There’s an article over on the ABA Journal’s website today called “How Law Schools Can Produce Happier Students and Satisfied Lawyers.” We recommend reading through the comments section. It’s a good glimpse at one of the biggest problems with the legal profession today — namely, that there are too many lawyers who don’t belong here.
Far too many people go to law school who shouldn’t. Plenty go into the law who shouldn’t. Is it any wonder that they wind up unhappy and dissatisfied?
If you’re going to law school by default, because you can’t think of what else to do with your life, then please don’t. Anybody who spends a hundred grand (or gets that much into debt) just to “find himself” has seriously bad judgment. And judgment is sort of a basic prerequisite to the practice of law. It’s one of the most important things any legal employer is looking for. Please go away. Now.
If you’re not doing well in law school, then get out. Seriously. Your first job is going to depend hugely on your grades. And your subsequent jobs will depend on that first job. And legal employers do care about your grades, even decades later, believe it or not. You’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of minimal job satisfaction. Also, contrary to popular belief, law school actually is a good preparation for the practice of law. The kinds of questions you’re flubbing on your exams require precisely the kind of issue-spotting and thoughtful analysis that you’re going to have to do every time a new matter crosses your desk. You’re actually going to have to continue learning and applying new areas of law constantly, throughout your career. If you haven’t figured it out by the end of your 1L year, then save yourself the money and a lot of frustration and find something else to do with your life.
If you find law school too stressful, then get out. Law school is stressful for everyone, that’s normal. But if you’re finding you can’t handle the stress well, if you’re panicking or depressed or crying or losing it, then why on Earth are you putting yourself through that? Nobody’s making you endure this but yourself. Get out now. Do you think it’s going to be any less stressful after you graduate? You’re setting yourself up for a miserable career.
If you’re going into the law in order to make a lot of money, please go away now. You simply do not belong here. Do not go to law school. Don’t go to med school, either. The law, like medicine, is a profession and not a business. The point is to help others, not to help yourself. People put their lives and livelihoods in your hands, and your duty is to them, not to your bank account. There’s nothing wrong with making a very good living from it, but it can never be the goal.
And the truth is that the vast majority of lawyers do not get wealthy doing it. Only the top sliver make a lot of money. Your odds of being one of them are small. If you’re in it for the money, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. If you’re like most lawyers, you’ll make just as much money doing something else you actually enjoy and are good at. So go do that other thing and leave the profession to the professionals.
Many dissatisfied lawyers feel that way because their job isn’t really who they are. That doesn’t mean they need to find a different career, but perhaps a different kind of legal practice is in order. We hear plenty of complaints of feeling enslaved by a paycheck — they don’t love what they’re doing and get no soul satisfaction from it, but the money’s too good to walk away from. Our advice in those situations is always “listen to yourself. You’re willing to trade your own happiness for money? Are those really your priorities? And who says you won’t make as much — or enough, anyway — doing something you love?”
We love what we do. We loved law school, too. It’s never been anything but stressful. But we’re good at it, and it makes us happy. We can’t imagine why anyone who’s not good at it, or who’s not happy, would make themselves suffer like that.