How Your Career Affects Your Happiness (or: Are There Any Happy Lawyers?)

Rainbow Valley, originally uploaded to Flickr by rwangsa.Reader C wonders who the happy lawyers are… but I think this leads us to a bigger question that will hopefully make for an interesting discussion: how do you view your career in your general quest for happiness?

Hi Kat, I have a question for you and your incredible readers. I am an undergrad applying to law schools now for next fall and I do recognize the oft-quoted “realities” (from friends of family, professors, etc) of being a lawyer- mountains of dense reading, long (sometimes extremely so) hours, getting stuck in a job you hate just to pay of the $200k of student loans your education cost you. I sort of stumbled onto the idea of law, I wasn’t one of those who dreamed my whole life of putting away the bad guys or anything; I randomly found it through a class but I have never been more in love with a subject. I am an avid Corporette reader, but the things I read in the comments section of many posts terrify me and leave me to ask, rather desperately: Is anyone happy being a lawyer? I know everyone is different, had a different idea of “the dream lawyering job,” reacts differently to stress, etc. but if there is anyone out there who loves being a lawyer, it would be a huge comfort to hear about it!

First off: apologies to the non-lawyer/JD students among Corporette readers; hopefully our discussion will take us to greater truths about happiness and your career.  That said… reader C’s question is a great, great question, and I think the readers will give far better answers than I will considering that I never really found my happy sweet spot in the law, personally. Something I’ve heard often, and agree with wholeheartedly, is that there are two kinds of people: those who enjoy law school, and those who enjoy the practice of law. I am totally in the first camp of people — I loved law school, which I found to be filled with ethereal questions that you can ponder at your leisure and come to your own conclusion. There are clear paths to “success,” and good work is tangibly rewarded with grades and other honors. (Pictured: Rainbow Valley, originally uploaded to Flickr by rwangsa.)

On the other hand, I found the practice of law (and to be clear, my experience is mostly limited to BigLaw litigation) to be better suited for people who loved debate — you’re not picking the “right” answer for yourself, but arguing whatever’s best for your client. The practice of law involves both customer service (and in BigLaw they expect you to be always responsive) and, the higher you climb up the ladder, sales — in that you’re expected to wine and dine new clients to bring to the firm. There are not many tangible rewards for good work, at least in Big Law — everyone is paid the same, and whether you win or lose a case often has very little to do with the level of effort on your part. The drudgery quotient is also high, at least at the beginning — lots of doc review and case-hunting (where partner says, “I need a case that says the sky is blue — go find it.”).  There’s also often an element of “you must learn your client’s industry and business inside out so you can understand the documents you’re preparing or the arguments you’re making.”  All of this isn’t a bad thing, per se, but when you hear about the high number of unhappy lawyers I think it’s often because people went into it thinking they “like to write” or “loved thinking about legal questions” and find themselves in a customer service and sales position.

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That said — there are LOTS of happy lawyers, and many of them read this blog. In reader surveys, people consistently say that they’re happy with their work on an intellectual, monetary, and lifestyle basis. I’ve noticed more than a few comment threads where people talk about their love for their job, and some of the older readers even noted that they had to switch jobs numerous times or that they had to work for 15 years before they found their happy place.  (Way to be persistent, ladies!)

The other thing to mention (especially to a college student) is that I’m not sure I put stock in the idea that your job is going to be your ultimate source of happiness and fulfillment — after all, they do pay you do to it.  I think it’s better viewed as primarily a source of income (and possibly accolades) and certain types of happiness, such as the society you keep at work as well as the intellectual stimulation the work provides to you, weighed against the stress inherent with the job and the time your job takes you away from other things.

So let’s talk about this.  Readers: If you’re in law, are you happy?  For those readers who’ve been lawyers for more than 5 years — what facets of the job do you enjoy the most?  In general, ladies, how do you balance the “work” nature of work with this broader idea that we want to be happy and fulfilled most of our waking hours?

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  1. 1L here. I’m ambitious, driven and eager to have a successful career – and also deal with depression and anxiety. Would love to hear the responses to this thread, it’s incredibly timely around finals.

  2. Lil' lawyer :

    I just started my second year of practice. I am not paid as much as I would like to be but I cannot complain because I really like what I do. Plus there has not really been an opportunity for raises yet – reviews are in January. I was started at a low salary to “see if I worked out” and I am told things are going great.

    I have frustrating days from time to time. But overall, I love my job. I love winning. I love the type of law that I do. I love my firm and almost everyone in it. I am in a 10 lawyer firm that practices a niche field. I love most of my clients. I get the support I need. That being said I have not had a life this past year. But I have been following a much needed exercise program.

    My only worry is that the second thing will affect the first. Will I ever leave a job where I am happy for more money? Hopefully I will not have to address it. For now, just trying to do it without the training wheels.

  3. Anon Attorney :

    My philosophy on work is that you can have 2 of 3 of the following in a job: (1) top pay, (2) responsibility/interesting work, and (3) flexibility. There really are not a lot of jobs where you find all 3. Big law will offer you (1) and (2). Public interest law jobs may offer you (2) and (3). Think about what you want in life. I find that the lawyers who are most dissatisfied are those who want flexibility and more time for friends and family, but realize they have gone into a services/customer service profession where serving the client is top priority. Personally, I love doing top-of-the-market work for top-of-the-market clients. It is extremely challenging and rewarding. However, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for a personal life.

    • Finishing my first year of practice and this is so, so true. Also, another thing that is good for my happiness level is thinking about jobs I had before that were worse…customer service jobs that were stressful, low-paying, mind-numbingly boring, and hectic all at the same time. In this job I get paid an obscene amount of money, am constantly challenged and learning new things, get to exercise my brain, and am physically comfortable (I am still new enough that I really enjoy having my own office, my own window, not having to be on my feet all day). I try to think about these things when I’m having a moment where I lament the loss of number (3).

      Very interested to hear other responses, as I am just at the beginning of my career.

      • I do public interest law, and I agree that you can have 2 of the 3. I have 2 and 3. I occasionally wish I had more money, but not enough to do BigLaw. [I also have 3 children and no nanny, so I have two challenging lives].

        I have also heard it said that you can have 2 of the 3 1) great marriage 2) great relationship with kids 3) great career. I don’t know if others agree with that or not, but it has been true for me.

        • I also should note that I have very little debt, which makes it possible to do public interest. I had the choice between a very prestigious, expensive law school, and a lower-tier one with a full scholarship. I went with the scholarship, and that has made my life possible. If I had gone to the expensive school, my choices would be very different. So, think cheap!

    • I’m not a lawyer, but this is very good advice for just about any field.

    • I disagree (slightly) – I think it’s quite possible to have all three in a job, but DEFINITELY not right away and sometimes (usually?) not for many years. People who are stimulated and energized by their work usually perform better, become more valuable to their employer, get paid better, and are eventually – because they are so valuable – are able to have more control over their schedules. I think this is the holy grail situation, a virtuous cycle. There are so many points during the career path where you could derail and fall off this track (often through no fault of your own) that most people never get there, or don’t want to keep trying. But it is entirely possible – just not very easy.

      I think a more important takeaway for the OP is that you have to be patient. Our generation (or, the OP’s generation) is so trained to work work work for a specific goal, and life/careers are not like that. You may have to endure X years of crap before getting to the point where it all feels right (or close to right), and you may decide well before then that it isn’t worth it. But that is your decision. Just go in with eyes open.

      • anon atty :

        I agree with you. I have all of those things, though Ive been at it for a (little) while. Ive been practicing almost 9 years, the last 5 of which have been in BigLaw (the first 4 were gvt). I get paid very well and i usually like my work (of course there are good and bad days/weeks/months, but i have found that true in everything i have every done). And I now have flexibility. Admittedly, that is a relative term, given my status as a biglaw atty. Also admittedly, the the i like least about my job is the fact that i would like to see my kids/husband/have time for myself more often. But I do have a flexable schedule. I can work from home when i need to. I can take time off when i need to and i am actually working a “flex” schedule in which i am at 80% — though this too is a moving target.

        The thing that has helped me the most with it though is to learn (and this was very, very difficult) to enjoy/take advantage of the down time. When Im not busy, I leave, even if for a few days, because i know that soon enough, I will be extremely busy.

        The second thing that has really helped me is to understand that i cant be all things, all the time, to everyone. I cant do all of the extracircular work things right now, while my kids are little, so i pick just a few each year. I do a lot of pro bono, but that means i dont really have time to write articles. And this holds true for things at home as well. I might need to skip the gym on a weekend afternoon if i want a manicure b/c i cant fit both into my kids nap time and i would rather spend their time awake with them.

        I may be unusual though, because i loved law school, i loved clerking, and i love the practice of law. I often give myself a gut check and ask, if i wasnt doing this, what would i rather be doing. As long as the answer keeps being “i cant think of anything else id rather be doing” i know im doing the right thing.

      • I agree with this. I’m 10+ years out of law school, have always worked in biglaw doing work that I enjoy, and definitely put in years and years of a crazy work-focused day-and-night-and-weekend schedule. And, I really enjoyed most of it, because I was lucky enough to find a specialty practice that I find interesting and energizing (that’s the key – do you get all excited about reading the new developments? When comments come in from the other side can you barely wait to print them out?) and have always worked with really sharp colleagues whose work ethic, intelligence and acumen I respect immensely. And who can be fun to be around. Now that I’m more senior, I can delegate a lot more work and have more control over setting deadlines, so I have over the past couple of years been really enjoying that flexibility. Sure, sometimes things get crazy hectic for a bit, but it’s much easier to deal with these days. Law can be a great field (though honestly, the clients can be ridiculous in their demands), but I will say that out of my classmates and colleagues I’ve known over the years, a relatively small percentage really stuck it out through the years of toil and training.

        • Oh! And, I also think there’s something to Kat’s comment re law school vs. practice. I found law school classes to be mind-numbingly boring and painful. So much pontification. Hated it. And now, one of my favorite parts of practice is negotiation. I don’t love the client service demands, but I do like working directly with clients and giving them advice on how to handle issues.

          I do think Kat’s comments were a little litigation-focused though – in many areas of practice you do still have to find the “right” answer, not just argue a side, and IME you are rewarded for great work. Better reviews = higher bonuses, and after a certain point firms aren’t necessarily lockstep in base salary either, particularly after you reach partnership.

        • I found this USED to be more the case. I made good money (not top of the BIGLAW payscale, but just below market), had flexibility, and great experience. As we have gotten more busy, however, we have not yet hired more people. So have been doing 200 hours of billable/month plus a significant roster of nonbillable work. I am exhausted and worried about how much longer I can do this. I am just beginning my 8th year now.

      • I’m sure that it’s possible to have all three, and it’s something to hope for and strive for. But, at the same time, I think that a lot of people “expect” all 3, and then they see it as a negative when they don’t get them. It’s great if you get them, but most people should understand how unlikely it really is (at least, until they’re very senior).

    • This is a nice way to think about it, and I should really value the fact that I have quite a lot of 2 and 3 at my job (instead of being annoyed that academics are paid so little!).

  4. I was pretty miserable working at a firm, but recently moved in-house and love my job. Rather than spending countless hours writing endless research memos or drafting/arguing silly motions or dealing with awful partners and awful clients, I now primarily give “counsel” to my company, which I really enjoy.

    My advice to people who are thinking about going to law school is know what you want to get out of it. A lot of people go to law school just figuring they’ll be a corporate lawyer or a litigator, without knowing what that actually means. On the flip side, my friends who knew they wanted to be a criminal attorney or a some other really specific type of lawyer found happiness a lot sooner. The flip side of that, of course, were the tons of law students who wanted to save the world and do public interest law or environmental law, without fully realizing how hard it is to get those types of jobs or how hard it might be to pay off loans afterward.

    All of which is a long way of saying that if you are passionate about some type of specific legal career, do it. If you just want to go to law school because your parents/friends/mentors told you it would open a lot of doors and give you a good salary, or because you enjoy the philosophical legal debate (like Kat mentioned, which is rarely a part of what practicing lawyers do), I’d recommend that you try some other career path first. You can always go to law school later in life, but you might as well explore some other passions or other interests before you spend $200,000 and 3 years of your life, only to learn that the practice of law is nothing like the movies and likely nothing like what they teach you in school.

    • Lost Generation :

      THIS. To me, knowing what you want to get out of it also includes having specific goals and the background to get you there. Law school is no longer the best place for bright young people with general/diffuse talents who figure they will fall into a practice area. If you “love law,” go be a paralegal or a legal assistant somewhere first for a couple of years, so if you decide you still want to go to law school, you can show up already having some familiarity with “thinking like a lawyer” and the real day-to-day practice of law. That will likely help you do better in school, and will also probably make you a more competitive job candidate later. At the very least, observe courtrooms, meet lawyers, go to networkig events and ask lots of questions.

      Everyone agrees that law school is nothing like law practice, no matter what your area is. It’s a huge gamble to make that commitment if you have no plan and no real idea of what practice is. This whole rant is because in this day and age, what job you take may not be entirely up to you unless you have *top* credentials stacked up from law school, and that can take a lot away from your potential for happiness. That’s assuming you do find something, and I know people from my class (2010) who still haven’t.

      I don’t mean to be totally depressing, but your happiness may come down to whether it’s enough for you that someone paid you to do work today, and you did the work to the best of your ability, or if you also need to feel creative, stimulated, and that your work is meaningful. Either is legitimate, but you have to know yourself and be aware of the current realities.

      • I second the “go be a paralegal or legal secretary” idea. The BigLaw firm where I worked for 5 years had a quasi-paralegal position designed for people coming right out of college. Most of them thought they wanted to be lawyers. Of the dozen or so people I saw go through that job, 1 (ONE!) decided to go to law school after seeing what real litigation practice looked like. I figured they made small salaries for a few years, but saved themselves thousands of dollars and many years of being in the wrong job.

        I was one who loved (LOVED) law school and hated doing commercial litigation. I knew by about week 3 on the job that it wasn’t for me. I got through 5 years because I wanted to pay off my debt, save a bunch of money (which I did by living very leanly), and have a resume that would let me do something else. I realized I sold my life to my firm for $160,000-$210,000 (I worked on their schedule, was on call full time, and had to do anything I was asked to). I am a planner and planning was impossible–between legitimate last minute projects, partners who wait until the last minute, demanding clients, etc. I canceled more lunches/dinners than I can count–and, overall, I think I worked at a good firm with nice people. I also think that being an introvert is not helpful in the job because you’re phone rings all the time or people are popping into your office with questions/comments/new projects (I know some people here disagree). I also don’t like working on several things at one time–and multitasking is certainly part of the job. The job left me stressed out and seriously depressed (thank goodness for anti-depressants). I wondered so many times: “If I had to do it all again, would I go to law school.” And I didn’t have an answer because as much as I loved school, I hated the job.

        I finally left my firm when I found “dream job.” I am now a career law clerk and love my job. It’s almost like law school. I get to research interesting issues, read briefs, draft opinions, and no one bothers me all day long. I have set hours and can plan my life outside of the office. I think I have the best job in the world! The only thing I miss about my firm are the friends I left behind. I wouldn’t go back for $500,000/year.

        Now I would definitely respond that I’m glad I wen to law school–but there were five years of hell between law school and getting to happiness.

        • Do you mind me asking how you found your dream job? Did you do a lot of networking? Did you find it through an online job bank?

          I would love to shift into something else, but I’m not sure where to focus my efforts, and it’s tough to stay on top of it when you are busy working. Any tips would be appreciated :)

        • I agree completely with being a paralegal — or getting some other sort of career experience first. If you aren’t loaded, law school is such a huge investment, and those BigLaw jobs are generally in big, fairly expensive cities. My point is, if you have $150k in student loans, and you’re living in NYC, SF, or LA, you’re looking at spending AT LEAST 5 years at a BigLaw job (or otherwise making a BigLaw salary) to pay off those loans. Personally, I have about $120k in student loans, and hope to have them paid off by the time I’ve been out of law school 9 years (it has currently been 4).

          But, by the time you’ve been 9 years out, you’re looking at partnership. Do you want to be a partner? Do you want to take out another loan to join the partnership? Are you really willing to stick around 9 years at a big firm to pay off your loans? A lot of people aren’t — they leave after 2, 3, 4 years. And a lot of other people stick it out for some semblance of financial stability, but are miserable.

          Overall, it has largely worked out for me. I went from college right into law school (which by the way, I totally agree about the law school vs. law practice thing). I’m now at a mid-side to biggish firm, which has generally been alright (I was at a BigLaw firm, which was less alright). I largely like the work, and the pay and hours are ok. But just because I was lucky doesn’t mean that I don’t wish someone had told me to get some career experience first, and figure out if I really wanted to drop more than $100k on a degree.

      • I agree with the “be a paralegal” advice–it is what I am currently doing and the experience has been incredible. I have already gained immeasurable practical experience in this area as well as made a number of contacts in the industry. There are plenty of jobs for recent grads, too as many firms are looking for a recent college grad who wants to go to law school, but wants to work for 1-3 years first. My boss is fantastic, too, and often lets us try our hand at the more “lawyerly” tasks (although he reviews it, of course!).

    • This, 100%.

      If you don’t know what you want to do next in your life, don’t just go to law school because people tell you it will “open other doors” for you. People used to say to me, “You can do anything with a law degree.” Well, I can certainly practice law with a law degree, but … that’s about it. The JD has definitely come in handy sometimes, and I love the way law school and my litigation experience taught me to think, but the truth is I don’t need a law degree to do what I’m doing now (which is a job that I am really enjoying, fortunately).

      If you insist on getting a JD but don’t know what kind of lawyer you want to be, at least do a JD/MBA program. It will open so many more doors, and it’s only one more year of school. I regret not doing that when I could have.

      • meh. I got a joint degree and found that the OCI/law firm employers were confused, and the MBA interviewers had no idea what to do with you.

        Since MBA’s are a dime a dozen, I feel like my (top 20) mba degree was kind of a waste of about 30K. I litigate now.

        • I have a joint JD/MLIS (info management). I’m prosecuting now and almost never use my MLIS skills.

          However! I took the joint degree because I didn’t have a clear career path and was thinking policy analysis or government. I loathed law school. I didn’t discover criminal law until a legal clinic in my last year. I’ve been practicing for four years and love my job. This is largely because I get bored easily and it’s always different, and I’m on the road on circuit regularly.

        • I earned a JD/MBA because I knew once I was done with school I wasn’t going back. I now work in corporate and securities law and, while I don’t specifically use my MBA skills on a daily basis, I more fully understand the concepts and reasoning behind why certain things are done and how to help clients understand what they want to do.

          So, bottom line, before you invest more money in racking up more letters to put behind your name, think about in which area you want to practice and whether the additional degree would be helpful.

    • Aria is absolutely right.

      Would you buy a house if you weren’t going to live in it? Well, law school is like buying two houses. $200K debt. And you don’t even know if you will find *any* job, let alone one where you can at least pay of part of your loan payments every month.

      I don’t recommend anyone to go to law school these days.

  5. Westsidebee :

    I am happy to raise my hand here as a happy lawyer!

    I graduated in 2006 and so am wrapping up my 5th year of practice, in a medium sized firm. After 5 years of experience, I have just a couple of thoughts here —

    First — I am in the second camp — I hated law school, and I enjoy practicing law. I hated the hide-the-ball tactics of the law professors, and the lofty theoretical/academic debates about hypotheticals. I like solving actual problems for real clients. I like obtaining results, and helping to steer real companies. I am glad I stuck through law school, but boy was it torture.

    Second — practicing law isn’t limited to law firms. I am at a law firm right now, but don’t expect to be forever. There are politics here that you may not like, but that doesn’t mean you will never be happy as a lawyer somewhere else, like in-house or government.

    And finally, third — like Kat said, my job is not my ultimate source of fulfillment or happiness. It’s intellectual stimulation, it’s interesting people, it’s great pay, and it helps me lead the personal lifestyle I want. But I don’t require it to completely define me or give meaning to my life. I guess I just don’t take it that seriously — although don’t get me wrong, I have always wanted a successful career, and I am proud of it.

    So with all that, I’m, so far, a happy lawyer!

  6. I’m a newly admitted lawyer who just graduated law school in May and I love what I’m doing. I work as a law clerk for a state appellate judge. I am in the “first camp”– I loved law school and love learning new things. For the same reasons I liked school, I like this job. I spend my days writing and researching and trying to come up with the “right” answer.

    But let me assure you that my job is not for everyone. There is very little human interaction (prompting me to come home to my husband each night DYING for attention). It is you and your computer and the books. That’s about it. And of course, I make 50k a year. It would drive many people nuts, but I really like it! I’m not sure what my next move will be because I just don’t know if firm life is for me (I suspect it’s not).

    • The “dying for attention” part resonates with me! Whenever my roommate comes home I constantly want to chat with her just to have some meaningful human interaction!

    • Loved law school. LOVE working as a judicial law clerk. It’s interesting work, there’s a great variety (of issues, not of tasks), the hours are great, and I actually don’t mind the relative lack of human interaction at work because it means I get off work early enough to hang out with my husband. Plus, I grew up below the poverty line, so the law clerk salary doesn’t seem too bad, even with my student loans (I can afford the name brand mac’n’cheese!).

      But, also pondering the “what comes next” and a bit worried that I won’t enjoy other law jobs nearly as much as I do this one.

      • Exactly! I literally work 8:30-5:00, M-F, and enjoy work-free nights and weekends. To me, hours like this that give me a chance to enjoy life are more important than working all the time and paying down my loans more quickly. It’s all about priorities!

        • I just got an in-house job, and I feel like I was just let out of prison. It is so freeing not to have the billable hour or the expectation that you should work every night and weekend.

          • High five, sister. Same here.

          • midwestgirl :

            This, x 1,000. I am in month 10 of my in-house gig after two years at a law firm that slowly killed my soul. I feel like a new person and am still giddy on a daily basis about going to work.

            It is possible to be a happy lawyer. You just have to find the job that is the right fit for you and your personality. Like others have said–it is a balancing act between money, fancy career and personal life. You may not be able to find it all in one job, but you CAN find the balance that ultimately fulfills you.

    • Just FYI, not all law clerks have great hours. I clerked for two federal judges and worked longer hours for those judges than I have during any year of my biglaw, commercial litigation practice.

      • Current clerk :

        This is true. But the identities of the super-demanding judges are usually open secrets. So if you’re applying, ask around (your law school, any former clerks you know). Get on Google, even. You may decide it’s worth it to work for one of these judges, but at least you will know what you’re getting into.

      • Yuck! My federal clerkship was the greatest job ever and if I was there at 5:30 pm, my very sweet judge would tell me it was time to go home. Damn, I miss clerking!!

  7. I went into law school not because I wanted to go to law school, but because I wanted to practice a specific type of law, and for that I needed a law degree. I was never interested in biglaw or the law school experience. Now as a lawyer, I am constantly learning, an I have found an employer who supports my career and personal endeavors outside of the billable hour. That seems to make a huge difference. Of course that means that I don’t make a crazy salary. I rent a reasonable apartment and drive a sensible car, but my hours and pay are reasonable. There are times when it can be soul crushing (my last week), but at the end of the day, I think I am a pretty lucky girl.

    For a quick threadjack, I have to share some fantastic news! I am going to be in a wedding in a few weeks, and when I picked up my bridesmaid’s dress about a month ago, it wouldn’t zip up! I had gained some weight around my midsection. This morning, after a month of hard work and dedication, it zipped all the way up! I am elated!

  8. I think it is crucial (at least to me) to enjoy the people you work with. I am an attorney and I work with a fantastic group of people – bosses, peers, and underlings a like. To me, it’s almost more important to like WHOM you work with as much as you like what you do.

    I also agree that deriving the bulk of your happiness from your career is not for everyone. It works for some but not for all. And personally, I think it’s best to find your joy in multiple, fairly reliable sources so that you don’t lose it. Diversify!

    • I could not agree more. I’ve often said that I’d rather mop floors for a fantastic boss than have my dream job with an awful boss. I really believe it.

    • Ten years into my career, I couldn’t agree more. I became a MUCH happier worker when I stopped expecting my career to fulfill every part of me. And, I learned the hard way that who I’m working — at ALL levels — is more important than what I’m actually doing. In my last job, the responsibilities were exactly what I wanted but I was completely miserable because I worked for, well, crazy people. It was a harsh awakening after my first post-college job. That job wasn’t a perfect fit for my strengths and interests, but I absolutely loved the team I worked with. I really didn’t know how good I had it, and liking/respecting my coworkers was priority No. 1 when I looked for my current job, which I’ve been doing for four years. I have zero desire to leave, even though I’m sure I could have higher responsibilities elsewhere.

    • Totally agree. Love what I do, but I’m not a fan of the office culture and it really wears on me.

  9. Hmm, how to answer this.

    Side note – I am a 2002 grad, in biglaw until 2007, since then in a smaller (30 atty) firm.

    I do really like the *work* part of being a lawyer. I do T+E and a little bit of nonprofit work. I love doing research (lots of weird issues lately like does the word “person” include a trust, what do you do when there are 3 wills and undue influence, etc.) and finding cases and/or tax authority that are relevant to the situation the client is facing. I also like figuring out what plan works best for a client, what makes sense for people to do with their money, and (less so) drafting the documents.

    I do NOT like:
    (1) billable hours. Hate. It is OK if you have enough work to keep you busy, but billable hours reward people for being inefficient. I am a very fast reader and worker, and so I get done with things before a typical person would. Then I either have to pretend it takes me longer/pad my hours, so that I have enough hours, or take a hit on the hours. Neither of these is a good option IMO.

    (2) Not having enough work. This goes hand in hand with the billable hour problem. In the 3 jobs I have had, somehow I start out with enough work, but that pace never keeps up and eventually I am bored and wondering how I am going to make my hours.

    (3) Networking. I have no talent for schmoozing – it feels fake to me – and I really have no effing clue how to get clients. And it’s not taught anywhere, either. Partners don’t want you to get your own clients bc it’s a threat to them (they fear you’ll take away their clients), or else they just don’t have time to sit down and help you understand how they got their clients and what you can do to be in their place someday. In biglaw it was worse than now – I knew no one of sufficient wealth to qualify as a client – and now I have a few (a very few) friends for whom I have done estate plans. But by no means enough to keep me busy enough to make hours/have enough work (see above points).

    (4) Face time. There are some older lawyers for whom nothing will do but a face-to-face conversation. Not by phone or email. Gah. I would much rather work from home most of the time and only come into the office once in a while – this probably goes along with my introversion/hatred of schmoozing, etc. – but face time is still very much a requirement at all the firms I’ve been in contact with. Right now I am able to work from home one day a week, but I wish it were more.

    I am actually thinking about setting up my own ‘firm’ with my one big client next year. I am pregnant with #3 and would really like to spend more time with our kids; plus with my current salary (100K), I would only take a 15K hit or so if I factor in my expected salary with my one big client (50K), current nanny costs (35K) and assorted commuting/work clothes.

    • Oh, side note – I agree with V above that it is important to like the people you work with. I found biglaw (at least at the firms and departments where I worked) to be full of egomaniacal a**holes. My current boss is really nice.

    • Business&LawStudent :

      This list sounds like my fears of working in a big firm. I’m a very efficient worker, at work often have to repeatedly ask for more to do (at multiple jobs, so it isn’t just my office), and have a strong distaste for networking.

      • Sixth-year in the corporate department of a big firm, and have to say that dislike or weakness in networking/schmoozing is a big problem for anyone whose plan is a long-term career in BigLaw. At least at my firm, it is very much “up or out”. I have seen several people at my firm and other big firms who worked hard, were smart, etc. get forced out because they weren’t able to bring in clients.

        • Whether you like networking/schmoozing isn’t the end of what you should consider, though. Even if you do, getting clients at a large firm is tough. Consider this: as a senior associate / young partner at my former firm in Texas, you would bill out between $400-500/hour. That is serious scratch. At firms in other cities (or more prestigious firms in my city), it’s even higher. I’m working with a national firm right now that’s billing out a very junior partner at > $600/hour and a second year lawyer at > $350/hour (I’m trying to be circumspect here).

          If you went straight through undergrad to law school, you’re going to be in your early thirties by the time you’re up for partner. Your peers and contacts likely are not going to be able to afford your rate or, if they’re in-house already, probably will still be so junior that they won’t be the ones making the decision about who to hire anyway. And guess what? The decisionmakers who can afford your rates aren’t giving their business to some baby-faced 32- or 33-year old. They’re giving it to the 40- to 50- year old partner who has some grey hair.

          So you can be the schmooziest, most networking-loving person anybody knows. Doesn’t mean it’ll get you anywhere.

          I would be fascinated to hear from any attorneys at large firms who are relatively junior (let’s say fifth year partner and below) and have developed business. How did you do it? What’s your book look like at this point? How are you going to develop more business?

          • I have about 6 clients. only one is a major corporation. the rest are smaller companies. i only bring in about $50k. they have all been personal friends or referrals from personal friends, except the major corporation, which i met through the bar association. 8th year. i think it helps because it shows i have the ability to develop work, but i would never make partner based on my book alone.

      • Networking is really important, regardless of whether you work at a big firm, small firm, in-house, whatever.

        No one really likes it. But you’ll have to suck it up to get yourself into the career path you like.

  10. I graduated from law school in 2009 and some of my classmates still do not have legal employment. I saw the writing on the wall in 2008 and got into a couple of internships that really opened some doors for me. I worked really hard in a job I didn’t like for 2 years and have now taken a compliance position at a non-profit, which I absolutely love. I make less money than a Big Law atty at my same level, but I work 9-5 and go home happy at night to my husband and dog.

    People always say: “there are so many things you can do with a JD”. I don’t know if that’s true, but I did my best to find another path when Big Law was no longer available. I’m incredibly grateful and happy where I am.

  11. I have been lawyering for 15 years, and I am one of those happy lawyers you hear about. I am a civil litigator, and, after a first couple of years at a biggish law firm, I moved to a small firm – small means there are 4.5 of us. I’m a permanent associate, and, at 15 years experience, the most junior. I make less than a first year lawyer at the big law firms, but I make fine money (and have had a couple of phenomenal bonus years based on firm performance). The hours are generally reasonable, but when you’re approaching trial or in trial, all bets are off, that’s just life as a litigator. Luckily that doesn’t happen that often, and, honestly, it’s kind of fun when it does. We do business litigation, and a fair amount of contingency fee work. I am an expert in nothing but litigation procedure. It feels like every case has me learning a new field – construction one quarter, banking regulation the next, medicare regs after that, followed by grocery distribution. Love that variety — love, love, love it. And with so few lawyers, I do it all from doc review to summary judgment to trial. It’s great to get to know a case that well, rather than being a cog in a wheel. (although sometimes we’re cog-in-wheel, as we have a steady practice representing, e.g., employees who need separate counsel in some big monster case. That’s fine too; balance is good) My favorite thing is starting with a stack of docs (or a drive of docs, as is obviously more common now) and just figuring out what happened, how to tell the story.

    I’m extremely lucky; this place is a great fit for me, and my coworkers are wonderful. I struggle sometimes because I have definitely fallen off the ambition bandwagon. I have two kids, now 8 and 6, and it seems that as they get older, I’m starting to feel an itch to do more with my career again. I think my firm will be a fine platform for that, but as small as it is, I really am going to have to figure it out on my own. Which is more than a bit intimidating – I’ve certainly appreciated that I have no marketing responsibilities — but over the last 15 years, the tradeoffs have been worth it.

    So, I obviously think happiness as a lawyer is possible. I haven’t heard about liking law school or lawyering, but, interestingly, I hated law school. It really is the story telling part of a case that I love the most, and I found a job where I got to do that part of it more than a lot of lawyers are able to. It means small firm (so more responsibility for me) and usually smaller cases (so that you can wrap yourself around all of it). But, as I said, that tradeoff has been worth it.

    • Anon for This :

      I am about 10 years out of law school now and recently left Big Law for a government job. Like ahh510, my job requires me to do every part of the case, which I find a big improvement over Big Law, where delegating chunks of the work to others, and then managing them, was a huge part of my job.

      That said, on my way here I spent a number of years in Big Law, with the over-the-top demands that others have mentioned. I have also recently read that according to psychology research, the law is one of the few jobs in which pessimism a predictor of success; I suspect that spending so much time thinking about the bad things that could happen encourages us to develop whatever pessimistic tendencies we already have before we go to law school. Rates of depression, alcoholism and divorce are also much higher in our profession. And at least if you believe Above that Law, men don’t want to date lawyers.

      Early in my career I married a guy who I thought was perfect for me; after years of working way too hard, becoming an overly-serious and stressed-out person, and suffering several bouts of clinical depression, my husband and I split. It’s hard to be sure why we didn’t work out; maybe he really wasn’t the right guy, but I also think it’s possible that my Big Law experience (or perhaps even just being a lawyer in general, as I did work briefly at a small firm and had some of the same problems) turned me into a person that my husband couldn’t be excited about being married to.

      At the time I thought of my time in Big Law – as some commenters on this board have described it – as giving up having a personal life for a few years in furtherance of my career. But now I find myself single in my late 30s, finding very few prospects for any type of serious relationship let alone marriage. I also have developed some relatively minor but chronic health problems (like back pain and repetitive stress injury) that probably resulted from my long hours and lack of exercise. So now I am wondering whether what I really did during those years was give up my chance to find happiness outside of my career that Kat was talking about.

      Am I a “happy lawyer” now? Yes. I sometimes love my job, and I think I’m probably as happy with my job as most non-lawyers are with theirs. Would I go to law school over again? No – not unless I had a very good idea of both the type of practice I wanted and where/how I was going to find that job within a few years after graduating from law school.

      I will finish this depressing post with some constructive advice: do lots and lots of informational interviewing before you make the final decision to go to law school. Find people through your college’s career office and/or your family’s friends, and ask them questions like:
      – What is a typical day like?
      – How much time do you spend on the phone, in meetings, doing legal research, writing short letters, writing long letters and briefs, analyzing facts?
      – What are the typical turnaround times for projects you work on – do you spend a lot of time answering client questions with just a day or two’s notice, or are you working on briefs for months at a time?
      – Are you able to predict and plan around your busy times?
      – Is there a typical career path for lawyers in your specialty/at your firm?
      – What types of things do people in your specialty do to get business? (This varies; in my specialty we do a lot of CLE presentations for in-house lawyers to stay on their radar screen, which I find much more fun than other kinds of networking.)
      – Do you think the skills that lawyers in your specialty and at your firm are transferable into any non-lawyer jobs? If so, what jobs and what skills?

      Ideally, you would also interview nonlawyers and ask them similar questions to get a sense of whether there are other jobs out there that use the same skills and might provide you some of the same satisfaction, but that don’t have the disadvantages of requiring a law school degree and having you enter an oversaturated job market at an inopportune time. Some options I can think of off the top of my head are investor relations and communications (public speaking skills), technical writing (precision writing skills), various jobs in public policy or academia (persuasive writing skills and thinking about how the world “should” work), FBI agent ( to the extent that they are analyzing financial crime, what they do is very similar to what I spend about 60% of my time doing), and accountant (some people in this profession spend a lot of time analyzing and applying accounting standards that are very much like regulations; there are also forensic accountants who do something much like the factual analysis part of litigation).

      By the way, when I was in Big Law, I worked with a number of legal assistants who were just out of college and considering law school. I discouraged all of them; most of them went anyway. I think what they did was different enough from what a lawyer does that I’m not sure it was a good way to find out whether it was the right thing to do, but it was at least a good way to make some contacts and meet people (like me) who would be willing to give them advice as their careers progressed. so if you aren’t willing to do extensive informational interviewing – which I really think is the right way to go – this would be better than jumping right into law school right now.

    • 5thYearinLA :

      I’m super happy to read this! I am a 5th year, and, to be honest, I’ve had a hard time finding a position that I enjoy. I started at one firm and then was recruited to another, which then laid me off when the economy got bad in Dec. ’08. Then I worked for a sole practitioner which was completely insane, and almost killed me.

      Next week I am starting with a small firm with a similar practice to what “ahh510” describes, except it is all in different facets of the construction industry, which I LOVE. I’m hoping when I get to year 15 I will still be at this firm!

  12. I am in my sixth year practicing law and just made partner at my firm. I’m very far removed from BigLaw and completely fine with that. I practice family law at a small boutique firm in a mid-sized city. For a variety of reasons, my firm does not emphasize billables (our city’s culture is somewhat laid-back, plus the practice of family law is extremely intense anyway, so the partners at my firm have made a conscious decision not to be ruled by the billable hour – we’ve got enough intensity without it). I feel very fortunate to have found a firm that appreciates work-life balance, so I encourage young attorneys to really evaluate a firm’s culture before jumping in. Don’t be seduced by BigLaw if it’s not right for you. The salary is lovely, but if the intensity of the hours doesn’t match up with what you want your life to look like, no amount of money will make up for that. I make much, much less money than most of my law school classmates, but I have time to spend with my family and time to spend the money I do make.

    And yes, I absolutely love my job. Family law is crazy, to put it mildly, and that’s part of what I like about it. I get to work on interesting cases, and no two days are the same. I got to jump in on day one with my own clients – I have never done doc review or any of the other drudgery so common at BigLaw. It may sound Pollyanna of me to say, but I truly feel like I am making a tangible difference in my clients’ lives and those of their children. I am intellectually challenged and have argued several appeals. I loved law school, and I love practicing law, for very different reasons.

    Pre-law school, I worked in the non-profit sector and liked a lot of things about that, too. But I feel much more intellectually fulfilled now, and I honestly feel good about the work I do. Don’t get me wrong, there are days that are absolutely atrocious. But on the whole, I am a very happy lawyer.

    I think the key is knowing yourself and not settling for what you think a lawyer’s life “should” be like. We’re not all corporate lackeys (not that there’s anything wrong with that) or characters in a John Grisham book. If that’s not you, don’t be dissuaded. It is a broad enough profession that you can carve out the practice you want to have. I definitely suggest identifying some attorneys you admire and talking to them about their career paths. Even better, do something else first. It’s a huge commitment, and you should be sure you want to do it. But don’t feel that there is only one way to do it. Autonomy over your career is key to happiness, I think. Getting sucked into the rat race is the surest way to burn out.

  13. I’m a staff attorney for a federal appellate court. I *love* my job. I liked working for a small firm for a few years after graduation, and I liked public entity work (city), which I will hopefully go back to after this job ends. (I’ve been a lawyer since 2004.)

    I think the thing is to go for what sounds fun to YOU. People thought I was nuts when I took a job at a small firm in a small city near friends and family after graduation for $65 k instead of the $120+ people were making (in the good old days and from a school that had heavy firm recruiting). Guess who was the only one to like her first year practicing? I make good money now (probably about what the big firm kids did right off the bat), and I think I can continue to make that happen when I get out of this job.

    Listen to your heart more than your career services office, and don’t go 200K into debt over law unless you honest to God want to (and can) do the big firm thing. You are setting yourself up to be stuck. I went to public school with financial aid, so I wasn’t as limited as you will be if you borrow a ton. If you put yourself in the financial position that big firm is the only option, then you find the despair of the super long work week at a job you hate, or terror of unpayable loans if your resume isn’t fancy enough for the big firms, or the economy is still not in your favor that would suck. Seriously, run the cost/employment numbers for the school you are looking at, reasonable wages for jobs that don’t sound soul-crushing, and THEN decide if you want to go. Don’t just go and work it out later- times are too tough to waste 3 years and $200k on being miserable for the next 20 years.

    • Gourmet Chef :

      Totally agree. Regionally well-respected law schools will give you a degree for way less than 200k. My JD (from the best school in the region) will cost around 80k with scholarships, part-time work, and in-state tuition after the first year. Still expensive, but not as insane as 200k. I will pay it off over the next 5-10 years whether I work in biglaw or not.

    • …if you’re lucky enough to get a job.

      It’s dire out there. Don’t take it as a given that you’ll be able to pay it.

  14. Put me down as a happy lawyer. I am a solo practitioner with a niche. I got out of law school 20 years ago with experience as a health care provider and worked that experience into a legal specialty. My clients are hospitals, companies that own nursing homes, medical practices and individual clinicians.

    I am happy to make my own decisions about what I will and won’t take on. I am happy to set my own hours. I am happy to decide what direction the practice will take and to develop new service lines. I am happy when my clients express their satisfaction and when they come back with repeat business.

    My way is not for everyone. But whether you decide to go with a large firm, small firm, in-house, government or solo, develop your expertise so that you are the go-to person for your chosen subject matter. The attorneys I know who have done that are pretty happy.

    • What you’ve described is where I’d like to be a few years out from law school (I graduate in May). Would you mind sharing more about your career path and how you developed your niche?

  15. I think people who are happy as lawyers are those people who enjoy intellectualism: researching, analysis, and writing. I didn’t find law like sales at all but I was in a mid-sized firm before I transfered to a one (now two) attorney firm. Lawyers spend a lot of time researching and writing. This is how we move cases a long. If you don’t want to be stuck at your desk doing this, you may not enjoy a career in law. There are different areas of law but I believe this point is true of most all of them.

    I believe the environment you work in will play a huge factor in your happiness (small versus large, billable versus no billables, flexibility, friendly co-workers you enjoy, perks). I think people may have to move around to different firms before they find the right fit.

    I went from an insurance defense firm with billables and a long commute, to a one (now two) attorney firm with three other staff member and no billable and no commute. I am SO much happier now and I’m getting a lot more court room experience!

    • I agree with CK. If you love research and writing, you can have a legal career you love. I spent a half dozen years at Big Law during the 80s when working conditions were more relaxed and collegial. But the sales component of law firm practice is really tedious after awhile. I didn’t enjoy shilling for work, and came to dislike the way outside counsel are largely given “piece work” for situations where a company hasn’t planned well and needs an escape hatch. So I went in-house in a corporate government affairs position, where I’ve remained for 25 years. There’s nothing better. I have a considerable amount of automomy in choosing what to tackle, really enjoy the partnership with the business divisions, and spend most of my time doing research and analysis. This is not a position in the legal department, but being a lawyer is a prerequisite for the position. The schedule is consistent with a health work/life balance, and the compensation more than adequate. If you’re in Big Law and not loving it, try to get close to your clients and be open to in-house opportunities. It is possible to love your work.

  16. As my dad says, “If it weren’t for the money I just don’t think I’d be doin’ the job.” As Kat says, your job is a source of income. Most lawyer jobs wind up being your life because they require so much time at work. I think this is why there are so many unhappy lawyers.

    I am a happy lawyer, I think, but it isn’t because I am a lawyer. I found a job where I work from 9-7 during the week, which gives me time on the weekends and at night to do the things that make me deep down happy (hiking around, cooking, reading a good book on my couch with a cup of tea while it rains outside, spending time with my family and boyfriend, biking, wearing my riding boots and walking to get a morning bun and coffee on a cold morning…those kinds of things). Yes, you can be a happy lawyer, but it most likely isn’t going to have a darn thing to do with what you do at the office. Most law work is tedious and repetitive. Sometimes I feel like I am paid way too much for what I do (I worked much harder in high school washing dishes), but since I have those huge loan payments I am not going to complain.

    Please avoid the huge loans. I had no idea how they would impact my life and am now worried about being able to have children because even with a great job, I am barely getting by after giving half of my take home income to SallieMae. I had no idea what freedom I was giving up by having $160k in debt. Please please please go to the school that gives you a scholarship or don’t go.

    Finally, on the happiness note, it has been my personal experience that doing work that you really care about and believe can have an impact can be a thousand times more miserable and stressful than doing work you don’t care about. Call me whatever you want, but that has been my experience. At my first job out of law school my work had a direct impact on my client’s quality of life. I was getting gray hair and not sleeping, and I was miserable. I was constantly worried. Now I do financial litigation and sleep like a baby because, while I work very hard and take my work very seriously, I am not worried about ruining someone’s life by messing up. Food for thought.

    • I feel like I’m the mean creepy kid in the room after reading everyone who posted above…work can be great, but at the end of the day it is work. Your life should be different from your work. Being a happy lawyer has a lot more to do with you outside of the office, but apparently that is just my opinion.

      • I agree with you. I expect I’ll hear some strong disagreement when I say this, but I view my job as just that: a job. I don’t expect to be personally fulfilled by it, intellectually or emotionally, but I do hope to be paid. My job (associate at large firm) is satisfying because I like to keep busy and do things well – that’s rewarding to me. It’s no more satisfying than the job I had as a server while in school (that I also did very well and found very satisfying and – speaking of law firm work being essentially a service profession – that was the previous job where most of the skills were transferable). I do like my current job more because I get paid more and thus it allows me to spend money on things that truly make me happyt: lots of books, lots of travel, lots of food, lots of clothes. Granted, the hours can be long and extremely hard but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It gives me great colleagues who, both individually and in the aggregate, are great sources of legal knowledge. It gives me security and it gives me quick-paced, productive days. To ask anything else from it (e.g. some deep level of intellectual fulfillment and/or personal happiness) seems to beg for dissatisfaction.

      • Given that everyone has their own job, and nobody but you can really know what it is like, there is obviously no single answer. It’s different for everyone. There are plenty of people – many of whom toil in offices for large, nameless companies – who see their job as “just a job”. On the other hand I have plenty of entrepreneur and artist friends who see their work as their life, their passion, their interests, and their source of income, all in one.

        Know yourself. I think that’s the key.

        • Of course. But the relevant post was about legal jobs – which probably fall more into the “toil in office” type ones, although personally I know many people who do incidentally get (rather than demand) some level of happiness from it. If you want to have a job that is your life, your passion, your interests and your source of income, you probably shouldn’t go to law school and expect to land something like that right off the bat, or ever. I thought that was the issue this post/question was addressing. Nobody’s arguing a job can’t be that, but let’s be realistic – they’re extremely difficult to get at all, much less in the legal world.

          • sure, i understand, i’m not a lawyer and i sometimes post non-lawyerly things in here just to mix it up :)

            also for the OP though – it’s a big world out there. even law school grads can turn into career-loving writers or bakery owners or entrepreneurs or whatever.

          • Anon at 6:36 – I completely agree and look forward to that day, but the point of my post is that you simply do not get to be a writer or bakery owner or park ranger with $160k in debt. Any person considering law school needs to be very aware of that before they go.

    • “Please avoid the huge loans. I had no idea how they would impact my life and am now worried about being able to have children because even with a great job, I am barely getting by after giving half of my take home income to SallieMae. I had no idea what freedom I was giving up by having $160k in debt. Please please please go to the school that gives you a scholarship or don’t go.”

      This is excellent advice, LMo. I don’t think you hear it enough and, as a law student, having children wasn’t on my radar at all. Not only can loans cripple your ability to change careers (or even take a legal job you might like more that pays less), they can have a significant impact on your plans to start a family. Even if you don’t have those plans now, you very well could in 2-3 years.

      • WORD. :/

        it wouldn’t be AS BAD if even half of law school was devoted to something useful/applicable to practice. When I have to bust my ass to learn how to practice (while only being able to bill half of it), I get pretty freaking PISSED at professors making 150K or more who taught classes on “gender in the law” or “argentinian tort reform.”

        Respectfully, law school, and the practice of law is kind of a racket. Pay $500/semester for books. pay another $500K to tell you what those casebooks say. Pay 3K to learn information to pass the freaking bar. Pay $2-500 a year in “bar association” dues to receive a magazine you throw away because you have too much billable $hit to do, even though you mean to read it. Pay 500-$1k per year to take CLE’s. pay 100-300 for state bar licensure. Pay mortgage-like payment to Sallie mae each month until you retire. easy, right?

      • Fab Kaari :

        But your loans don’t have to dictate everything. You can use Income Based Repayment on the federal ones. (Yes, I know that you are ultimately going to pay back more money in the long run perhaps, but it does leave you options)

  17. NYCMomof2 :

    I am out of law school about 15 years and most days you can count me as a happy lawyer. I was a partner in a firm, hated the politics, billables and sales. Went in-house. Love my company, still hate the politics. Found a good salary, intellectually challenging work, opportunities to network in my field and great colleagues, all with a dash of work life balance. Quite a few of the years in the middle were filled with frustration (especially before I settled in my current field) and I too went through a “what ELSE do I want to be phase”? You need to figure out what’s important to you and get your job to fit into your life that way. And FWIW I hated law school. :)

  18. I’m in my sixth year of practice and just made the move from a mid-sized firm to starting my own solo practice. Though I wouldn’t recommend hanging your own shingle right out of law school because, as you find out after you graduate, law school teaches you just about nothing re private practice, going solo has been a fantastic experience for me.
    I am a transactional attorney (business, estate, and real estate). The firm I started with, and just left, was essentially an eat-what-you-kill system where you were expected to bring in clients and handle them almost immediately. As a new graduate, this was fairly petrifying, but it gave me immediate experience drafting diverse documents, marketing, networking, and handling client files independently. After five years, though I enjoyed working with the other attorneys in the firm, I had been the only female attorney there for four years, and I was unhappy with the lack of pay growth. Someone asked me why I didn’t go solo and I didn’t really have an answer, so I started looking at the possibility more closely. The harder I tried to find reasons not to make the jump, the more I found affirmation that it was a good fit for me.
    I already had my insurance through my husband’s job. The nature of my practice makes it ideal for keeping overhead low, as I don’t have to worry about the costs associate with extensive discovery, experts, paralegals, etc. I was already comfortable with finding and maintaining my own clients.
    I have two young children and, though I have an (out of the house) office and maintain the same office hours as when I was with the firm, I won’t have to worry about being able to meet them at the bus stop when they reach that age. I obviously have the pressure of billing hours, but I alone get to reap the rewards from those hours. The vast majority of my clients made the switch with me, which is personally gratifying and takes much of the financial pressure off. I find that new clients most often come to me through referrals from clients or other contacts, so I do a lot of networking, which I enjoy.
    Mostly, it’s extremely rewarding to be navigating my own ship. As long as I can maintain an income I’m comfortable with, I’m honestly not sure what would prompt me to join a firm again.

    • I agree. I used to work for a big high-energy law office, but just started my solo practice this summer. I’m making money quicker than I thought I would, and I’m super-happy now.

      But solo practice is not for everyone. You have to run and market your business. But I love it.

  19. Anon for this :

    If I had to choose again, I would never have picked a job in an office. I hate sitting at a desk and hate “office life.” I would be in sales or be a nurse or something. But with law school loans, I can’t just pick a new career and start all over again.

    • Me too! I would be a park ranger. Not kidding.

      • Agree!

      • I am so with you – I dream of doing something with the National Park Service as a “retirement career.”

      • LMo, I agree with everything you wrote above, and I too am a lawyer who daydreams about being a park ranger…crazy how common that is!

    • Word. Maybe after I pay off the loans.

    • Anon for this too :

      I don’t have loans. I lucky enough to have parents who can afford to pay my tuition, but if I didn’t work as a lawyer I would feel guilty that they spent all this money on a legal education that I didn’t even need.

      • Anon for this :

        Glad I’m not alone :) I sometimes feel like the emperor has no clothes – would rather be “doing” something than pushing papers.

        • When I was a first year, I decided that I wanted the firm to assign all associates to one day of physical labor around the firm every month. One full day, counting towards 8 hours of billable credit, just polishing the brass or mopping or picking up the trash or dusting the picture frames or something. Rest your brain and not have to answer the phone or emails for one whole blissful day.

          • J., just wanted to comment that I have fantasies about being one of the janitors in my big firm for the day! They wear uniforms and clean and are friendly to everyone. I know I should be grateful for what I have, but sometimes I do long to be doing something that feels more real. And to have to be friendly to everyone instead of litigous.

          • When I worked as a customer service representative in a call center, the best part of my work week was when I volunteered to take out all the recycling. I was just happy to contribute something with real results and get outside for a minute. Now I work as an editor, and I still have the same urg — the “ahhh get me out of here, yes I’ll do anything, I’ll take out the garbage, whatever needs to happen to get me away from this desk and the ringing phone” feeling. Working in an office all day can be very de-motivating.

          • Exactly! I just want to be able to move my body and rest my brain a bit, just every now and then. Find a little balance!

          • I feel like my problem with being a lawyer would be that I always have to know if I am right. I’m a 3L so I don’t know for sure but my issue is that I can’t just go into something thinking that it is probably ‘good enough’. This wouldn’t be a problem except I end up spending so much time looking for this right answer when there really is none and I get frustrated. Also I feel like I do not want a challenging job right now. After college, law school, personal dramas, etc., I am exhausted and just want something to come easy for once!

    • I dream of owning my own chocolate shop. I have a feeling it will happen, though maybe not for another decade or so…

      • I dream about being an orange grove farmer… or a marine biologist. Neither of which I know a dime about.

    • I started my pre-legal career in a non-office job (outdoors much of the time), and I will say the grass is always greener elsewhere. It has helped me learn to appreciate air conditioning, a predictable commute, and less traveling (not to mention no more bug bites, visits to the middle of nowhere, etc.).

  20. As a second year attorney who just started in BigLaw (clerked last year), seeing all these happy lawyers makes me want to cry tears of joy, both because I am not alone and because it is possible, even after years and years of putting in long hours, to still love what you do. :-)

    OK, the tears part might have something to do with not sleeping much last night, but still.

  21. I am in my sixth year of practice and consider myself a happy lawyer. I would note, however, that my satisfying job does not pay enough to cover my large student loan payment. My husband has to make my student loan payments for me. I would not be a happy lawyer if it weren’t for him.

  22. Don’t forget transactional practice groups! I am a happy lawyer at a big law firm who is entering her fourth year. Yes, there are long hours, but I love talking on the phone to my clients and other lawyers, negotiating, minimal drafting, learning about what companies/industries do, reading the Wall Street Journal/finance and working on deals with a 2-3 month time horizon. That being said, I was one of the ones who hated law school but love the practice and I knew that because I was a paralegal at a big law firm beforehand. I went to law school in order to do this job and have no regrets, even with the debt. If you have to take on debt to go to law school and think you will be at a big law firm for a while afterward, I highly recommend 1-2 years as a paralegal to figure out if it is really the right thing for you. I am also incredibly lucky to work for nice and supportive partners/senior associates. The importance of the personalities of the people for whom you work cannot be understated. Good luck!

  23. I just started my second year of practice at a boutique firm. I was at a wedding a few weeks ago and reunited with all of my law school buddies. I was the only person who could honestly say that she loved her job, which I do.

    I work for a former BigLaw partner in a very niche field (one that I had no interest in or knowledge of in law school). I do high level, interesting work with sophisticated clients. I also, have a life. To me, there are no downsides. To others the downsides would be pay (I’m not earning BigLaw money – but I’m not doing poorly either) and involvement in business development from the get go. I am tied into the success of the firm, so I have to impress our clients and work on bringing new clients to the firm. Luckily, my boss has realistic expectations about my ability to bring in business particularly with the sophistication of our practice. My work with business development centers on being poised at networking events, speaking effectively and passionately about our practice, and talking about the decades of experience that my boss has.

    I love being a lawyer, I love practicing law and I love my job. It took me over a year of scraping by to finally land this job. I got this job because I was able to show my boss that I am bright, confident, driven and a hard worker who is interested in something more than a paycheck — and is trustworthy to communicate with the clients he has built relationships with over years, if not decades.

    I think the key is finding good mentors and bosses – folks who see someone worth investing their time and knowledge in. I think it’s also important to think outside of the box. My law school’s model of success was BigLaw or nothing – and that didn’t fit me for a whole host of reasons. I am very lucky to be where I am, and I’m grateful that I’ve gotten this incredible opportunity.

    My advice to folks in law school, is not to do it as a fall back or because people say you would be good at it. I think you have to do a lot of due diligence and you can’t assume that because you line up all of your ducks in law school – great school, good grades, journal, moot court etc. etc. that your career will be all set for time immemorial or that you will be happy.

    I know I have had that mentality – line up ducks, life will go well. That’s not necessarily true, the success that I have had in my career thus far has come from tenacity, confidence, social skills and excellent work product. In a recent business development success, I got the meeting not based on my “ducks” but on the ability of my firm to meet this potential client’s need and my ability to sell my firm.

    • I think that former Biglaw attorneys can often be great bosses. I work at a small boutique (about 20 lawyers) that’s a spinoff of a niche practice at a big firm. The partner for whom I work left Biglaw to have more control over his practice and to not have to share his profits with the bigwigs in the main office in another city.

      In the plus column, I make very close to big firm pay for my year (about a 7th year now), though I didn’t start that way when I joined the firm 5 years ago. Without the handcuffs of lockstep pay, my firm tends to pay first and second years (the few that are hired, anyway) a bit low, but gives big raises to those who prove themselves. Our work is sophisticated and interesting, and because I’m in a small firm environment, I have a lot of responsibility and autonomy. My partner has given me great opportunities — lots of really valuable client contact — because he knows that having his senior associates build his book is the surest way to grow his practice. He’s completely transparent about the financial side of the business, and I feel like it’s always a team effort to make the practice successful. Because the office is small, with just a few equity partners, the politics is nowhere near as frustrating as I imagine it would be at a big firm. I generally really like and respect my coworkers, attorneys and staff alike, which is really important in a small office.

      On the downside, I’m at a small firm that acts like a big firm. In exchange for my close-to-big-firm salary, I am expected to bill big firm hours. So yes, the hours are long. Yes, the work can be drudgery.

      But I think I would say overall, I’m satisfied with my experience as a lawyer. It’s a good thing, too, and totally a stroke of luck. I have massive student loans to pay off (sticker price of a really expensive law school in the early 2000’s). I knew nothing about this practice area and went straight from undergrad to law school with no idea what I wanted to do afterward. This just happened to be the place I landed after a clerkship. I do think that this makes my situation the exception rather than the rule.

      The one thing that’s going to drive me out of private practice, however, is the billable hour. I HATE it. Not only the big yearly requirement (especially in December, as I try to eek the last few hours out of the year), but the pressure each week, each day, each 6 minute increment, to record what you’re doing, in a way that will ensure that the clients will pay for it. Exhausting.

  24. Anonymous :

    I am a generally happy lawyer (civil litigator/private practice/mid-large firm/6 figure $). I’ve done the same job at different places, and I like my job more when I make more money doing it, to be completely blunt. More than that, I like my job more when I don’t work with a lot of crazy people, and that is less common in the law than one might think.
    I would not make a blanket statement that one should not go to law school. However, I would encourage anyone applying to law school to also consider other graduate programs and careers that might fulfill the same needs/capitalize on the same strengths and perhaps even apply to those programs/jobs at the same time, esp. if, like the reader here, law is a new interest. I think that ultimately I would have been happier pursuing public policy and working for the government or a non-profit organization in policymaking or lobbying. That is my true interest, and while my current job certainly touches on policy, I don’t get to craft policy or debate what policy “should be” much. Most often, I just analyze and argue about whether my client is inside or outside the lines of the law/regulation, etc.
    I had professors urge me to consider other paths, and I paid them no attention. I regret that a bit (esp. with $160k educational debt 6 yrs after L.S. graduation), even though I really do like what I do.

  25. Wow corporette…reading my mind lately? This is a very timely topic for me. I am a brand new attorney in my first year of practice (about 3 months in) at a mid-size law firm. I started my career very excited and motivated, but…. so far, it has been miserable for me.

    This blog post forced me to think about why this is. I actually love the work and the people that I work with, but billable hours are killing me. I will think I am having a great, productive day and then when I enter my time, I realize I’ve only billed 5 or 6 hours (for reference, I need to bill about 8 each day/40 week to be on track for the year). At my firm, we do not get billable credit for anything other than true billable work. That means anything pro bono, seminars, even my swearing in ceremony, basically doesn’t count. Even though the firm says it takes these hours into account, I am finding out that they really don’t, and that billables are the only thing that matters.

    I realize this is the norm in large firms, but for me, the billable hours requirement is draining all life out of me. Because I am behind on my hours (I am one month into the billing year and already behind by 40 hours!), it’s all I think about. I feel guilty about eating lunch, taking breaks, and even doing personal things on the evenings (I say evenings lightly because I usually get home at 7 or 8 and go to bed at 10) and weekends because I am not billing. I have even started to worry so much about it that I can’t sleep. I am smart, a hard worker, and generally productive, but I just feel that I will never meet the billing requirement.

    On the lines of finding happiness, do any of the more seasoned, happy lawyers have any advice for dealing with the feeling that billable hours are burying you alive?

    • You probably need to capture your time more effectively. For example, if you spend half an hour answering emails from 3 different clients or partners on 3 different cases, bill each client 0.2. Don’t count the 2 minutes you spent getting up to go to the bathroom. Figure out what works best for you – electronic timers etc or scrawling time down on a piece of paper. Try to capture EVERY SINGLE THING you do and see if you are getting more billable time that way.

      If you have enough work, come in on a Sat morning (or work at home then) and knock out a few hours. After a few weeks of this you will be caught up.

      Good luck!

      • GREAT advice. My law school taught me nothing about the billable hour, and the partners at my mid-size firm at my first job (ins defense) didn’t have time to teach me. Fortunately my secretary helped a lot and showed me the way.

        I eventually started keeping a self-made graph right next to my keyboard that helped me keep track of my time, in pretty much real time. The page was basically divided into six-minute increments, so it was easy to add up my time at the end of the day. It was very basic, probably a little old school, but it worked: my billable count went up after that.

      • Speaking as a client, it makes me see red to get billed .1 or .2 for e-mails. It’s so ticky-tacky, nickel and diming, and it makes me feel like I’m paying for someone to reach their 2000 hour requirement so they get their bonus, not for legitimate work. Yes, I want to be fair to you, and I believe you should get paid for the work you do. But you should be fair to me, too. If you bill me .1 for responding “Yes” to my e-mail asking you whether opposing counsel agreed to our request for an extension, you’re not giving me great client service. If two lawyers bill me .1 each because they’re reading each other’s short e-mails about my case, see above, you’re not giving me great client service.

        • You’re probably getting billed for this either way – either someone was trying to separate out tasks to show you that they weren’t just doing something vague like “attend to file” or they lump checking emails with some other task they did. Honestly, if it took me .1 or .2 hours to respond to an email, it would be a long email. I’m not going to bill you separately for 30 seconds for a “yes.”

    • I think it is really hard to get in that 8 hours/day at first! My whole first year, I realized that even though I got in at 9 and tried to scrupulously work all day, I would have to stay until 8 pm every night to hit 8 hours. It just took a long time to figure out how to eliminate transition time between matters. I’d sit down at 4pm every afternoon, count up my hours, and figure out exactly how long I needed to stay to hit 8. Looking back, yuck. But that is what it took! Everybody goes through this transition into full-time work at a desk job, I think.

    • I hear you, and billable hours can really stink. I found some strategies that helped, but I have ultimately discovered that billable hours are actually easy to hit when there is more work than you can handle. In this economy, I find that just scraping up enough work to hit hours can take a significant amount of time, and responsibility tends to be hoarded by higher ups who only give you little pieces at a time, so there is a lot of switching back and forth between things.

      Here are a few tips that have worked for me:

      1. Force yourself to bill 3 hours before lunch. I get in to work at 8 and aim for 3 hours by noon, so this means I only get to mess around for 1 hour in the morning.

      2. Time your lunch. Literally. I set a timer on my phone, and at 1 pm I have to start a work task. Otherwise, I will surf the internet (as you can see, I failed today!)

      3. If you’re switching between a lot of things and losing time, set a timer for half an hour, shut down everything except what you need on your computer, close your door, and work on one thing for that half hour.

      4. Try to do work from home on weekends or at night – getting in four extra hours on the weekend, plus an extra half hour each night, gets you down to 6.5 or 7 hours during the weekdays. And for some reason, working from home just feels more relaxing than working at work.

      5. Use electronic timers. I read an article once that said that men on average lose minutes when they use timers but women on average gain hours. I gained about half an hour a day when I started using timers. (Think about it – that’s at least 100 hours a year) And I use timers for everything – even my down time. That way I can go back and figure out why I lost billable, and fix it.

      6. Find a way to stop worrying about it. As a junior associate, I asked a partner about my hours (which were significantly lower than goal), and was told that mine were the second highest out of all the female associates in the section (there were several), but lower than all the male associates (also several). At that point, the firm wasn’t going to fire any of us for our hours without a big ol’ sexual discrimination lawsuit, and the firm knew it.

    • I am glad to know I am not alone with my billable hour anxiety. I work at a small firm with a very reasonable billable hour requirement (which I still struggle to meet), but knowing that my fellow first year bills insane numbers all the time makes me worry that I should be doing more. I don’t blame him–if I was single with a steady supply of adderall I’d probably be a billing machine too. I just don’t know what to do.

      I don’t want to kill myself to keep up with him just so I don’t look bad by comparison for doing the minimum (the pay isn’t terrible, but it’s not enough to justify grinding out >40 billables/wk just because), but at the same time I worry that my bonus will be affected because, well, “If he can do all that, what do YOU do all day?” Sigh.

    • MeliaraofTlanth :

      I feel the exact same way. People tell me it gets easier the longer you’ve been there (I’ve been there about 4 months), but I’m not exactly seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

      That, and I work for clients who are notoriously cheap and will refuse to pay if something took longer than they think it should have. Which basically means I have to get creative about splitting projects into annoyingly tiny increments, which then takes me forever to enter into the billing program.

      In short, I hate billing time.

      • It’s very important to develop good habits. I find that when I enter time daily, I capture much more of it than when I take a week or two of scrawled down notes and attempt to re-create the prior days. Also, totally second EMC’s advice, and especially the comment that’s easier to bill the time when you’re swamped with work. At just a few months in, it’s not at all unusual that you’re not at that point yet. I suspect that the longer you stick with it, the easier it will get to hit your targets.

        For the past 6 months or so, I have been using the timekeeping grid similar to what M in CA described above. I first found it when someone linked to it here (thanks, Corporettes!). It’s on this site — — along with some helpful articles and tips.

  26. IANAL. I have worked at several law firms in legal assistant/paralegal positions, and two of my siblings are lawyers. I do have a thought on the letter-writer’s particular situation, though, and that is to spend a year or two after your bachelor’s degree, if you can get a position, working in a law firm in a position that puts you in close contact with lawyers — secretary, assistant, paralegal. And be very open about the fact that you’re considering applying to law school but you’re not sure if the field is right for you.

    I say this because at a couple of the places I worked at, there were staff in exactly that situation. And several of the lawyers often went out of their way to show those folks what their work life was like and give them advice about law school and the career. The folks I know who took that path to law school seemed pretty grateful for the experience; it made at least one person I knew much more certain about law school and steered another away.

  27. Eight years in BigLaw, and reasonably happy (like the work, but the hours and stress can be killers). PLEASE think about working for at least a couple of years before law school: the legal job market is really not great right now, and what if you spend your 20s in law school and racking up debt, only to discover that you don’t like the law? I am glad there are so many happy lawyers posting here, but most of my happiest friends are ex-lawyers. Getting your feet wet in the world of full-time work will give you so much better perspective on what you really want to do with your life, whether that ultimately still means law school or something else.

    • Completely, absolutely second this. Like I said above, I am lucky to like it so much, and I can say that a relatively small percentage of those who went through school with me/worked with me over the years actually stuck with it.

  28. I have been practicing for 6 years and am not particularly happy. Like the writer, I stumbled on law. Not a huge fan of law school, but practice in a litigation firm was, for several years, great. Then a few things happened: I mastered the basic skills of lawyering so every day wasn’t such a quest just to be competent, I got enough experience to notice the shortcomings of the law (expensive for clients, jury trials produce random outcomes, and things move SO slowly) and I had kids. I’m now looking for a career change.

    My advice is this: talk to everyone who will talk to you who works in the law. Do it now, before you rack up a ton of debt. Talk to transactional lawyers, litigators, young and old lawyers, female lawyers with and without kids. Ask them what they really think of their jobs. See if any of the day-to-day sounds like something you can picture yourself doing. Take the time for this reflection before you start law school, which will narrow your focus and cause you to feel pressured into a traditional, long hours, competitive career. Your network will only help you down the line, when you eventually need to find a job inside or outside the law.

  29. This is timely. I just had my last prof responsibility class of the semester and the professor spoke about the problem of lawyers being unhappy. One of our readings argued that much of it has to do with the following fatal combination: (1) pessimism and (2) low decision latitude. Pessimism in the sense that as lawyers we tend to see the worst of all possibilities (which is a perk in our field bc we can better mitigate, but, unfortunately, it carries over to our everyday life). Low decision latitude bc as first year associates we don’t really have a choice. Anywho, I found it to be a very depressing and relevant class.

    See Seligman, Verkuil & Kang, “Why Lawyers Are Unhappy”
    23 Cardozo L. Rev. 33 (2001).

  30. Let me preface this by saying that I have been practicing for 4 whole weeks now, but YES, so far I am happy being a lawyer. I have an awesome job that I love. I am doing exactly what I set out to do, and can’t imagine a job I’d rather have.

    I have a fair amount of debt (6 figures), but I don’t stress out about that too much. Everyone has debt.

    In further disclosure: I also have parents who were able to help me out a TON throughout law school, still pay my mortgage, and basically supported me all throughout failing and re-taking the bar exam.
    Also – I don’t have a boyfriend, spouse, child, or any sort of person who depends on my outside of work. So if I have to work through dinner or work a 100 hour week during trial (which hasn’t happened yet, but will happen very soon), it’s no big deal, no one misses me (that sounds way sadder than it is, ha). If I come home from work and want to go to bed at 730, no one is bummed I’m missing dinner with them, etc.

    All this being said – I think I’m honestly the only one of my friends who feels this way. Pretty much everyone I know who has a job hates it, and there are still plenty of my friends who graduated in 2010 with me who don’t yet have full time work.

  31. Nice to read about happy lawyers. I’m a civil litigator for the government, 15+ years now, and love it as much today as when I first started. I have autonomy, great cases, nice co-workers, and flexibility. People keep mentioning how much research and writing there is, and that’s true, but for litigation, people skills are very important. I have negotiations to handle, witnesses to prepare, staff to lead, and opposing counsel to deal with. I like writing, but I really love getting into the field and meeting my witnesses, figuring out my case, getting immersed in the details and the facts.

    • Totally agree. Research and writing are a nice break when they come up, but it’s not the bulk of my work.

    • I have a similar job and the opposite temperament of you (Betty). I basically HATE “getting into the field.” Eight years in, I’m still searching for a litigation job that fits me better, and really, it might be that my personality is not cut out for it. Especially because with more seniority comes more dealing with clients, witnesses, and opposing counsel, and less of holing up in my office on Westlaw. I can’t imagine making the statements you did about what you love about litigating—- so maybe that helps explain why I don’t love litigating. I do love writing, though. Briefs are the bright spots.

      • So the lesson here is know thyself. As you are, not how you want to be, or should be.

      • BigLaw Refugee :

        I know someone who is currently 20+ years into her career and works for a small litigation firm that she founded with people she knew. They handle the clients and court appearances; she does nothing but write briefs. Everyone is happy. Just goes to show that part of crafting a happy lawyer life is knowing yourself and creating the job you want, instead of settling for a predefined path to “success.”

  32. I’m interested in broadening the scope and how the MBAs in the room feel about the reader’s questions. Was it worth it to take on debt for an MBA? What career change did it facilitate and are you happy with it?

    • Anonymous :

      I chose not to FWIW.
      $100k+ to expand my experience and grow as a professional didn’t seem worth it, and unless you’re in a top 3 program you’re not likely to buy yourself a better job. Banks are the only ones who seem to care if employees have the degree.
      My $0.02.

    • momentsofabsurdity :

      I will be taking on $70-100K of debt to attend a top tier (H/S/W) program next year. It is a LOT of money, especially as someone who has never been “in debt” before as I was in the lucky position of not needing to take out loans for undergrad.

      It is very scary. I’ve run things through loan calculators already to get a sense of what my monthly payments will have to be to cut down that debt and they are substantial. However, at a startup now I make fairly little, and with a reputable but not “head-turning” degree from my undergraduate institution, I think the networking and career advancement potential for me is substantial. I am also fairly young (24), and I think there is some element of diminishing returns for an MBA. If I was 30, I probably would not go. YMMV.

    • I’m guessing it’s too late for more comments here, but thanks for asking, Thursday! I’d love to see some answers to this.

      I’m 4 years into a financial career, but am thinking about whether I need to get a MBA — I’m being promoted fairly steadily (and I’m making good money) but I’d like to move into management, and I suspect the degree might help…

    • blue cupcakes :

      Yes, an MBA is for sure worth it if you want to switch careers or move to a more prestigious company. I’m am currently an MBA1 and there are a ton of companies recruiting, which I was surprised about how many companies since the economy is still iffy. Research the employment reports from the top MBA programs and decide if it makes sense for your story. I am very happy I chose to go back to school.

  33. karenpadi :

    I’m a 2005 law grad, now patent lawyer. I went straight through because I knew that I didn’t want to work as an engineer and the tech bubble burst a year before I graduated so there were no engineering jobs to be had anyway.

    It took working at 3 firms until I found my fourth. The first three firms were awful for reasons I won’t go into. I was one of those associates who end up on a therapist’s couch crying my eyes out.

    Now, I work for a great firm. As a job, it’s fine. Was it how I planned to live my life? No. Do I want to be a lawyer until I retire? No.

    I paid off most of my student loans and bought a house. I have 7 more years before I pay off the house (I bought way less house than I could afford, thank goodness) then I’m out of full-time practice. If I have kids, I might practice part-time (yes, I love my firm for having this as an option). If I don’t have kids, I have another career planned.

    It’s a job. It’s do-able because I am with a great firm and have great relationships with my clients.

    My advice: stay out of debt just to keep your options open.

    • Second this advice, as someone who didn’t stay out of debt and has limited options.

    • Wow, I am dying to ask you a million questions! I guess they all boil down to this — how did you trust the fourth “try”? After three bad firms, I’m impressed that you stuck with it. Your comment really resonates with me, and I’d love to hear more!

      • karenpadi :

        My fourth firm was highly recommended to me by a mentor who had gone in house and was working with the4th firm (and other firms) so he saw what a great firm it is.

        Honestly, because of my student loans, I couldn’t afford to leave law after firm 3. My initial plan was to work at firm 4 for about a year until I paid off the student loans and get out of law asap.

        This firm is really what made me see that the only way to eventually cut expenses to do what I really want to do in some comfort, I had to buy a house and pay it off. It was a trade-off: 8 more years of law and having less costs going forward vs taking a sub-optimal “not law” option to cover housing costs or moving out of the area.

        • karenpadi :

          I would add one thing: I think the happiest lawyers after ~5 years of practice are at firms where compensation/life balance can be determined by the attorney, not the firm.

          This could be an “eat what you kill” firm or a firm like mine where I determine my billing rate. At these firms, the attorneys have autonomy and power over their lives. In my experience, having control over one’s life is happiness.

  34. Anyone considering going to law school or considering giving advice to anyone going to law school really should read Paul Campos’ series on legal education on Lawyers, Guns and Money. This is the latest post:

    www . lawyersgunsmoneyblog . com / 2011 / 12 / losing-it

    (remove spaces for working link)

    The take-away message is that law school is a losing proposition because the market for legal services has imploded. Only 100 legal jobs were added across all of America in November, despite the thousands of JD-holding candidates with no work. In the long term, law schools will produce at least twice as many graduates as there will be job openings for lawyers.

    There’s no such thing as happiness in the legal profession because the chance of getting a legal job after graduating with 200K debt is 50/50 or worse.

    • I’m inclined to agree with you. For me, the professional disappointment has definitely been the worst part of being a lawyer.

      I guess it’s particularly hard because I’ve always had everything else so easy. (I assume this is true for most law-school-bound folks, so don’t take that as bragging.) School was easy, getting a college scholarship was easy, college was super-easy. Up to law school, I’d gotten every job that I have ever interviewed but one (which didn’t work out because of scheduling). I expected law school to be harder, and it was, but I really enjoyed it and was in the top 10% of my class. Yet, the job search was incredibly difficult (note that I had an easier time than many, as I’ve not truely been unemployed), and, although I like my current firm a lot, it is not anything like what I went to law school to do, and I’m still kind of bummed about that.

      It’s not that I’m not happy; I am. But there’s been a lot of disappointment associated with the law market.

    • Thanks for this!

      Asking whether happy lawyers exists begs the question that one will be able to get a job as a lawyer after finishing law school.

      Am Law Daily reported just the other day that 100 jobs were added in the American legal sector last month. Not a typo: — over 40,000 people graduate from American law schools every year (, and to say there aren’t enough jobs for everyone is an understatement.

      If you don’t know exactly what you’re going to do with your law degree; if you don’t have a full scholarship; if you can’t take the opportunity cost of having no income for 3 years; and if you don’t get into the top-tier school, then don’t go to law school, at least not now.

    • Don't believe the hype :

      To those of you considering law school – please take the time to read opinions other than those written by Campos. He has some good points hidden in his diatribes, but there have been a lot of trenchant critiques of his arguments and assertions.

  35. I JUST started practicing – in fact, yesterday marked my one-month anniversary with my organization. The following is my perspective on my path, and how/why this path has made me happy.

    First, I was one of those that was kind of “talked into” law school after undergrad. I wanted my Masters in Campaign Management, my mom lobbied for the far-more-practical JD. Mom’s argument won. I spent three years in between undergrad and law school working administrative positions at two different law firms. THIS WAS THE BEST THING I DID. It helped me firm up my decision to go to law school before committing countless hours to LSAT prep and a staggering amount of money to school. I had an idea of what real practice entailed, and I loved it!

    Second, like a previous commenter, I was NOT a fan of law school. While I love school in general, I’m the type that likes to find an answer, not rework the issue 5748957 times to see if it leads to a different result “just because.” My first two-ish years were awful, as it was primarily all theory. By the end of my second year, I was starting to take more skills-bases and practical classes, and that’s really when my love of the law came rushing back. I LOVE taking a client’s case, determining the issues, and helping them reach solutions to problems. I LOVE being in the courtroom. I LOVE making a phone call to opposing counsel and hashing out an agreement.

    Finally, while I know I still have that wet-behind-the-ears sense of awe, I do really love my job. I’m not 100% happy with it all day, every day. I don’t make a ton of money (and I knew I wouldn’t coming in), and I have clients that drive me NUTS. But I also have clients that express their gratitude that I took their case, and that I’m helping them get out of a bad situation. I can see, almost immediately, that I am truly helping people, and I LOVE that.

    I view my career like I view a good relationship: I might not be ecstatic with every aspect, every single minute of the day, and it takes a lot of work, but overall, I am genuinely happy. I am fulfilled by what I do for a career, and that fits in to a life I am happy with.

    • I agree with you! I worked at a law firm for 3 years full time before I ever went to law school, and I chose to go part time while still working full time at that job because I felt the real law job and law school combination would be a better fit. There have been zero surprises and I have no grandiose views of instant gratification or six figure pay out of school. I am in my last year of law school and i am COMPLETELY exhausted with not having a life for four years, but overall, I am happy with my decision. Going to law school is not easy. Not everyone can get into law school and many will never get the level of responsibility in their careers that attorneys have day in and day out. If you’re on this board talking about this at all, consider yourself lucky to be in that position which many desire but few can achieve, whether it has to do with life circumstances, finances, ability, or any other reason. I am 100% burned out at the moment but I feel like gratitude has helped out a lot. I think those that are unhappy in law have lost that sense of awe that they are doing what they’re doing or how challenging it really is, or perhaps they went into it never having that feeling in the first place.

  36. 4th year evening student here. Obviously, I don’t know yet if I’ll be happy practicing law, but it took me a long time to go to law school precisely because of the challenge that Kat mentioned above – I always knew I’d love going to law school, but I really wanted to wait to go until I could picture myself actually practicing law (law will be my 2nd career (I’ve spent 10+ years in technology).

    I’m also in my 30s, and the best advice I can give someone contemplating law school in this market is to wait. It breaks my heart to see my classmates taking out huge loans when they’re obviously going to have serious troubles getting jobs out of law school. Take a few years to work in the real world, make sure that law is really what you want to do, and learn how to live on an entry level non-law salary. Make sure you understand the value of all the dollars you’ll be borrowing – so that if and when you do go back to school you borrow only the minimum necessary. Law school debt is debt that will never go away. You will be stuck with it for the rest of the life. But law school will always be there, and you’ll appreciate it all the more.

  37. Anon today :

    I’m a happy lawyer. I’ve been practicing for about 7 1/2 years, all in the public sector. For the last 4 1/2 years, I’ve been at my state’s civil rights agency, and for the past 3 years, I’ve been in the appeals and litigation unit. I feel like I’m helping people, which was why I went to law school, and I enjoy the research and writing that my job requires.

  38. I agree with so many of the things in these comments. For background, I’m about 1.5 years into practice in a 15 attorney firm in a niche litigation area.

    (1) People who mentioned the people you work with are 110% correct. You will spend a signficant amount of your life at work, if you don’t like the people you work with, no matter what your substantive work is, you will be miserable.

    (2) I fall into the category of people who love practicing law, but didn’t really like law school. I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t care for it. For those of you who are currently students, when I got done and started studying for the bar exam, BARBRI’s method of just (god forbid) telling/teaching you the rules and exceptions was AMAZING. I wish all of law school had been like that.

    (3) I’m currently working on not derving so much of my identity from work. Being well rounded helps keep things in perspective.

    (4) You will work. Alot. I’m certainly not required to bill 8 hours a day, but I still work from 7am to 6pm most days, eat lunch quickly at my desk, and work weekends once or twice a month. Part of this is due to thoroughly enjoying the people I work with and at times spending time talking to them.

    One of my law school professors gave a great lecture at the end of our last year, here are some of his key points:

    (1)WORK: be efficient so that you have time in your life for 2-5 below. To be efficient, while at work, do only work, unless you’re in trial, leave your work at work. When you are just starting out, you need to work harder than the older attorneys, accept every assignment, finish it earlier than required and do a better job than they expected. (My note: some of this is ideal and I don’t always follow these “rules”)

    (2) FAMILY: this is THE most important thing in life, schedule time alone with your spouse, text kids quickly during the day so they know you’re thinking of them and also, take vacations. He worked in big law and said that he didn’t take a vacation his first 3 years and not only did it fry his brain, no one even noticed he had forgone vacations.

    (3) HEALTH: exercise, eat well, don’t drink coffee all day long, and mentally, you need to make time alone for yourself.

    (4) FRIENDS: have at least some friends who are not lawyers. (my note: after practicing for a bit, it seems like it could be really easy to get wrapped up into a network of lawyers and judges you see regularly, then your work is your world, having friends that know nothing about what you do are fabulous).

    (5) SPIRIT: Have a purpose in life, both in general and for your work. You need to feel like your work matters. Also, if you are religious, attend whatever it is you recognize.

  39. Just like Legally Fabulous I have to qualify what I’m about to say: I’ve been practicing for a whole 3 for weeks now. That said, I work as in-house counsel and have never been happier. I feel happy because every day brings something new and nothing gets routine. As much time as I have to spend doing boring tasks like reviewing contracts, I spend just as much time going to meetings, assisting on projects and giving opinions. Rarely have i had a day thus far where I’ve just been sitting behind my desk the whole time. I should also note that I’m not making nearly as much as my colleagues in firms, but that isn’t a huge consideration to me.

    I did, however, do the doc review/contract work thing for awhile and never enjoyed it- I found it neither intellectually stimulating nor steady. Best of luck going forward!

  40. hopeful ex-pat :

    I asked this a couple of days ago late in a thread, but does anyone have experience getting a law degree abroad and coming back to the States for an LLM to be eligible to take the Bar?

    • There are a ton of Israelis and Canadians who take this path, so it’s doable. Many states do not allow LLMs to sit for their bar, but NY does. Honestly, though, unless you’re planning to ultimately practice in the country where you do your law degree, I’m not sure why you’d do this.

    • I have relatives who have gone to college abroad and now are practicing attorneys in Ameria. NY and California both allow non-JDs to sit the bar. One of my relatives actually practices in Atlanta but only in federal court. To date, no one has had an issue finding a job and everyone has thriving practices (although they all came over 5+ years ago.)

      The country that my family is from actually has a program in its largest city which is basically barbri for people with degrees from that country. It focuses on the differences and similarities in the legal systems, etc.

    • I think it depends on what your plans are after you’re admitted. If you want to practice in the U.S., I don’t know that I would do it — I’m not an employer, but if I were in a prospective employer’s position, I would look very warily at a (presumably) American candidate who chose to get an LL.B. overseas without a compelling personal reason instead of doing the conventional J.D. and studying abroad. If you want to practice overseas with American bar admission, I don’t have an opinion, but you’ll want to check the employment immigration laws there very closely before you enroll.

  41. While I fully support the idea that you can’t get all your happiness from your job, and that you should focus on happiness outside of work, I don’t know how practical that is for lawyers. While I’m not a lawyer, I am in a field that works long hours and from what I understand from the comments here, lawyers are expected to work even longer hours. If your job drains all your time and energy from outside activities, you better hope the job provides most of your happiness, because it’ll prevent you from finding it elsewhere.

  42. Don’t underestimate the debt thing.

    I am not a happy lawyer, but I attribute that largely to the following:

    1) I send almost all of my discretionary income to pay off student loans;

    2) As a result, I cannot afford a lifestyle that is much better than my life before law school;

    3) I work my tail off at work (on track for 700 hours in the last 3 months of 2011); and

    4) While I slave and scrimp and sacrifice, my former classmates are putting their salaries to retirement, vacation, luxury homes, $500 dinners out at chichi places, and all kinds of stuff that I can only dream of.

    It makes me feel like my life is so worthless, while those of my colleagues are akin to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

    • Early post, sorry.

      Bottom line: If you can get your law school education handed to you (like by parents or a scholarship), take it. Otherwise, you’re in for a long period of indentured servitude, surrounded by people whose life experiences will always make you feel like an “other.”

      I would also really discount the experiences of any poster who graduated prior to 2008. It was a different world back then; our generation will never be able to get the kinds of plum positions that earlier grads obtained.

      • Actually, having listened to what my biglaw-employed fiance has told me about his law school experience, it’s better to take on student loans and go to a top school, than go to a meh law school for free. Since the recession, the Harvards, Yales, and Columbias have started taking jobs at firms ranked far below what they would have considered pre-2008, squeezing out candidates from other schools. And some not-insignificant percentage of his HLS class couldn’t find a job before graduation.
        So, this leave the students at lesser schools in a worse position, and the people I know who went to middle-range law schools are having issues just finding jobs, let alone good ones.
        From what I’ve learned, I think law school is only worth it if you go to a top school. Paying off $200K in student loans is easier if you make $150/year. Life ain’t so grand as a $12/hour staff attorney.

        • “From what I’ve learned, I think law school is only worth it if you go to a top school. ”

          I agree with you. Don’t go to law school unless you go to a top 14 (10?) school, *and* someone other than you can pay for it. In that situation, law school is an all but guaranteed ticket to a nice life. I’d be just ducky if I were in my current position, but without the debt. The debt means that I am functioning as a highly paid lawyer but living like my secretary.

          • Small-state lawyer :

            Yes, where you go to school matters. But what is a “top” law school might vary depending on where you want to practice. One problem with national rankings is that they assume all schools will/must compete nationally–but that’s clearly not true. For example, in some less-populous states, the best school in the state is a public school that places graduates in top jobs all over the state. That school might not be “Top 14,” but it’s still probably a good investment if you want to stay in-state–especially with in-state tuition. That being said, I would not recommend (especially in this economic climate) paying retail to go to the lowest-ranked school in the city/state/region you want to work in.

            On the other hand, in the most competitive markets, Georgetown grads (for those of you who don’t follow these things, G’town is generally considered the bottom of the “Top 14”) might have trouble competing with graduates from the super elite schools.

          • Anon For This :

            I was in the “ticket to a nice life” boat, more or less, and graduated at a better time. I’m still not sure it was the right decision because I chose one of those high-paying jobs and spent most of my 20’s and 30’s slaving away at something that made it difficult for me to have a relationship and a life.

            I actually think you need the free or nearly-free top or close to top law school, PLUS contacts at smaller firms where it is hard for ANYONE, even top law grads, to get jobs because they are so small and so focused on “fit.” The theme in most of the posts here is that the people who are happy early in their careers started at those small firms.

      • The last paragraph of NM’s post is particularly true. Lawyers prior to 2008/2009 had an entirely different situation when they graduated. Even my fiance’s class (2009) still had the perk-filled summer positions. My 2L summer at biglaw had no such perks, and we worked as hard and as many hours as many of the lower level associates. The extravagant lunches and parties were very few, if any. There’s much more a competitive atmosphere because few firms were doing 100% offers (or if they were, they included a few cold offers).

        Associates are now very expendable. If your work isn’t up to snuff or your hours slip, there are thousands of out-of-work attorneys who will come in and lick the soles of the hiring partner’s shoes all the while asking for a mere percentage of your salary.

      • I know this may shock you, but lawyers who graduated pre-2008 have faced struggles, too. I graduated in the midst of the early 2000’s dot com bubble burst, right after 9/11. The firm where I summered went poof when I was a 3L.

        Yes, the situation now is pretty dire. But it’s not like it was all sunshine and rainbows for all law grads pre 2008.

    • @NM… Re your former classmates… This may not make you feel any better, but I’ll put it out there anyway.

      You never know what someone else’s financial situation is. They may be the grasshopper to your ant (even if your ant can’t build a very big nest due to student loan and salary issues). Most of your classmates probably have hefty loans, too. Yet they’re living in swank apartments, going on lavish vacations, throwing around money at dinners… they’re clearly spending lots of money, but are they truly saving adequately? Having worked with the type of people you describe, I can assure you that most are not and are in a very precarious state of financial affairs. They just need one thing to go wrong to bring down that house of cards. I knew partners who, despite pulling down serious income, were broke or close to it. So you never know.

      You sound very much like my Sig. O., who is unhappy for the same reasons. But he also acknowledges that his situation forced him to learn how to save (even if only a little) while living within his means, and that’s something a lot of people (even “rich” people!) ever learn. You ever read the Millionaire Next Door? Despite what the Real Housewives would have us believe, most millionaires don’t drive luxury vehicles. They buy used and American. Most of them live in homes worth $250k or less. They’re millionaires because they save and invest, not because they’re profligate spenders. Case in point: look at the facts behind the Real Housewives. Most of them are broke, having their cars repossessed, etc.

      So, that doesn’t really help your situation, but just realize that everything may not be quite like it seems with your peers…

      • Good point Herbie.

        That is certainly true on a macro level, but my classmates and fellow biglaw associates are actually pretty transparent about their financial situations. So yes, I do know who is married to fellow high earners, who has debt, who doesn’t, who has rich parents who still gift them thousands a year on top of their biglaw salaries, etc.

      • I am intrigued by the Millionaire Next Door. It sounds like something I would force certain friends and family members to read. My cousin made a comment at thanksgiving about how the fancy department stores probably don’t have good black friday sales because their rich clientele would scoff at the idea of buying anything “on sale,” and I about crawled out of my skin.

  43. WOW – interesting question.

    As for me, I am a ’99 law school grad, spent 4+ years as a JAG attorney in the Army, 1 1/2 year at home mom, 2+ years as gov’t civil litigator, and last 4+ years as in-house litigator, where I anticipate I will stay for a very long time. I have loved my jobs, the number is not representative of the positions, just a consequence of moves and life changes.

    Key for me has always been my colleagues. Any job will have its ups and downs, and it is the people you are working with that get you through the downs and help you celebrate the ups. I loved law school – had great friends and study group partners. I l0ved the Army (pre-kids) – military colleagues are a pretty tight group. Loved my government attorney colleagues – anyone who loves their work for so little pay is a great support network. And now, I never have that Sunday night dread feeling of having to get up again, because I know that I get to work with some pretty incredible people the next day. Attorneys, and maybe litigators more specifically, are generally pretty social creatures, and work for me would not be fun if there wasn’t some social aspect to it. And dorky as it may be, spending lunch in the cafeteria fighting over mundane contract interpretations and litigation strategy can be a huge laugh!

    And this far out, I find myself not focusing so much on intense career objectives – I am not an officer in my company, but I have a fabulous family, great flexibility, and the money to live the way we want. I work on different issues all the time, and get to direct outside counsel to do the majority of the drudgery (ok, so in-house e-discovery will NEVER be glamorous…) I have a true career and a life – that’s success as far as I am concerned.

  44. I think commenters above have done a good job saying everything I would have wanted to say, but I got to the party a little late. I just found this site and really am enjoying it. I love the posts and the comments are insightful and extremely helpful.

    I will mention that given the economic climate right now, there are many people I know who are unhappy with their decision to become an attorney. I get it. However, I know just as many people who have been hit hard and still think they made the right decision. I don’t think lawyers are unique in this regard. I can only speak for myself when I say that I found Law School to be a weird and offputting environment. I hated it and often thought I had made a BAD decision. It wasn’t until I was out and actually working that I started enjoying “law”, meaning taking an actual interest in learning and attempting to find my niche.

    The last point I will add is that I started working in media when I was in law school and though I am still in it, I am in a different environment than where I started. If you asked me a year ago if I was happy, that answer might be different. I practice, but there is a certain skill set you develop in law school that makes you apt to do other things. If you find that your are unhappy, try to keep this is mind if you decide to start over. I often wonder what I might have decided to do with myself if I had realized that a law degree didn’t have to mean practicing.

  45. I am entering my fourth year of practice with the government. I really enjoy my job. I like the work I do, the automony I have over my cases, and my co-workers are also my friends. Also, the flexibility is key to my happiness. I have kids and feel like I am able to balance everything. Of course, the trade-off is money. But I grew up with parents who were teachers, and so I am very used to living middle-class. I make more than all of my friends who did not go to law school, so I think it was a decision that has paid off. I also went to a state school and so I have a rather small amount of student loans, which I pay back under IBR.

    One thing that really helped me was the clinic at law school. I realized there that the type of law I thought all along that I wanted to practice was actually not what I wanted to do. I was glad for that eye-opening experience. So take some time before law school to really figure out what lawyers do and whether or not you want to do that too. For me anyways, it is nothing like TV.

  46. I am someone who always thought that they wanted to go to law school but never actually did. After college I started working in my chosen field in a policy/analyst/advisor position and quickly realized that the lawyers didn’t actually do the most interesting work in the field. They weren’t the ones hammering out the big themes of the documents, they were the ones fine tuning the details and arguing over language.

    Now I work for the government of one of the largest cities in America, leading a team addressing a Big Policy Issue. As one part of the solution to address the Big Policy Issue I actually set up a specific court and now have a team of lawyers working for me on this issue.

    This really made me abanadon once and for all my idea of going to law school. I realized that I would much rather have the job that I do currently than the job of those lawyers that now work for me.

    My current boss and I joke that we run a law school intervention program (we all have a lot of interns who are interested in policy and thinking about law school.)

    • Wow, that sounds like a facinating job. May I ask what background you had that lead you into that one?

  47. As you’ve read from the thread, there are many lawyers out there who are happy at their jobs. But you can’t assume that the legal job that you might want will be available to you. Your school’s ranking, your grades, you prior work experience, and the people you know will all work together to set the scope of possible jobs for you. If you can see yourself being pretty happy in a wide variety of legal jobs, great. If not, especially if you are primarily interested in a very narrow and/or competitive area of law, you should reconsider.

  48. I both enjoyed law school and am a happy lawyer. But I have a somewhat unusual job as a career court attorney. I don’t get paid as much as I might in private practice but I make about $80K, with great benefits and great hours, and my salary is set to increase with time served so that it will be in the low six figures in a few years, assuming all goes as planned. Eventually, I hope to become a judge, which I hope will give me even more job satisfaction, if not all that much more money.

    I am not normally someone who discusses these things, but I share this because I am someone who only went to law school because I didn’t know what else to do, never wanted to be a lawyer, and, like the OP, basically took a few legal classes I liked in undergrad. I am incredibly lucky that I found my current job because it basically lets me do exactly what I enjoyed about school — read, research, write — while also feeling like I am able to make a difference by doing the just thing, reaching the right result, and helping to shape the law. All that said, my job is definitely not for everyone and I am sure there are many who’d find it boring. Although in terms of loneliness, I am lucky in that my position requires substantial social interaction with lawyers through conferences, overseeing discovery, etc, as well as with judges, interns, and courthouse staff. I hope that if I can become a judge, that social aspect will increase evermore as I really do enjoy that aspect of the work very much.

    In contrast, most of the folks I went to law school with are not happy and feel either underpaid, overworked, or both. I could easily be one of them but for the fact that I stumbled into a job I love, and I am willing to trade off some of the financial opportunities out there for better life/work balance and intellectual fulfillment.

    I would also add that anyone considering law school needs to: 1) really think about the crappy job market out there and 2) figure out a way to minimize their costs. You shouldn’t have to spend $200K on law school. Figure out what you need to do to minimize that cost. Many of my classmates lived very comfortably in school and are now paying the price every month. I was lucky to have a partial scholarship and no undergrad loans, but I also lived at home and made sure not to take out a penny more than was needed for my tuition & the most basic costs. My debtload is still huge (about $80K), but it’s not crushing or overwhelming, for which I am grateful.

    Anyway, I guess there is no right answer. This is a profession that is not suited to everyone, but it does have a lot of flexibility and most people can find the right fit for them with time. Of course, having reasonable expectations helps.

  49. I graduated from a good law school three years ago. I am now in solo practice — and it is extremely rewarding. There were a few bright spots in law school: con law, my clinic, my clerkship at Legal Aid, and meeting the man I married shortly after we graduated. For the most part, it was tedious, difficult, and at times competitive.

    Nothing could have talked me out of law school. I decided that was my future career path when I was 16, largely as a result of conversations with my AP Government instructor, who was a retired tax attorney. It is fair to say that I thought being an attorney was and what it actually is were worlds apart, a realization that began during 1L year and was not complete until I took a job at a small firm.

    Large firm positions are lucrative, exhausting, and out of reach for most students. My husband and I moved to a different state after graduation and I eventually took a position with a very small firm that specialized in my desired area of practice. Earlier this year, I left and started my own practice. I am now eight months in. It has been great for my relationship with my husband (no more late nights!), who has a government job, my social life, my sleep, and my overall happiness. Solo practice is not for the faint of heart. It is very rarely discussed in law school, but it is a career option you should be aware of.

    Be aware that the loans are outrageous and there is a current and projected surplus of lawyers. Day in and day out, you will be providing services to clients, and may have to take steps to keep them happy (more so than I ever did in my college retail jobs ;). That is a reality you must truly consider. Unless you have a lifelong legal aid or government career — which are fantastic options, by the way — you will at some point be expected to generate business.

    There are parts of being an attorney I’m not crazy about, but owning and managing my own practice gives me an intense feeling of self-fulfillment that I don’t think any other position could. My husband is a public defender and loves his work, although he will probably join my practice at some point down the road.

    Law school was awful. Solo practice, so far, is pretty great.

    For the record: I am 27 years old, happily married, do not have children, and do not work beyond standard business hours. (I’m not rich, either. ;)

  50. I graduated from law school in 2005. I have been an unhappy lawyer and am now a happy lawyer. I clerked for 2 years and worked in big law as a civil litigator for 4 years. Now I am a civil litigator in a midsize law firm and I love it.

    I am glass I stuck with it through the crappy parts. That time was an opportunity to think hard about what I liked about my work and what I needed to change in order to not go home most nights fantasizing about going back to food service.

    I took a 20+% pay cut to take my current job, but because big law lawyers are paid so (IMO) obscenely (and because my student debt was manageable and I avoided the golden handcuffs), that didn’t have any real impact on my quality of life. In exchange for giving up that money, I gained coworkers and managers who I respect and trust to look out f0r the whole ship, not just themselves; time to pursue non-law-related hobbies that nuture me mentally and keep me healthy, physically; and clients that are compatible with my personal beliefs about what is socially useful versus socially destructive. Those three things are significant enough, individually. But collectively they are enormous and made all the difference between being a happy lawyer and an unhappy one.

    FWIW (and I don’t mean to start a bar fight with this, just to counter some artless phrasing I’ve encountered here and elsewhere in legal practice), it is not my experience that leaving big law has meant that I am not able to do top-notch work on cutting-edge legal issues. I remain really f*cking good at my job, and since I moved to the plaintiffs’ side of the equation I’ve been working on the same really interesting issues as before, it’s just that now I rarely have that disconnect between what I think is the right answer and what is the best legal argument I can make on my client’s behalf.

  51. I’m not a lawyer, but I thought about going to law school. When I was in high school, I participated in an extracurricular activity that involved writing an appellate brief and making an oral argument in support of the brief. I loved the research and prep, and was pretty good at it. I always had law school in the back of my head, so I did a few things while I was in college. #1: I worked at a law firm. It was so, so boring. #2: I spoke with an in-house lawyer at my dad’s (major multinational) company about her job. It didn’t excite me. #3: I read a book that, among other things, mentioned many other things you could do with a pile of cash instead of going to law school. I’m now very happy as a social sciences PhD/consultant. I’m well paid, enjoy my work and have a very flexible schedule because I work from home. I really can’t complain – especially when I meet up for dinner with my BigLaw friends when I travel to NY. Just when I think that my job is stressful, they remind me to be grateful – it’s all relative!

  52. I am a “not unhappy” lawyer. I graduated in 2010, so I have just finished up my first year in practice. I don’t work long hours, but I also make hardly any money, therefore, trying to pay off the debt I accumulated during law school, even with the help of H’s salary, makes life less than enjoyable outside of work. I try to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s too far away to offer any sort of consolation.

    I don’t mind the work I do, but I don’t particularly enjoy the people I work with, nor can I see myself staying at this particular firm forever. The lack of options elsewhere in my mid-sized city make me feel trapped where I am and completely unmotivated to work my @ss off.

    I am aware that most of that sounds unhappy. The reason I am “not unhappy” isn’t because of my work -it’s because I love my free time and the way I spend it with my friends and family. I am trying to look at my job, despite the meager salary, as a means to pay off my debt and obtain a little more freedom about my future.

    If I had it to do over again, knowing what I know now about the legal market and the crushing amount of debt, I highly doubt I would have gone to law school, but like another poster said… I’m not sure what I would have done instead. I always wanted to go to law school and be a lawyer and never really considered an alternate route, despite that fact that I knew next to nothing about what the practice of law was really like when I made that decision.

    Right now, my plan for the future is to work this job until most of my debt is paid off and then go into practice with a friend/colleague on our own in the future. That thought is also terrifying, but given how much I have learned in a single year of practice, I hope I will feel confident and competent enough, when the time comes, to strike out on my own-ish.

  53. Anonymous :

    I am in my 8th year of practice. I would say that I am generally happy, but I don’t know if I would go to law school again if I could do it over. Honestly, I’m happy enough so thinking about what I coulda, shoulda, woulda done is not a helpful exercise.
    I am at a large regional firm in a mid-size market. I like the people I work with on an everyday basis but am not as happy with the firm when I get past the people I work with. There are many things I hate about my work – billable hours, lack of reward for efficiency, marketing, etc. I like working with the clients. I don’t like it when they are demanding, but generally, I like the clients I work with.
    All that being said, I have three kids (none in school yet – so my family life is BUSY!) I actually work part-time and that enables me to have a work-life balance that I can handle. I am thinking of finding another job, but I am hesitant to go full time as I like the balance and I am struggling to figure out how to make part-time work especially if I take a new job.
    My big question mark these days is that I would like to see more models for working moms. I just don’t know how I could go full time, my husband works full time, and raise my kids without going crazy. Of the female partners here, either they have no children, have stay-at-home husbands (good for them, but won’t work for me), or are part-time (I would love to do this model, but I don’t know that it is an option). We don’t have a single full-time female attorney that has children and a husband that works. In fact, we have very few male attorneys who have children still in the house and have wives who work anything close to a full time job. This has been at the top of my mind recently as I am trying to figure out how to do it. I want to actually see my kids as they grow up, so it’s a challenge.

  54. New to Law :

    I think that one of the reasons people get the impression that lawyers aren’t happy is because law tends to attract a lot of worriers. We worry about what we’re going to be doing not just today, but 10 years from now, and we have a bad habit of judging ourselves by external measures of success. Being around other perfectionists probably makes the problem worse, but the same people would probably worry just as much in any other profession.

    Personally, I love lawyering. I think it is very, very important to set boundaries and find ways to do healthy non-law things like socialize and exercise, but I wouldn’t give up this line of work for the world. I had another career before law school (a perfectly respectable one, at that) and I just can’t tell you how bored I was. It was painful to go into work every day. Now, I am always intellectually stimulated and I care about the problems that I work on.

    In the line of tips for happiness, I would recommend that you not judge yourself by external measures of success. People with the top credentials get told what sort of work they are supposed to do and those without top credentials feel like failures for not getting that work. You have to think about what sort of work you will actually enjoy in a complex matrix of what kind of work you can get. If BigLaw is for you, then good for you. But if its not, there are so many other kinds of law that people find fulfilling.

  55. I’ve been a lawyer for 4 years, and I’m pretty happy. I work for a state attorney general doing contracts and business litigation, which I like. The hours are fairly sane, the pay is decent, and I work with nice people. It’s a good environment. I’m married and have a 1 year old daughter, and I’m pretty happy with the work/life balance. The last 6 months have been rough for a variety of reasons, including insane busyness at work, but that can and does happen in any field.

    I second the recommendation to work at different firms in law school. As a law student, I clerked for 3 different firms (big/small, plaintiff/defense, litigation/transactional) and had an externship with a federal judge. It was good to see a wide range of fields and personalities up close.

    I also highly recommend working in a different field between undergrad and law school, if possible. I worked in a variety of fields for 6 years between college and law school. The experience helped me realize that most of the gripes I have now I would have in any job. The experience also helped me keep law school in perspective.

    I chose to attend a state university for law school because I knew I didn’t want to be biglaw and I wanted some flexibility in my job search. My total student loan burden was around $50k on graduation. Not a drop int he bucket, but I had more choices as a result.

  56. Anonymous :

    Yes, I love my job and what I do. I work in a public interest practice fighting for a social justice issue that’s very important to me. In fact, I’m one of those people who feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to do. That said, the pay is terrible — if it were not for loan forgiveness and my spouse’s career, I’d be in big trouble.

    Bottom line: Don’t do it for the money. Don’t even do it because you love “the law.” Do it only if there’s something in the world you desperately want to change and you believe litigation/ legislation is the way to do it.

  57. Anonymous :

    I have been practicing for 11 years, and I was a paralegal for 3 years before I went to law school. I went to law school because I realized that as a paralegal I was making 1/3 of what an attorney would be making for the same work. I was lucky enough to work as a paralegal in offices that gave a lot of responsibility and training. That experience definitely helped me with billable hours and understanding how to work in an office (always, always be nice to admin assistants and receptionists, know their names and greet them every morning, sign up for relevant publications, go to as many in house trainings as you can). I believe the experience of being a paralegal helped me excel in the first year of law practice, which helped me avoid being laid off following Enron/internet bubble bursting/effects in financial markets of 9/11. I did corporate work for 8 years and left after I had a baby and realized having a family (the way that I wanted to have a family, at least) and the job was incompatible. I was technically “part time” and I was certainly paid at a lower level but somehow never seemed to feel less pressure in workload. I moved into government work and a lot of my skill set has been transferable. There are still issues – less pay, but much less workload pressure, and I do feel valued by my boss and my clients. One cannot expect perfection. After having been an attorney for a significant amount of time, I’ve gained enough knowledge and legal common sense that I can serve as an advisor to those making policy decisions. So I would say that I am rewarded by my work (which I think is separate from happiness), but it did take about a decade of practice to feel that way. My spouse and I still have law school loans to pay off and that likely won’t change for a decade, at which time we will need to pay for our children’s college and start seriously saving for retirement.

  58. It would be interested to see some statistics based on the comments to this post. It appears that there are very few happy big law attorneys. On the other hand, goverment lawyers seem to be pretty happy. It would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between job type and happiness.

  59. My fiance just started his first year in BigLaw litigation, and my perception is that the career is a double-edged sword. He’s definitely in the “camp” that didn’t enjoy law school, but truly enjoys the practice of law. He loves debate (and was a champ during his HS years). When he tells me about work, he just glows when he’s talking about finding small issues that can affect a case and all the strategy that goes into working a case for a client. He’s definitely a lawyer, he’s wanted to be a lawyer as long as I’ve known him, and I know he loves being a lawyer. His practice area is also important, as I hear him complain to no end when he receives a project from an area he’s not interested in working.
    However, he also came home at 11:30pm last night, back sore from being hunched over at a computer all day. The environment is harsh, and can make people unhappy.
    My fiance is a happy lawyer, but he also gets fulfillment from working long hours to contribute positively to a case.

  60. Texas Attorney :

    Oh, I think you should not expect to “love” your job. If you do, you will be disappointed ultimately, no matter what your job is. Love your husband, your child, the lifestyle your job allows. Being a lawyer, ultimately, is just a job. A means to an end. I am satisfied with my job. I enjoy the place I work now (and have for the last ten years) more than any other place I have worked. I have very good friends here. I was interviewing a witness the other day on a case I have. He seemed to me to have such a cool and interesting job. When I mentioned that, he said he was thinking the same thing about me. To him, his job was just a job, just like me.

    Now I will say, there are all kinds of lawyering jobs. So you have to find your place. DO NOT go to lawschool with dreams of big money in big law. Most law grads dont make, and those who do don’t like it. If you go to lawschool with reasonable expectations, you will likely not be disappointed. When I went to lawschool, I had never met an attorney. My only perception of lawyers were those on LA Law (now I have dated myself!). I have never worked with a male attorney that looks like Jimmy Smits or Harry Hamlin. Now there is your disappointment.

  61. I’m an attorney and beginning by third year of practice in a medium-sized firm. I firmly belong in the second camp Kat mentioned. I hated law school, but I love being an attorney.

    Saying I love being an attorney does not mean to say that I love all aspects of being an attorney — billable hours, late nights, etc. But, I really enjoy the people that I work with and the area of law that I work in.

    Reader C, the thing that worries me about your letter is the fact that you fell upon the idea of becoming a lawyer because you love the subject. Although loving the subject is a start, in my humble opinion, its more important to love the practice. Law school is an expensive and time consuming exercise to go through only to find out three years later that you don’t like the practice of law as much as you liked the theory of it. I strongly recommend getting an internship or summer job at a law firm to try and get a feel for the practice before you commit to going to law school. If you can’t get a job, then ask an attorney if you can shadow them for a short period of time. And, if you can, try and do that at different types of law firms or with different types of lawyers.

    I hope that’s helpful. Good luck.

  62. While I’m not miserable in my job with a mid-sized firm, and enjoy many aspects of it, the following things undermine my job satisfaction:

    1. Private practice of law is a tough job to combine with family life. Because we bill by the hour and hours billed is a major measure of success and value, it’s not possible to make up for working less by doing exceptional work or getting work done more efficiently. You can’t get around putting in the time. Also (and this would be true of many client-service jobs), clients are highly demanding and often don’t appreciate or allow for the time necessary to get things done on the legal side. I say this having just spent much of what I thought was going to be a relaxing Thanksgiving with family working on a last-minute client “emergency.”

    2. Many types of legal work are pretty solitary. If you are a people person, this can be a downer.

    3. The interaction you do have with people is often contentious. If you are a person who enjoys interacting with others in a cooperative and affirming manner, legal practice may go against the grain.

    4. Much of the nuts and bolts of legal practice can be pretty tedious and boring. It’s a mistake to think you’ll enjoy practicing because you enjoy theorizing about the law in school. These are two entirely different things.

    I much agree that it’s a great idea to learn more about legal work by taking a job as a paralegal for a year or two before committing to law school.

  63. And now for a word from the other side…loved law school, hate being a lawyer. Started at biglaw, moved to small law, now at medium law. I hate the stress, the billable hours, being thrown under the bus by partners and associates alike, insane client demands, being yelled at because someone else is have a bad day, and fighing with opposing counsel over inane cr*p, all purportedly in pursuit of client’s so-called interests. Lunch and corporette are the only good things in my day (and I mean each and everyone of them). I am desperately trying to find another job, but in this economy, I’m stuck.

  64. Texas Attorney :

    I have to say, I graduated from one of those “meh” lawschools during the last big downturn (1991). I went to NOT the University of Texas (go Red Raiders) and I have done just fine. I did not make $150,000 when I first got out (or the 1991 equivalent to it), but I have paid my student loans and support my family in fine style. I would not have taken on private school debt for anything. I’m just saying.

  65. Hm.

    I’m not a happy lawyer. I’m a fifth year in biglaw, doing M&A. Although I work with great people and have clients whom I love, the hours are just so wearing. Sure some weeks are fine but many weeks my entire private life disappears down the rabbit hole. My work can be exciting, but sometimes after a deal closes, I go home to my house and barely remember who I am when I’m not working. I worry, as a single woman, that I’ll never marry again , because I’m too busy really to date. I see that my firm has no female partners in my practice and know that some of that is because the physical toll of pregnancy and the time taken for leave are incompatible with the life cycle of a public company deal.

    If I had it to do over again, I’d be an Episcopal priest.

    • Wow – completely identical situation here (except for the priest part). I would have went into higher ed.

    • I completely agree. Fourth year medium-law. For me, there is no way to be happy longterm with these hours (more specifically the lack of control over the hours, and the inability to plan). Any advice offered by other commentors to find fulfillment and happiness in your personal life just doesn’t help those billing 2100+. The reality is that for many of us, that rich personal life is expected to be a very distant second to firm and client needs. Even when you make it through a weekend uninterrupted, the constant threat of the red flashing Blackberry light takes its toll.

      • same anon as above :

        I completely agree with this – the anxiety of holding your breath and waiting for the flashing light is exhausting. Trying to set boundaries and have a personal life while being a dedicated associate committed to my big firm master is just not possible.

        I used to like my job very much and wake up thinking I was so lucky to work where I did (first year or so). I would love to visit with all the very junior lawyers on this thread in a few years to see if anything has changed. Three years ago, I would not have believed you if you told me I was going to be this miserable and unhappy at my job.

        • Agreed. When I started off I was convinced I wouldn’t be one of those unhappy lawyers. But I wasn’t single then, so at the very least I came home to somebody else at the end of the day. And I thought I could put up with the difficult life if I could find meaning in my family and provide for them.

          Now I’m single, and the job is all I have, because I don’t have time to develop anything else. I can’t live this way for much longer.

  66. Divaliscious11 :

    Am a hybrid of Kat’s description. I enjoyed law school and also really enjoy the practice of law. Becoming a happy lawyer was about finding the right place. I am pretty happy now, although I’d like both a little more flexibility and a little more money, even though I recognize that my income is pretty good, and my work schedule is mostly manageable. I am 10 years in, and senior enough to be lead on new projects, have senior and engaging projects without being so senior that I am bogged down by administration etc…. I don’t think I’d be happy if I was a litigator. My advice would be to find what you enjoy and steer your career there. Work is not my source of joy, but for something that gets so much of my attention, I am generally happy with it.

  67. I did love law school and also love practice, but for each for different reasons: I like to write and analyze, to meet people and help them understand how the law can (or can’t) solve their problems, to learn new things quickly, to advocate, to hear and tell stories. It helps to be a fluid thinker who can think through all sides of a problem, speak confidently, and appreciate how politics and precedent all play possible outcomes (which is what I learned in law school anyway).

    I would say my life is great and my current practice (10+ years, currently in government) is where I want to be. Of course we work HARD, but so do teachers, nurses, plumbers, etc. We cannot afford conspicuous consumption which is fine with me. We do travel a bit each year, spoil our kids at Christmas, and I’m able to dress as well as I like. When I’ve seen jobs outright destroy someone’s happiness it’s always some nature of boundary problem: Not knowing when to say no, letting a boss feel like a parent (or having sibling rivalry with coworkers), indulging in gossip or infidelity. Problems with budgeting and debt easily become marriage problems, which is why law firm partners can seem SO cranky and greedy. Private practice is essentially a game of IOU’s, moving money between clients, income and overhead: Billable hours are ultimately a measure of indebtedness. It’s definitely not for everyone. To be a happy lawyer I’d say be extremely careful with consumer debt and alcohol, brush resentment and envy aside, and live your own best life.

  68. Happy lawyer here! Currently in-house after a lengthy stint doing litigation at a large law firm.

    Why I like my job:
    • Small legal department, which translates into: (1) working with the GC on a daily basis; (2) working with senior-level executives frequently; (3) being involved in every aspect of a very large business. That is freaking cool.
    • The other people in my legal department. They’re good peeps. I like and respect them.
    • I typically work regular hours with a few “late” nights a month (don’t laugh—a late night for us is 7 – 8 p.m.). I really don’t work on the weekends, although I would if necessary. Caveat, my hours reflect my place on the totem pole. My GC and AGC work more than I do. That feels strange after the BigLaw model.
    • No billable hour! I didn’t realize until after I started this job just how much time I’d spent worrying about billing. Either I was working all the time and billing a ton (and therefore miserable and stressed), or I was anxious because I wasn’t billing “enough.” It was so liberating that first weekend when I realized I no longer had to calculate how many hours of billable time something enjoyable would cost me.

    What I liked about BigLaw:
    • I worked with really, really good attorneys. I’ve seen enough to be grateful that the partners with whom I worked directly were great strategists, skilled writers and advocates, and extremely ethical.
    • Despite doing my fair share of doc review, I also got great practical experience. That experience helped make me attractive to my current employer (in addition to my all-around general awesomeness, ahem).
    • I made a bunch of great friends at my firm.

    What I didn’t like about BigLaw:
    • It can be extremely isolating. To hear a 30-year trial partner talk about being an associate, it sounds like it used to be a lot like law school… all the associates would be up in the library, going through reporters, late at night. You were working hard, but you were with other people. Now, there’s WestLaw, and you probably do your work in your office by yourself or at home by yourself. When you do nothing but work…by yourself… day in… and day out… that can be rough.
    • BigLaw can be dehumanizing. You are a giant walking dollar sign. Your purpose in life is to bill, bill, bill. You will be paid a large salary. This means, depending on who you get stuck working for, that you are obligated to cancel any and all plans, no matter how important or how far planned in advance, at the last minute to satisfy some partner’s whim to work on something that (a) isn’t even urgent or (b) has become urgent only because the partner sat on it so long. Although, to be fair, this happens to my friends at small firms, too, so maybe it just depends on your partner’s managerial skills and compassion (or lack thereof).
    • Also, even though you’re paid a lot, chances are equity partner salaries will outstrip even income partner salary by 10-20 times. That used to be unheard of, and I’ve seen the disparity do really damaging things to partnerships.
    • Partnership ain’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

    Conclusion: My experience in BigLaw was a series of peaks and valleys where the peaks were decent but the valleys were really, really low. Overall, though, I had a good run. When I started my career, I never aspired to go in-house; I assumed I would make partner, and that would be that. A few years ago, I recognized that I didn’t want to be a partner at my then-law firm. I found a great job opportunity, and I jumped at it. I haven’t looked back.

  69. Wow, there are a lot of valid and realistic points on here. First I will say that I HIGHLY recommend interning at a firm before deciding on law school.

    I am a mostly-happy attorney practicing 4 years. However, like any job, you will have those days of unrealistic clients, demanding bosses, etc. I work in a small office doing IP work. I knew I wanted to do IP, which is part of the reason I’m satisfied in what I do. However, because of the economy, firms (including mine) have taken on some other types of work that don’t interest me (foreclosure, collections, etc). As a young associate, you will 100% be required to pick up some of these types of law that you may have no interest in doing in order to bill the hours for the firm.

    The economic situation cannot be ignored- I know many that graduated when I did and still can’t find jobs. Of those that did, 99% of my friends from law school came out with a specific interest, yet ended up in a type of law they never considered just to get ANY legal job. Be prepared for that.

    I have yet to find ANY younger attorney that 1) gets paid a lot AND 2) has the type of flexibility I have working 8-9 hour days. Usually its 1 or the other. Mine is the flexibility. At a small firm, I also have a lot more experience both in and outside of the courtroom, whereas my friends at big firms are still hunched over a desk doing research and writing only.

    My biggest advice is to be realistic on why you want to go to law school, and what you will have to do to obtain the end goal for yourself. I would not go to law school to rack up debt if you have no interest in practicing law or just want to go back to school in general.

  70. I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments yet, but wanted to chime in that I am a happy lawyer! Sometimes I think something is wrong with me, because I feel alone in being 5 years at a big firm and still enjoying it. But I feel challenged on a regular basis, believe I am given chances to grow and improve my skills, and I like the people I work with. The only times I have been genuinely miserable is when I’m working with someone I can’t stand or when I am wasting away working on something completely alone. At the most basic level, I think my happiness at work comes down to a) getting to use my brain and b) having some interaction with other people.

  71. I am happy. See my name. I’m in-house pretty much from day 1 thanks to before-law-school experience in my area, higher ed. I started off making a little more than 1/3 of the BigLaw starting salary that some friends were getting. This was better than the $0 that a good number of my peers were getting; unemployed, only to become underemployed in non-legal jobs (not for lack of trying). But my work is varied, interesting, and new people I meet are always intrigued that “colleges have their own lawyers.” Plus, students, parents, and staff are only becoming more litigious, and the regulatory landscape is becoming more complex. Job Security. As a junior person, I barely work on weekends (and if I do, it’s probably my own fault with mismanagement of time), I have very stable hours (approx 8:30-5:30), and I carry a BlackBerry so I can respond…if I check it.

    I have a few friends who are happy at BigLaw, but most of them aren’t. Maybe I’m just drawn to the types that wouldn’t be? It really depends on the firm, city, and practice group.

  72. Fl Lawyer :

    I’ve been out of law school for 5 years and I have to say that I have always been happy in my career because I have a niche. It takes a specific personality to be a “litigator” and not everyone is cut out for that. If there is a particular subject you like, I suggest focusing your practice on that. For me, that was health care law (everything from regulatory issues to policy work). The other important factor is finding the right environment and people to foster your interests. I work at a firm that really values the type of work that I do, which makes the whole process so much better.

  73. I REALLY like my job, and I am happy with my career prospects. I am in higher ed and not a day goes by where I don’t deal with female lawyers.

    It took 2 years to find this job out of law school and I totally fell into it, but I am glad I don’t actually practice law now.

  74. anoninnyc :

    I will sound like a broken record, but it’s so important that it’s worth it: don’t take out loans for law school in amounts that will fundamentally alter the choices you make after law school. I took out a substantial amount in loans and I feel LUCKY that I got a BigLaw job, where I can afford to pay down my loans. But at the same time, I can’t afford to go anywhere else. If I didn’t have any debt, I would make substantially different choices. Your debt burden will shape your life in ways you can’t predict. Be very, very careful about taking on that burden.

    • This. I try to explain it to people like this: do you think it’s realistic to have two mortgages? Is that how rich you really think you’re going to be, that you can afford two mortgages, pay for all your other necessities, and still have discretionary $$ to live the lifestyle you want? Cuz if you aspire to be a homeowner, that’s essentially what you’ll have in combination with your student loan debt.

      • I refer to my student loan debt as the mortgage on my brain. My husband and I basically live on one salary, with 75% of my pay going to pay down said brain mortgage. We do this because we want to knock it out as quickly as possible to save on interest and for peace of mind. If I was on my own with the same salary (which, admittedly, is not very high), I would not be able to pay down my debt so aggressively, and I would have the same standard of living as the administrative assistants working at my law school. I definitely encourage everyone to think long and hard about the financial ramifications when choosing a law school (or whether to go at all). I live comfortably, but it is no where near what everyone expects for “lawyer pay.”

  75. I went straight to in-house after law school and have loved it overall. A few pros: I don’t have to keep track of my hours. I work very closely with management and am therefore dealing in both legal and business matters. I don’t have to write meaningless memos or articles. I get to experience regulatory work, lobbying, employment law, contract law, and a number of other areas on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis. I have one client to deal with – the rest of the time, I’m the client. And I can’t say it enough – hours, hours, hours. Monday through Friday, 9-5, barring something mega-huge going on.

    I was one of the people who hated many aspects of law school. I have a very realistic/practical view of work and the law and felt that law school (and many times law firms) floss theoretical a bit much, to say the least. One of the many reasons I hated working in big law firms during my summers was that I felt as though I was constantly doing very unnecessary work for the clients. Now that I’m in-house I still feel that way. I don’t want a lengthy memo, I want the answer. Don’t try to bill me eight hours for editing said memo.

    The downside to my job is that I don’t make the megabucks of big law, but I also am not poor my any means (though loan payments make me feel like it). I went to a good school but had no scholarships, so I’m in the upper-100K debt arena. It’s not a fun place to be. I put over half of my take-home pay toward those payments, and I don’t know when I will ever be able to afford to own a house or take care of anything more than a cat. My fiance (c/o 2009) is in a similar position money-wise, but he also is in a horrible midlaw job where he works biglaw hours and is paid half-market. Many of his classmates who were “indefinitely deferred” or laid off from their biglaw jobs are in the same boat (if they have a legal job at all). I would say the vast majority of my friends didn’t even end up getting jobs requiring a J.D.

    YMMV, but even going to a good school for free doesn’t guarantee you a high-paying job or a job that in any way looks like what you thought you would have wanted out of law school. The situation my 3L year (2010) was that the career services office now was in the business of tempering your expectations and telling you what job you wanted rather than helping you get the job you want. That was the experience of many people I knew at other law schools as well. To my knowledge, very little has changed for the better since then.

    • I’m fascinated that you’re 9-5. I really thought 9-5 in-house had gone the way of 3-martini lunches and unicorns… my group is 8-6 or 6:30.

  76. anonInHouse :

    Great topic. As a 2007 law grad, I would say my answer has changed over the last year or so. I started out in NYC Big law and while some of the work was interesting, I was miserable mostly because of the folks in my group. I had thought I was in the practice area that I was most interested in, it wouldn’t matter that the folks were among the hardest to work with b/c I was doing something I loved. WRONG. Made my life miserable and made me question myself. That being said, I love my practice area and am glad I stuck it out and managed to now transition in-house to large international company. The pay is less than Biglaw but I have a range of interesting work, a great boss and better work-life balance. Still work through lunch but rarely work weekends. I am happy and can see myself continuing to practice as a lawyer if all this holds true for the next 20+ years.

  77. Mother Lawyer :

    So many things change once you have kids. It’s hard to know what kind of mom you want to be (maybe even if you want to be a mom at all) when you’re just out of undergrad. At that time, I really didn’t give it much thought. But I wish I had. Law was a good match for me – until I had kids. Then I wanted to be with them more than I expected. And it’s tough finding a job that will allow for that – especially if you are in a niche practice area. Think about it, and be sure to talk to lawyers who are moms.

    • anonymous mom :

      Someone will surely quote Sheryl Sandberg, and say “Don’t leave before you leave!” But I find that in law, we’re all pretty interchangeable cogs. It’s hard to be indispensable in law, which means that when you have a baby, there’s no reason why the firm needs to keep you around.

  78. Graduated from law school 15 years ago. Loved it. Went to a top school, luckily paid for by my parents, so graduated without debt. I read quickly and like to argue/debate and found law school really fun. Many of my classmates were insecure and the the social part wasn’t ideal. Became a prosecutor. Loved it. Going to court was amazing. I now work in politics and no longer practice law but would not have my current job if I wasn’t a lawyer. I think lawyering is great for people who really want to be a lawyer. I never worked at a firm and did not think I would like the billable hours or the firm enviornment, and I think that’s a big reason I have had such a great professional life. I do think professional fulfillment is possible — you can find a job you love — and I do think its worth it to look until you find it (even if working for pay at a less than perfect job while you find yourself/your dream.) Good luck.

  79. As others have said, the question may not be whether you’d enjoy practicing law, but whether you’d be able to get a job in law. I’d recommend instead an MBA- people I know finishing a mid-range school in the Pacific Northwest last year all got multiple offers over six figures. The work isn’t any worse than law and has more latitude for doing different things. I’m a lawyer no longer practicting, much happier in my new field that is quasi-related.

    Question for ladies with kids: I am having trouble with balancing work and pregnancy. I don’t have more than the usual symptoms at this point (3.5 months) but just find it trying to go to the office every day, drive, put on clothes and shoes that make me uncomfortable despite finding best possible options, not being able to lay down for a bit during the day, all of it. Yet, I love my job and don’t have any interest in quitting- I just hate the physical burden. I know it will pass in time but any advice? I feel so unhappy each day, I wish I could enjoy life. I can telecommute once in a while but don’t want to abuse that earlier when I might need it a lot later. Also, I love my job a lot, but I have been feeling resentful about the meager maternity and leave benefits. I feel like I should move past this as there isn’t any short-term solution- the USA has crap benefits on the whole, mine aren’t too far below average, and I wouldn’t want to switch jobs anyway especially during the pregnancy. I just can’t get over it and keep stewing over it. Help please!

    • anonymous mom :

      It is hard, especially if you have a rough pregnancy. (I had a hard time, with near-constant nausea and vomiting, so I know of which I speak.) With respect to the physical burden, you’ll probably feel better soon — I felt much better through the second trimester, lousy in the eighth month, and then fine again at the very bitter end. With respect to the emotional burden, I encourage you to think hard about all of your options in extending your maternity leave. Can you take FMLA in addition to maternity leave? Can you ask for extra unpaid leave? If you chose not to return to work, could your family swing it financially? What about part-time? You may decide to come back full-time, but the more it’s an option that you CHOOSE, as opposed to something you’re forced into, the better you’ll feel.

      Signed, someone who felt like she was forced into going back to work too early, and has regretted it ever since

      • Thanks. It was rough in the beginning with scary complications plus I was traveling internationally for work for over a month straight + other trips, so not easy. I could extend unpaid leave but am torn about extending leave, because I really like my job and don’t want to jeopardize it or be ‘mommy tracked’, and also think I could easily get bored at home. But, it’s more the pace of things- the haul of physically getting to the office day after day. And frankly the discomfort of any clothes other than yoga pants, which sounds minor, but makes a day feel like a week. It is a good point to make sure I’m choosing what to do though, which may come down to how I feel at the time. Unfortunately, we can’t have it all, sorry to say, at least with my specific energy levels at this time and career interests.
        I appreciate the feedback.

  80. MeliaraofTlanth :

    I’m a fairly unhappy lawyer.

    My plan was never to be a lawyer, not permanently. My plan was to get my JD, work in BigLaw long enough to pay back a good chunk of loans accepting the fact it would be a miserable few years (and I went to a T10 school, so when I was applying in 2007, if you were breathing and not a complete moron and wanted one, you could get a biglaw job), and then use my JD to do what I really wanted to do, which was work in politics (I was getting the JD because it seemed like–and probably is– a very useful degree to have in politics). Well, I couldn’t find a law job at graduation, so I took a job in politics. I *loved* it (though hated living in DC, but that’s another story). Fine, I thought, we’ll just accelerate the plan and be perpetually poor thanks to the student loan debt but happy with my job. Then, due to elections, I lost that job. Moved back to the city I love (where the BF lives, as well). Found an actual law job in a field that theoretically should be interesting, and if I could stick it out for 5 years, probably will be. I pretty much hate it. Billing hours is the absolute worst (see post on that topic above), I get paid about half of what my friends in BigLaw make for what is quite frankly not that fewer hours (I have the same billable requirement as many biglaw friends), and yes, a lot of opposing counsel are just unnecessarily obnoxious. Part of it is just being new; I’m sure it will get better once I’ve been there longer. Part of it is unmet expectations. I was concerned about the debt before I went to law school and talked to a decent number of law students and lawyers about it. They all assured me that people from my school paid their debt back fairly quickly because they all got big law jobs and did I know how much bonuses were? Of course, no one saw the recession coming.
    I also think about my prior job and just miss it so much (though the pay was truly terrible, but again, if I didn’t have law school loans, it would be entirely liveable). I think about my friends from college who went straight into politics instead of law school and the fact that they were a level or two above me from their three years of experience without the crushing debt load from law school, and I basically feel like I wasted 3 years of my life and totally screwed myself over. Will my JD be worth it 20 years down the road? Maybe. But it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    • sorry to say it’s not just being new… the opposing counsels don’t get better etc with time, they can wear on you more.

      • Backgrounder :

        @ MeliaraofTlanth – I feel the same way although I did not go back to get a JD. I did paralegal with the fed govt for two years straight out of undergrad when I thought I wanted to go to law school.

        I decided not to go to law school but felt pressured to get some sort of graduate degree instead. I wanted to work for the federal government again (possibly State) and thought, at the time, that getting an MA in International Relations was a good idea (!!). While I went to a pretty prestigious school, I had the expectation that I would be able to get a government job fairly quickly after graduation (in 2008, mind you when the economy was still okay but headed towards the sh*tter) and find a public student loan repayment program to assist with the debt.

        Needless to say NONE of this has happened yet so what I have now is lots of debt from grad school, no government job and am working in a private sector job where if I would have started straight out of undergrad I would be making six figures as a director all with minimal debt. It makes me REALLY question the value of the degree I have…

  81. Lydia's child :

    I’m a happy lawyer! I’m fortunate to have specialized in trusts and estates — a wonderful practice — and although I sometimes find the firm leadership at large frustrating I enjoy working with the people in my office. I’ve kept time for my family and for volunteering and reading, gardening, entertaining. Yes, there are happy lawyers.

  82. Mostly unhappy at my lawyer jobs (now do policy/strateg for a company, love it). THere were some good days, but overall hated it and had to get through the day. Jobs I did: local government agency assistant general counsel- wrote rules/public hearings etc., defended federal class actions (ick spreadsheets + doc review, even going to court in manhattan sucked because of jerko opposing counsel), local gov’t job negotiating labor contracts and things of that nature, short stint at securities boutique doing doc review (worst, worst..). None of these had long hours for the most part. They did have plenty of jerks who could make life miserable: bitter bosses, horrid opposing counsel that made everything miserable and personal, lazy incompetent support staff. Sometimes I liked my colleagues for the most part though didn’t love them like my current ones. The work itself could be satisfying at times, interesting at times, drudgery at times, frustrating, motivating- many things. But rarely inspiring. I planned a strategy to do environmental work, my passion, do that now and love it. Took years to implement, was worth it. My mother in law during those years joked that I was in the 7th circle of hell, then the 6th, 5th etc. – it was 7 yrs before I escaped. By the way I didn’t dream of any of these jobs- the lawyer job market was terrible in my areas of interest when I got out of school in 03. there’s been a glut of lawyers for a while- it isn’t just the recent recession. I advise everyone not to go to law school, due to the crap job market and fact that MOST not all of the jobs aren’t something that makes for a happy life.

    I’m glad to see from the posts that there are lots of happy lawyers out there- my impression over the years has been that most aren’t. I know some in private practice who like it, but don’t have much of a life so wouldn’t be for me. Lots of the government ones are happy enough but those jobs aren’t a dime a dozen these days. The happiest people I know are those who have morphed into something related that they really like, but not actually law anymore.

  83. I’m a third year associate in big law and pretty unhappy. I don’t know any happy lawyers either… I think if you don’t know 100% that you want to be a lawyer and you aren’t ready for the sacrifices that it will take (there are a LOT — I have cut every single “fun” thing out of my life, never see my husband, went on my honeymoon a year late, etc.), then you should not incur the debt.

  84. Anon former big law :

    There are happy lawyers out there, but it is easy to get trapped I really soul crushing, hateful work. Ironically, this is all the more true if you do well in law school. At least at my school, those who did well generally had an easy, fairly unexamined entree into big law. It is hard to turndown the money and prestige.

    That was certainly the case with me. I graduated law school in 2005, and went to work for a big firm in the northeast. Literally spent three of the worst years of my life there. I actually bought giant dark sun glasses to wear in on the train in the morning so people couldnt see me crying. Another thing to consider- if you are unhappy in your job you tend not to do your best work, which feeds the downward self esteem spiral.

    But, there are good parts! I left big law after three years and took a federal clerkship in a desirable district. I loved every moment of it, though it was frequently a lot of work.

    Now I am a prosecutor in the same very competitive city, and it is the best job ever. I work reasonable hours, though not 9-5, on very interesting and challenging cases that have real meaning and impact. The pay is not great, but not terrible. People are great, work, though some times dark subject matter, is interesting.

    So, although I hated big law, it gave me the ability to make substantial progress on my loans, and had some resume value. I wouldn’t do it again, but there was at least some moderate upside.

    FWIW, it seems like there are a higher percentage of happy prosecutors than there are other types of lawyers.

  85. My advice to anyone who’s considering law school is to work in some sort of legal field for a little while – and the more mind-numbing, the better. I was a BigLaw paralegal for years before going to law school, and in so doing I realized that I found the practice of law fascinating, but I never wanted to do that kind of work. That said, I didn’t know exactly what kind of law I wanted to practice. I was lucky to discover a passion for criminal defense early on in law school, which meant I could tailor my courses, clinical work, and internships so that I was almost always doing what I wanted, and making it easier for me to find a job after graduation.

    One thing is for sure, though – don’t go to law school with the assumption that you’ll make lots of money once you graduate. It might have been a realistic expectation once upon a time, but not any longer. And if you have to take out student loans, then do so with your eyes wide open – I knew before law school that I was going to work either in a nonprofit or in government, so I was aware the financial hit I was setting myself up for. Knowing what I was getting myself into (and the fact that I love my job) makes it a lot easier when nearly half my paycheck goes straight to student loans.

  86. Seattle Lawyer Mom :

    I just made partner in big law a year ago. Day to day I often am not happy, but that said I love my job! Trying to juggle my job with motherhood is very difficult, I don’t sleep or exercise enough, and the constant demands of the job are stressful. But it’s SO rewarding intellectually and personally to have thorny, hard problems to figure out, and have the opportunity to really work on a piece of writing to make it as good as possible. I love my colleagues and respect and admire the partners ahead of me at my firm — they are good people with good values whom I wish to emulate. And I know that the last few years and the next few years are likely to be the hardest of my career as I figure out how to be a partner and my kids are still little, so I’m just trying to hang in there.

  87. In-house Europe :

    this is a great topic and I don’t have much to add that other people haven’t already said. in-house, and I like (but do not love) my job. my ideal job would be something where I could feel like I was helping people (crim defense, family law, etc.) but this job allows me to live in Europe and have a great quality of life. Of my group of friends from law school (2005 grad from 2nd tier), only 2 are still in biglaw. 1 loves it and will certainly make partner. the other hates it but has no choice in order to afford the nice house and good nanny. the rest of my friends work as PDs (they LOVE LOVE LOVE their job) or in the policy area (like their job).

    The main problem with this issue is the same reason I went to law school – all of the warnings would *never* apply to me because I always did well in school and was able to achieve what I wanted to. But guess what? All the people at law school have also always achieved their goals, and it is a whole new playing field – so the chances of you getting your dream job (or the grades to enable that) are all of the sudden a heck of a lot less. And that is something that is just impossible to internalize for most young graduates. I certainly wasn’t able to internalize it despite the warnings I got. And while it worked out for me, I wouldn’t want to have to go back to the US and look for a job right now, that’s for sure.

    • very true. i couldn’t believe it after law school when me, star student and leader in past, was unemployed and taking bottom of barrel jobs. it was depressing and humiliating for years til after much hard work i pulled out of the slump, by my own making and some luck. i definitely didn’t think it would happen to me. it’s a market numbers game, to those of you thinking about law school- not always or often in your control.

  88. I will be lucky if I manage to graduate with $140,000 in debt. But I also got good grades at a good law school and scored a biglaw job. I think it’s important to keep in mind that the interest rate on graduate student loans is 6-8% these days, and it now accrues while you’re still in school. That means that it is a lot easier for debt to spiral out of control than it used to be. My biggest piece of advice would be not to take on six-figure debt UNLESS you are 1) at a top school where you would be able to snag a high-paying job and 2) willing to work at a high-paying job that undoubtedly will require to work long hours. The legal job market is improving, but it still ain’t what it used to be, so also make sure you can get the type of job you want after attending the schools you’re considering.

    • I disagree completely about having to take on a high-paying job. It’s like somehow people go to law school and come out completely unable to live on the median salary of an average American. As far as I know, people who enter law school now have better options for paying off their loans than earlier classes have had since they can consolidate at lower rates. If you’re working in public interest or government, there isn’t that expectation to spend as extravagantly as you do in biglaw. People bring their lunches, live frugally, and still live decent lives while slowly paying off their student loan debt.

      That said, I’m not saying it’s for everyone. I have quite a bit of debt and I hated my previous career- so much so that I was physically ill in the morning and spend all my time off work dreading going back. I know people who graduated in other bad economies and they managed to do alright 5-10 years down the road.

      • I should have been more clear in my post: what I mean to say is that I don’t think you should take on mid-six-figure debt if your dream legal job pays $50k a year and you want to live in an expensive city (e.g. New York). Loan consolidation options I’ve found so far don’t take the interest rate down much. If you are making $50k in New York and pay $9k in student loan payments your first year, you have just paid the interest on your debt (assuming $150k debt and you consolidated your 8% loans to 6%), and that doesn’t leave a lot for savings.

  89. Texas Attorney :

    After reading all of these posts, and thinking of my now 20 year legal career, I think a big key is perspective. I come back to my first comment that you should not expect to “love” your job. It is a job. A means to an end.

    I am one of those lawyers who quit the law business about 4 years in to pursue my dream job of being a history professor. I had reached a point with the firm I was working in that if I did not quit, I was going to go mental. I had a lot going on them. 2100+ hours, a parent who died, a best friend with a terminal illness. I worked for a bunch of assholes. It was either quit or start drinking heavily. I had decided there was not an attorney on the planet worth working with. I went back to school and incurred two more years of debt. I loved it. I look at that extra debt is my alternative to large medical bills for psychiatric care. But eventually I missed not being poor. So I started doing contract work, then joined a small firm and I am now at a midsize regional firm. I am “of counsel” and choose to make a little less money and bill a little less time. But I make a WHOLE LOT more money than most peope in this country, many who do not have jobs right now. I like the people I work with. In fact, some of them are my best friends. I do not expect financial institution related litigation is going to make me “happy”, but my job allows me to do things like take my son to Lego Land. I live in a modertate town house intead of a giant house. I drive a VW instead of a Mercedes. But I have only missed one of my sons baseball games because I was in trial.

    Girls, take it from one of the old timers on this page, go into lawschool, and the business of law, with some perspective. And think of this too, there are a lot of history professors out there with WAY MORE debt and less opportunity to pay it off.

  90. I’ve been a lawyer for nearly 12 years. I LOVED law school and really like what I do. That said, I am not defined by what I do. My career is fulfilling, interesting, and varied. I am intellectually challenged and work with great people; these things make it worthwhile to continue to be a working mother. On the subject of balance-having it all is a myth. In order to achieve balance, one area of your life will inevitably take over, then another, and back again.

    A job is a job. They don’t call it a vacation. You are not always going to like going to work. Sometimes you may dread it. Sometimes you may skip to work. It’s all cyclical.

    The one universal turth I’ve learned as a lawyer is that there are no universal truths. Bottom line-choose your career based on what you like, not what you think you should do.

  91. I’m happy in my job as a lawyer. I’m in my 7th year of practice and at my 2nd firm. After trying a few areas of practice, I’ve settled into one that I find both interesting and rewarding. I also work at a small firm for a boss I like and respect, and I negotiated hard for less hours and a flex schedule (I currently work around 30 hours per week) so I have plenty of time to enjoy hobbies, family and other aspects of life. So my job is great, my work life balance is great, and my pay is comfortable enough, though nowhere near big law salaries (the trade off for the other great aspects of my job).

  92. First, I’d like to know where exactly those in the “I loved law school” camp graduated from, because I hated law school! HATED!!! There was nothing fun about it. That being said, I am a happy lawyer. I work for a boutique firm (13 attorneys) where for the most part everyone is gone by 5:30 and they are very family friendly. I also don’t have a billable hour requirement which is awesome. I think your work environment makes a huge difference.

    • I attended Notre Dame and I loved law school. Didn’t like living in rural Indiana, but I loved school.

  93. I’ve been practicing for a few years and have been with my current small (myself and my boss) firm for about 3.5 years. We do mostly corporate and securities work with a bit of litigation thrown in. With the exception of dealing with crappy opposing counsel and tedious discovery processes, I love it. I knew I wanted to do corporate law when I graduated from law school so I concentrated on finding a firm that specialized and was luckily enough to land a job at my first choice firm.

    My boss is big on family so my hours are great. We are going to a new metric in January with a billable hour target of 6 hours per day. As we mostly have smaller clients who’ve been hurt by the economic downturn the pay is terrible at the time being but will eventually pick back up. The pay, however, is a side issue to me because I’d much rather work with colleagues and with clients that I like and send my days doing work that I find enjoyable.

    With the small firm I also do a lot of tasks that my law school friends have never even dreamed about: taking and defending depositions; arguing motions in court; drafting and negotiating merger and acquisition documents, etc. So, I didn’t have the boring research monkey positions that a lot 0f my friends had or still have.

    With the legal community as it is now, no one should go to law school expecting the massive salaries of the ’90’s or early ’00’s because, for the most part, they aren’t there anymore. IMO, it is far better to find something that you like doing than being able to afford the newest Jag or Prada bag. Similarly, the practice of law is not generally the same as one sees on L&O or other tv shows. Go to law school because it is something you want to do and be prepared to have a massive loan hanging over your head for the next 30 years with the understanding that you may have to take a job that requires you to decide whether you want to pay rent that month or the loan payment.

  94. I am a 3L who loved working for my firm over the summer (and though not the same as practice, it was work – my first day I was there til 9pm, and only once or twice did I ever leave before 7pm, and I worked most weekends too). I worked at one office of a large regional law firm in the south, which will pay me more disposable income than a BigLaw job would (given the cost of living differential), and will allow me lots of early opportunities to argue motions and second chair trials in my first year. I think I’ll like my law job, though it will be hard for me to lose the free time with my little kids that law SCHOOL has allowed me. The perspective I want to add here, though, is that I echo what Kat says. Some people love what they do. Some people love their lives, and do what they do at work in order to fund their life. Sometimes, the target just needs to be to not hate it. I am a nontrad law student, and my prior job was not at all related to law and I HATED IT. And most of the people I worked with at my few professional jobs before law school didn’t LOVE or feel totally fulfilled by their jobs. The happiest ones merely didn’t hate it. If you aren’t independently wealthy or didn’t marry into money, you may have to settle for not hating your work. If you love your coworkers, can handle your office, and only actively hate what you do 20% of the time, I think you’re doing well!

  95. anonononon :

    I graduated in the top 30% of my class at a T1 law school this last May. I passed the bar on my first try. I am still looking for a job. Unfortunately, this seems to be all too common in this economy. If you can go to one of the T14 schools and you are committed to working your butt off, then fine, go. Otherwise, find another career. I hear that CPA’s are in demand.

    I might be a happy lawyer if I could pay my bills. I don’t know that I will ever financially recover from the decision to go to law school.

  96. Work/life balance is something my business partner and I discuss all the time. We are both driven women and have bad habit tendencies to forget everything else in our life during a project. I can honestly say I like many aspects of my business(es), but there are many days I would give it up for a nickle. I believe that balance is a fluid thing and sometimes things happen in your personal life that takes up the majority of your time and same thing with work.

  97. no mo' law :

    Just to give you a more diverse viewpoint, I graduated in May 2011 and made a conscious decision not to practice law. I really had no idea what I was getting into, nor did I really understand what $200k in debt really meant. Plus, I didn’t listen to mentors, friends, and lawyers–I thought I knew better.

    Fast forward into law school, even while working in public interest firms, externing, or government in-house counsel, I never felt like I loved–or even liked–the work. I took my time in law school to interview tons of lawyers, and two stories really helped me make my decision: 1) I asked an older female lawyer why people in every other profession try to retire as early as possible, but lawyers tend to work til their dying day. She responded that law firms force young lawyers to invest their youth in the firm, so much so that they gradually lose family, friends, hobbies, and their personal life. At the age of retirement, having no family, friends, hobbies, or personal life, they continue on the only thing they have, the only thing they know, and the only thing they’ve invested in–their careers. When I heard this, I realized that I intended my 7 years of higher education to liberate my, not shackle me. 2) A “happy” Biglaw lawyer I talked to told me that in retrospect, after some 10+ years, he though that the criminal lawyers seemed to have the most fun, and that in the long term, they weren’t far behind him in being able to buy property because they had learned to live more leanly.

    Plus, when I was in law school, I couldn’t understand why all my classmates where trying to jump on a sinking ship. Everyone was clawing to get these miserable firm jobs when the entire industry seemed to be collapsing due to a broken business model. While nowhere near as dramatic, it seemed like wanting to join the print journalism industry when newspapers were going out of style.

    Considering all of this, I decided that I wouldn’t invest too much time in finding a law job, and instead somehow landed a job in international affairs on the USG side. For what I’m doing the pay is pretty good ($70k and 9-5, with a promotion every year for the next few years), very interesting, and most of all, conforms more with my interest and personality (I hated that law made me so anti-social.) My new boss is interested in my personal and professional development (I found that partners were never great managers or leaders), and have found that if I live leanly, consolidate loans, go on the IBR plan, and do public service for 10 years, I can even save some of each paycheck. Everyday, I still wonder if I’ve made the right decision, but I look around at my classmates who are still unemployed and consider myself extremely lucky. My coworkers–some of who also have JDs–have put the question more aptly: do you want to be the international agreement negotiator, or the person the negotiator goes to for a yes/no answer (aka legal counsel)? The first is paid less but has a sexier job, the latter’s work is a bit more boring, more removed from the policy-making process, but paid more.

    Just my .02. Be brave. Just because you went to law school doesn’t mean you must practice law. Where there is a will, there is a way.

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