ca • reared

  1. reared to pursue a career as a primary objective in life.
  2. duped or screwed by a career, or by the pursuit of a career.

Further Thoughts on Sucking at Law

December 16, 2010 | File under: Advice and Lessons

Yesterday’s article by Will Meyerhofer, “I Suck at Law” posted on his own website and on Above the Law seems to have really struck a chord with many people. Unsurprisingly, the haters came out full force on Above the Law, some leaving such thoughtful remarks as “and you suck at writing too” (the outpouring of sarcasm on ATL never ceases to amaze me). However, a handful of comments on that site, and the majority of comments on Mr. Meyerhofer’s site reveal that there are a lot of people out there who feel the same sense of disillusion, frustration, disgust, despair, regret and restlessness I felt in my former job as a law firm lawyer.

Here’s a sampling of the outpouring of angst and thoughtful insight prompted by the article:

I suck at law as well. I’m still slightly ashamed of saying it, but its so much better knowing than not knowing. Part of me wants to keep up the facade and maintain the unknowing regard of my family and strangers that being a lawyer provides, but mostly I just want to do work I enjoy and be with my family more than just a few times a week. Thank God I’m getting out now before I’ve done it too long. —- Made It Out

This comment completely resonated with me. Before I was a lawyer, I never looked beyond the facade. But then you discover the truth, and it’s like you’ve crossed over to the other side into a new dimension. Your extended family and strangers continue to believe being a lawyer is such a great thing, but it’s almost irritating how oblivious they seem. I would have gladly traded the respect of others for a few more hours with my husband every week.

I’ve come to realize that all of the great things that law schools look for (intelligence, personality, broad range of interests, creativity) have almost nothing to do with what law firms care about. I suck at law, and wear it as a badge of pride that I can’t get enough anxiety together to wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night nervous that I forgot to run a blackline to the new TOC. —- Mesdth4

Law school is full of people with colorful and diverse backgrounds. There was a prima ballerina in my law school class, people who had done amazing humanitarian work, as well as incredibly accomplished scholars. But then you go to work at a law firm, and you become the most boring person in the world. You have no time or energy to devote to any other interests. It’s like your life is put on hold personal development is completely sacrificed to professional development. It’s a paradox.

And I wish I was as immune to anxiety as this commenter. I found myself awake at 3 a.m. so many nights with the sudden realization that the wrath would be laid upon me for something trivial I had done, or not done.

You can go straight from undergrad to grad school, and biglaw caters to this reality avoidance by integrating itself directly into the law school schedule. Biglaw even calls each annual group of new lawyers “class of [year]” (WTF?!) like it’s a straight continuation of school. You can go from pre-school to biglaw without your feet touching the ground; the adults will just manage your entire life for you until sometime around age 30. If you wanted, you could completely avoid any meaningful consideration of your career choices until you run face-first into the firm’s “up or out” policy. —- NL

Gosh, this is so true. It is in the law firm’s best interests to promote this continuation of adolescence because associates who embrace adulthood have other priorities that compete with the accumulation of billable hours. The law firm provides an environment that minimizes responsibilities outside the office as much as possible —- a cafeteria or meal reimbursement so you don’t have to cook your own food, dry cleaning services so you don’t have to do your own laundry, an office gym so you aren’t lured to the outdoors for exercise. It’s like college without the dorms, and far less enjoyable. How else would they be able to keep you at work until midnight on a regular basis? And you almost have to be single to survive in this kind of environment. Being married or in a serious relationship means you are more likely to become restless with the insane hours they want you to put in at the firm.

I’ve been MISERABLE as an attorney and taking steps toward happiness does not make me a failure. Will I be making less money? Yes. Does that make me regret my decision even a tiny bit? Nope. —- Danielle

Amen to that.

I went to law school with the idea of practicing ‘public interest law,’ and like many, I ended up in biglaw to manage bigloans. I stuck it out for about 3+ years and was less miserable than defiant. I felt lucky to have a job that helped me pay my loans, but I spent a lot of energy trying to change the system instead of accepting that the way firms work is driven by incentives that are entrenched and not likely to change any time soon. —- Jean

Law schools make it seem so easy to pursue the public interest path. At my law school, NYU, I was seduced by their loan repayment program, which was boasted to be one of the best in the country: work in public interest for ten years, and your loans are paid off. Sounds great, right? But there’s a HUGE catch when you read the fine print. If you get married, or accumulate any assets, the repayment assistance can be cut off. And getting a job doing public interest work is a lot harder than it seems. There is major competition for those jobs, and ultimately I think a majority of the people who go to law school with intentions of doing public interest law end up in law firms immediately after school. It’s just not that easy or uncomplicated.

If you’re thinking about going to law school but still have some nagging doubts, my advice would be to wait a year or two and work in a field that might interest you (or take a year off to travel, meet other people, try a couple of different jobs or internships, etc). Because of the price tag, going to law school can be the start of a decades-long diversion from whatever it was you might actually have enjoyed doing instead. —- greenfrog

Great advice. Something I wish I would have considered before I went to law school.

Comments

  • Good points.. I like the quote from the person who pointed out that law takes the most interesting people and turns them into the most boring.

    How true. Boring and jerky for the most part. After practicing law for 10+ years — out of the dozens, hundreds of attorneys I know, there are only a handful I would actually want to hang out with. Most of those really just want out of the legal profession too.

    Of course the boringest & jerkiest are the law professors. Getting paid big bucks to grill some 24-year-old 1L about some obscure case the professor has read every year for the last 20 years. Punchline is that none of it will be on the exam. Law school is set up to enrich the profs and administrators.

    EdwardDecember 24th, 2010
  • My hands are sweating from reading your blog and Mr. Meyerhofer’s. I’ve been practicing law for 27 years, the first 7 with a small firm doing commercial real estate work, the past 20 on my own doing real estate and business litigation. There are times I love being a lawyer and times I hate it. Most of the time I feel completely inadequate and over my head.

    Truth be told, I want to make ALOT of money. But I hate the negativity and complexity involved with practicing law, especially litigation, which is where I’ve been successful. I’m a good rainmaker and delegator. I love winning and settling cases; I loathe myself when I lose—I always see it as my fault when we lose (even when I know I did my best). It’s SO easy to make mistakes, and when you do, people’s lives, property and money are at stake! Sound familiar?

    Would much prefer earning a big commission getting a deal done (positive) than earning lots through billable time (negative and finite—you have to have 2-3 associates to really make decent coin, but then you have payroll and management headaches that ball and chain you to your office and bank).

    I am a problem solver, and I love winning misrepresentation cases against deceivers.

    I have mixed feelings about practicing law. But then I think, “Well, who else is gonna do it if you won’t? People need men and women of integrity to help solve their problems.”

    Yes, mistakes are made, but most turn out to be harmless, and the ones that cost, well, that’s why there’s malpractice insurance, which is immoral not to have.

    Since I was 5, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer-strange, since no one in my family was ever one. I guess it was my calling, I dunno…. school testing said I was too dumb to be a lawyer. Mediocre grades at a mediocre law school, but passed the bar on first try—thank God for the prep course—should have taken that BEFORE going to law school!

    Dream job: (1) being an editor at The Atlantic Magazine (or The New Yorker!), and/or (2) being in sales (as my Dad and Grandfather were), and making lots of money (to me that means $500k or more per year).

    Dave in CAJuly 16th, 2013

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