of the law drain out of my system. This took a while, and I was minimally productive. Next was my renewal phase. Feeling refreshed, I started this website, diligently build up a base of content, and kept to a fairly good daily schedule that carved out some solid “working” time. Then the holidays arrived and I totally lost focus. I waffled a bit, floundered in my writing, and found plenty of other activities to fill my days. I remained productive in other ways, as a homemaker and runner, but I was disappointed in myself for not pushing forward on other pursuits with income-making potential. Becoming an elite runner sponsored by Nike was not in the cards.
The phase I find myself in now is sort of like a crescendo. Enough time has passed since I left the law that I’m getting serious about taking the next steps towards creating a new “working reality.” Of course, I’m not going to reveal what that is because I’m fiercely private, remember? But I’m thinking hard about my goals and the qualities of the life I want to lead in the future. I’m trying to honor the time I have each day to do something that moves me step-by-step in the general direction of those goals, even if the trajectory isn’t always a straight line. I’m definitely not, nor have I ever in my out-of-work life, watching daytime TV and treating myself to weekly manicures. I try to live life with purpose, and though I’m more successful at this some days than others, that is, in a nutshell, “what I’ve been up to.”
So, naturally, I really don’t want to get into all this when I run into a former colleague at the store or talk to an old friend on the phone. It’s not a neat explanation. It’s not one a lot of people can relate to. I haven’t forged an “identity” you can easily characterize or label. The thing that matters most to me though is that I’m much happier with my varied existence now than I ever was as a lawyer, so I guess ultimately what I’ve been “up to” is being happy.
↪ Peter Thiel on the Higher Education Bubble
Brilliant insight by Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, on the scam that is higher education in this country.
“A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed,” he says. “Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus.”
Americans are conditioned to believe that higher education is the promise of a better future. “Do this and you will be safe,” is the mantra many cling to, but:
Like any good bubble, this belief– while rooted in truth– gets pushed to unhealthy levels. Thiel talks about consumption masquerading as investment during the housing bubble, as people would take out speculative interest-only loans to get a bigger house with a pool and tell themselves they were being frugal and saving for retirement. Similarly, the idea that attending Harvard is all about learning? Yeah. No one pays a quarter of a million dollars just to read Chaucer. The implicit promise is that you work hard to get there, and then you are set for life. It can lead to an unhealthy sense of entitlement. “It’s what you’ve been told all your life, and it’s how schools rationalize a quarter of a million dollars in debt,” Thiel says.
↪ Why I Run a Flat Company
An interesting article from Inc. Magazine on a tech firm’s business model that rewards “horizontal ambition” rather than the traditional model of “vertical ambition,” the usual career trajectory of ascending a company’s hierarchy. Do what you love from the start and then progressively develop your skills and take on additional responsibility rather than just aspire to become a “manager.”
I am not a quitter. In fact, I am known to be so stubborn that any obstacle placed in my path will only strengthen my resolve to accomplish a goal I have set for myself. It’s a family trait. It’s also one of the main reasons why I was undeterred in my decision to become a lawyer many years ago even when people close to me expressed concerns that the profession might not be the best fit for my personality. But I was stubborn. I had to see for myself.
Having now left the law, I can look back on those nine years I devoted to training and work and confidently say that I gave it a fair shot and tried the best that I could to make it work for me. I gave it more than a fair shot, in fact, since I would have left earlier had I not been responsible for paying back my overpriced law school education. I knew almost immediately upon entering the working world that the doubts I had so desperately attempted to ignore were actually legitimate concerns that I had been too stubborn to face.
↪ Not Horrible
Another great post from the People’s Therapist. (via Above the Law)
Isn’t it sad when the best you can say about your job is that it’s “not horrible”? I can certainly relate to these unfortunately too-common sentiments among young lawyers:
You’ve realized law school was a mistake – and the thought of your loans makes you queasy. If you get through the day without being criticized or given some god-awful assignment, you can go home and try to sleep. That’s a good day.
Yep, that was as good as it got.
The week before Thanksgiving, my client reminded this partner he’d be away for the actual day of the holiday – Thanksgiving Day – to visit his wife’s family.
The partner looked shocked at this effrontery. “Will you be available remotely?” He asked.
Now that’s horrible. Do some people have no souls?
At a big law firm, it’s hard to imagine a life containing meaning or pleasure. This is a legal career: You exchange human misery for money, which pays loans.
Not horrible is limbo. Purgatory. The doldrums.
And it is also not living.
↪ Friday Inspiration: Winging It
This post on Above the Law reproduces a particularly heart-warming exit memo of a BigLaw associate.
I’m winging it so I can live every day boldly. I’m winging it because
I believe romanticizing life can be a viable survival mechanism, at
least while we are young. I’m winging it because I won’t always have
the energy to do something batshit crazy like this.
And to that, ATL wisely observes:
[A]ny day spent in furtherance of your dream is better than everyday you spend wasting your time in a profession you know you do not like.
↪ Trying to Recruit Gen Y Lawyers? Focus on Innovation and Lifestyle Rather than Tradition
The ABA Journal advises law firms to cater to young lawyers’ desires for lifestyle benefits in recruitment materials as a means to attract talent.
The question is, though, will law firms back up their rosy claims with any real substance? I doubt it. Law firms have a knack for paying lip service to young lawyers seeking a balanced life by purporting to offer a greater degree of work-life balance than other firms, but I have yet to hear of a firm that can really stand behind its marketing propaganda. It’s a sad fact that the practice of law is simply all-encompassing and incompatible with a truly flexible working arrangement. The notion of a “lifestyle firm” is really only an illusion.
↪ Prospective Law Students Have a Role in Law School Reform
Bill Chamberlain, Assistant Dean at Northwestern School of Law, admits that law schools have a long way to go in providing the transparency needed for prospective students to intelligently evaluate career prospects with a law degree, but he also notes that those students also bear responsibility for ensuring they are motivated to go to law school by a genuine desire to practice law, not by the false promise of six figures:
Much of the responsibility also rests on the shoulders of prospective law school applicants themselves – many of whom have entered our walls for all the wrong reasons. For example, practicing law is not just about the money and never has been – the motivation must go beyond that. If your only motivation for attending law school is to make six-figures or some vague notion to pursue what sounds like a practical degree, you are bound to be sorely disappointed whether you land one of those coveted jobs or not. When junior associates compute their salaries on a per hour worked basis, they are often shocked. No one should go to law school unless she or he wants to become a lawyer and practice law and, better yet, has already developed an interest in particular aspects within the law. The prospective student who fails to do the due diligence to find out what “becoming a lawyer and “practicing law” really means on a day-to-day basis really has no business applying.
People love to complain. It’s a coping mechanism, I suppose, but sometimes it can get out of hand. Not only is complaining contagious; it is nearly always unproductive and can even be counter-productive, leading to a crippling lack of motivation in nearly everything. And after a while, listening to the same complaints over and over again becomes very irritating to other people. Especially when the complainer appears unwilling to do anything to change the situation giving rise to the complaints. At that point, complaining simply becomes a waste of time.
I used to be one of those people that complained constantly that I hated my job. I complained at work to my empathetic friends, I complained at home to my husband and I complained to my family when I spoke to them over the phone. I spent so much of my time thinking about work and complaining that my free time away from the office never felt like free time—-I carried my misery with me wherever I went and allowed it to overshadow the experiences I should have been enjoying. It was not a healthy way to live.
Very quickly, my negativity grew tiresome to others, and to myself. I was tired of ruminating over things that would never change, people who would always be difficult to deal with, and situations that were unavoidable evils in the profession I had chosen. My family was tired of counseling me out of my funks, a process that sometimes monopolized large chunks of the weekend days I was supposed to be enjoying. It was a state of mind I could not sustain.
↪ Why Did 17 Million Students Go to College?
The overabundance of people with college degrees, even advanced degrees, who hold jobs for which no college education is required raises questions whether the Obama administration’s insistence that having more college graduates is necessary for continued economic leadership. Does massive investment in higher education really yield a comparable rate of return?
Now it is true that college has a consumption as well as investment function. People often enjoy going to classes, just as they enjoy watching movies or taking trips. They love the socialization dimensions of schooling—particularly in this age of the country-clubization of American universities. They may improve their self-esteem by earning a college degree. Yet, at a time when resources are scarce, when American governments are running $1.3-trillion deficits, when we face huge unfunded liabilities associated with commitments made to our growing elderly population, should we be subsidizing increasingly problematic educational programs for students whose prior academic record would suggest little likelihood of academic, much less vocational, success?
I used to have a very stressful job. I was a lawyer. Each day was a battle. Against adversaries. Against difficult supervisors. Against myself, battling the dread I felt towards my work. I was in a constant defensive state, preparing myself for the next awful assignment, the next unpleasant phone call, the next mean email.
To cope with the stress of my job, I sought refuge in simple things. Coming home to enjoy a slow dinner with my husband. Going for runs and listening to the repetitive sounds of my feet and breath while appreciating the beautiful sights around me. Wrapping myself in a blanket and knitting stitch after stitch, watching it become a scarf. And, oddly enough, standing in front of a sink full of dishes, swishing away food remnants with almond-scented bubbles. With these actions, I claimed small victories in my daily battles.
Thankfully, that stressful time in my life has ended, and I’ve begun a new, and considerably less defined, chapter in my life. Instead of the dread I used to feel, I face each new day with excitement and appreciation. I find even more fulfillment in those simple things I used to cling on to for dear life, knowing now that activities such as washing the dishes and cooking a healthy meal for my husband and me contributes to our overall quality of life, which has definitely improved since I left my job as a lawyer.
So while some people dread tackling a pile of greasy pans and streaked dishes (without a dishwasher, I might add), I am ever grateful for that time each day, knowing the dishes will not order me into the office on a weekend or compose an email in all caps. As I stand there, I mostly space out as my hands handle the repetitive work, my mind jumping from one thing to another. Is it weird that I have never obtained the same calmness of mind through yoga as I do in my purple dish gloves?
There is a lovely little book that is full of wonderful reflections on simplicity called Wabi Sabi: The Art of Everyday Life, and this one quote resonates with me deeply:
“The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.”
↪ “Better-Faster-Cheaper” Work Model for Lawyers Has Led to Burnout
According to the ABA Journal, a recently-released report on the future of the legal profession by the New York State Bar Association observes that increased global competition encouraged by economic hardship and technological advances has put considerable pressure on law firms to deliver the highest quality legal services in the cheapest and fastest way possible. At the same time, the report calls for limiting hours worked by attorneys in order to, in the words of the State Bar President, “figure out where our boundary is as lawyers and as human beings.”
Let’s see how that recommendation goes over. The reality is that law firms value billable hours, not human beings. Unfortunately, I suspect that increased competition will only place more emphasis on the bottom line, thus making it harder for lawyers to attain that elusive work-life balance.
↪ Eight Reasons College Tuition is the Next Bubble to Burst
More evidence that the college tuition bubble burst is looming on the horizon.
One observation that I find particularly aggravating:
6) Schools are spending on luxurious amenities to lure in more students
Flush with student loan money and wanting to attract even more, colleges are increasingly spending on luxury dorms, gyms, swimming pools and other amenities.
What’s the deal with the fancy student centers and other over-the-top expenditures? Schools seem to engage in never-ending building initiatives that consume millions of your tuition dollars. But I really doubt the quality of the education they provide is enhanced one bit by an on-campus Starbucks.
But, let’s face it, competing for students isn’t always about offering the best education possible.
Sometimes when I get an idea in my head I tend to overlook the realities of the situation I am imagining. I do not recommend this approach. Case in point: for years, I had a “vision” of what it would be like to be a lawyer that turned out to be completely wrong. This vision was heavily influenced by the fictions I observed on TV, leading to a completely skewed conception of reality. But even aside from pop culture’s manipulation of my impressionable mind, my perceptions of the day-to-day realities I would face in my career were dominated by big-picture abstractions that ignored the mundane, everyday details of the job. And we all know the devil is in the details.
Let’s glimpse into my 20-year-old mind for a moment. I am in college, without any real working experience in my life aside from a few summers of part-time retail work and short-term internships. I have no idea what it’s like to work a nine-to-five (or more) desk job, or any kind of job for that matter, for an extended period of time. I know how to be a student. I get this idea in my head that I should be a lawyer. I’m a good writer, I can articulate my points well, and I have an interest in political and historic issues. Essential skills for a lawyer, right? Put my talents to use “making a difference” and “defending justice.” Or something like that. Everyone thinks it’s a good idea. I commit to this path with only a vague notion of what lawyers actually do on a daily basis.
What exactly did I think I would be doing as a lawyer? Reading, researching and writing, mostly. That’s actually what I did end up doing most days as a lawyer. So where had I erred in my predictions?
↪ Dark Lords of Student Loan Debt
There’s nothing like a bit of doom to get you going on a Monday. In this article, Vox Day blasts the student loan system for playing upon the ambitions of millions of young people and turning them into slaves.
The dark secret of the college-loan system is that it is not designed to help students pay for college and generate a reasonable interest-profit for the loan provider that will be paid off within a short period of time after the student begins working and receives a degree-enhanced salary. It is specifically designed to keep the graduate on a treadmill of debt that will ideally never be repaid.
High-school students must learn that no degree, not even one from a top Ivy League university, is worth the gamble of being caught up in this infernal system. And parents must learn that they must deny their children the dubious honor of being sacrificed to the illegitimate gods of educational debt, no matter how desperately their children might plead for the privilege, like innocent Aztec maidens bedazzled by the sun.
Be sure to check out The Student Loans Scheme referenced within.
Sometimes, a career can actually diminish one’s mental capacity. It happened to me. Before I became a lawyer, I was a fairly creative person. I immersed myself in activities that required a good deal of concentration, patience and free thought. I read deep philosophical books, I knitted an intricate stuffed elephant toy for my niece, I baked bread by hand, and I even experimented with watercolors despite my lack of natural artistic talent. And then, I started my job and my after-work and weekend activities took on a decidedly more mindless quality. I just didn’t have it in me to think very hard after thinking so hard all week long, and my creativity levels and desire for self-improvement plummeted.
Part of becoming careared is feeling worn down and defeated by a job. This is exactly how I felt. Not only did my job affect my attitude and thoughts during the time I was at work, but it also dampened my spirits and left me mentally spent when I was away from the office. While I was once ambitious with my free time, I found myself spending more and more time watching movies and engaging in mindless activities that wouldn’t be too taxing on my fried brain. I began to perceive many of my former interests as chores, requiring too much creativity and concentration.
↪ Law School Deception, From the Perspective of an Insider
Steven J. Harper, a professor at Northwestern University Law School and retired partner at Kirkland & Ellis, follows up on the recent New York Times article criticizing law school transparency with assurances that the Times’ accusations are well-founded. Calling for greater candor on the part of law schools as to the realities of substantial debt and a lackluster legal job market, Harper provides an insight that will sound familiar to many jaded professionals, but one that is far too seldom offered to the masses of idealistic, aspiring lawyers:
Some students enter law school expecting to become Atticus Finch or the lead attorneys on Law & Order. Others pursue large firm equity partnerships as a way to riches. Few realize that career dissatisfaction plagues most of the so-called winners who land what they once thought were the big firm jobs of their dreams.
A legal degree can lead to many different careers. The urgency of loan repayment schedules creates a practical reality that pushes most students in big law’s direction. If past is prologue, the vast majority of them will not be happy there. They should know the truth—the whole truth—before they make their first law school tuition payments.
For people who enter law school to secure a job at a law firm, those three years are really just an extended interviewing process. At least the first two years are, as many people enter their third year with a job offer in hand. And law schools waste no time: the search for a job begins practically the moment one enters their first year. From then on, it’s a nonstop parade of career fairs, campus visits, cocktail parties and fancy meals.
Of these events, the wining and dining ones are particularly illuminating. You can learn a lot about the Big Law Firm life by observing people sipping glasses of fine wine and munching on expensive crudités.