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Why in the world would one want to be a lawyer?

LaBarristerLaBarrister Registered User Posts: 168 Junior Member
edited December 2012 in Law School
Now, I know this title may sound controversial, but I, myself, have been thinking about becoming a lawyer for some time now. Why would one want to? What are the benefits other than monetary ones? Are there passionate attorneys who have somehow found a particular area of law to hold their passion, or do they eventually fall fate to the infamous "golden handcuffs" that grasp attorneys in their later years after they have been trodden by countless hours and lack of recognition by partners but yet are faced with limited options outside of law. What is it in law that one can be passionate about if not for money, power, and greed? I really want to know.
Post edited by LaBarrister on

Replies to: Why in the world would one want to be a lawyer?

  • stacystacy Registered User Posts: 1,100 Senior Member
    Good question! Everyone is different but here's my reason.

    I work for a nonprofit where I represent low-income people who are having trouble getting public benefits. My job has reasonable hours, nice coworkers, and a decent (but by no means luxurious--plenty of people in my city earn more than me without having gone to grad school) salary. It is intellectually stimulating and satisfies my love of playing by the rules. My clients are interesting and I like learning about their lives. It feels rewarding to solve problems they found intractable, though it can also be frustrating/sad when I realize how many other obstacles many of them face.

    Being a lawyer gives me a chance to speak on behalf of my clients in ways I could not otherwise do. I mean this both literally--I go to court and represent them--but also in terms of the respect I get when I speak as a lawyer. Today I testified in front of a city council committee, and the chairman quoted me--it was exciting to know he listened. and when I talk to government employees there is a sense of "she can sue us; we better do what she wants."

    There are a lot of career paths I would have enjoyed. There are a lot of legal jobs I know I'd hate. But I'm really fulfilled by my job and by being an attorney. Hope this helps you sort out what you want to do.
  • LaBarristerLaBarrister Registered User Posts: 168 Junior Member
    Ah, Stacy - it is so nice to hear from you. Sometimes it takes a story from a happy lawyer to keep me going strong.

    Thank you so much.

    And if you're interested, I plan on pursuing the science side of the legal system. I will probably get some work experience and at least a Master's degree along the way. However, I cannot think of anything else I would want to be more than an attorney. I just hope that one day, after entering the legal field, I will still have that spark to pursue when it comes to my job. I hope I find that spark that you have found. So many attorneys’ stories can make even prospective attorneys feel sick to their stomach. Thank you again so much for sharing you story. It means a lot.
  • suzy100suzy100 Registered User Posts: 4,311 Senior Member
    Well my story isn't as exciting as stacy's, but I also like being an attorney. I've been through life in a firm, and that can get rough - particularly in litigation. However, I'm now in-house which allows for a much better work-life balance. I don't make a huge salary, but enough that I have been able to provide for me and my 2 Ds. (Neither are in college yet, though, so we'll see how that goes!) My work is stimulating and I'm lucky in that I like the people I work with, and I'm able to have a life outside of work.

    I have found that most of my friends who are in-house are happier than those who are in firms. Not 100% true of course, but mostly true for those I know.
  • LaBarristerLaBarrister Registered User Posts: 168 Junior Member
    You know, I take it from personal experience that in-house attorneys are happier, too. But most attorneys have to start in a firm for two major reasons, right? To pay of loans and gather clientele (even if those attorneys would rather work in-house from the get-go)?

    Also, both of you mentioned making "not a huge salary" which can be very subjective. I don't ask for personal information, but say a huge salary were 160-225 thousand per year, and a "not a huge" salary were 110-125 thousand per year, and my engineering salary aside from law would probably be around 90-100 thousand per year. Which range are you guys talking, here? (uncomfortable laugh here) Anyway, that’s beside the point.

    I would be happy as an attorney making 100-125 thousand, personally, but I just don't know if that would cover the debt or not? I want more than I would make as an engineer but also more work and challenges, just not on the level of BigLaw DC/New York firms in a "working to live" sort of situation.
  • GreybeardGreybeard Registered User Posts: 2,355 Senior Member
    According to this report, the salary range for in-house attorneys with 10-12 years of experience is $130,750 to $225,000; it’s $96,750 to $184,000 for lawyers with 4-9 years of experience, and $76,750 to $118,000 for lawyers with 1-3 years of experience. For first year attorneys, it’s $64,000 to $98,250.
    Robert Half Legal - Salary Center
    According to this survey of the California Bar, only 10% of the members of the bar who are actually practicing law work in-house for corporations: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Portals/0/documents/reports/2011-12_SBCdemosurvey_sumandfacts.pdf
    Two thirds of California lawyers who are practicing law are in private practice, and a third of those are sole practitioners. Another 20% are with firms that have between 2 and 5 attorneys.
    26% of California’s attorneys are making under $50K per year.
    68% of California’s practicing attorneys are over the age of 45. 48% are over 55.
    In short, it’s a lot harder to get established in the practice of law than it used to be.
  • stacystacy Registered User Posts: 1,100 Senior Member
    You will make significantly more as an engineer than a public interest lawyer. Definitely to start and probably throughout your career.

    But if you need a bigger salary and can get the job, many big firm lawyers do some pretty exciting pro bono work.

    Also, there is loan repayment assistance for attorneys who do public interest, though it has many rules and exceptions.
  • LaBarristerLaBarrister Registered User Posts: 168 Junior Member
    Greybeard, your statistical references shed some light on what should be an important concern for anyone pursuing the practice of law. Stacy, unfortunately, I think only my becoming an attorney will make me happy. I suppose what I will work on is preparing for and accepting the fact I will have to work off my bum when it comes time to do so. I was already succumbent to the fact that children were merely feasible, but not practical; now, attaining a (healthy) marriage seemingly ought to be placed on the back-burner for my personal interests – at this point, anyway. I am only twenty years old, and I have a lot of growing up to do. I may realize only in graduate school that my personal happiness in a career can be found elsewhere. However, for now, I will put my career interests ahead of most other things.

    To change the subject, I want to introduce that I think I’ll be happier in the future as a patent prosecutor than as a patent litigator. I have a friend who has practiced IP law for nearly fifteen years. He started out in a rough way, by hanging out his shingle just out of law school. He went to my university’s law school (ranked 84 by U.S. News and World Report), made moderately good grades and did moderately well on the LSAT. Anyway, he four years later he began working for a firm as a litigator. He said that the a trial schedule kept him off his honeymoon and opposing counsel would submit discovery requests every December 1 to ruin his Christmas holiday.

    I am hopeful that not all circumstances are as bad for other litigators, but I am not certain. Anyway, making a long story short, this man now practices patent prosecution and enjoys it.
  • XaviFMXaviFM Registered User Posts: 952 Member
    @stacy: my hero!
  • JET99999JET99999 Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
    Advise you not go to law school.
  • NeonzeusNeonzeus Registered User Posts: 1,234 Senior Member
    Yet another report of the dire state of legal employment, and the fact that law schools don't report employment stats correctly:

    URL: Lean times for law school grads - CBS News

    Only one student in my son's 3L class has a job offer so far, and that includes law review. I met a woman in the airport who reported to me that her daughter (who went to Harvard law) found a job last year, but that some of her classmates were deferred, lost jobs, or never got job offer.

    Do some due diligence and talk to law students at the schools you are considering.
    Employment prospects are truly dismal.
  • turtlerockturtlerock Registered User Posts: 1,184 Senior Member
    OP, would you consider being a Paralegal instead of an attorney? Off the top of my head I can think that it would require less schooling, so less debt, so less income would be required to pay back that debt (if any). You may find you can stil do legal things and be satisfied with work. While not making $100k/yr, I research they do make respectable pay and a select few can make upwards of the 100k mark based on experience, or specialty.

    From what I understand, a Paralegal can do every single thing a lawyer can EXCEPT give actual legal advice. They can still file legal motions, prepare legal correspondance, interact with clients, etc. I am told that Paralegals may be more appealing to companies since they can hire a full-time paralegal for less than a full-time lawyer and then they can just pay fees to get the actual 'legal advice' from time to time.

    Anyone here can correct me, but that sounds like a decent gig.
  • XaviFMXaviFM Registered User Posts: 952 Member
    I got an associates degree in paralegal and I worked in a law firm and did twice the work for a fraction of the pay.
  • RamanarayananRamanarayanan Registered User Posts: 22 New Member
    My advice is you still follow your dream. There are thousands of loosers in and outside this forum that will give you other advise, even tell you to not go to law school. If you are passionate, motivated and driven, you can go to places that no one has even thought about.
    Take this advise from an old gizzard.
    And I am not a lawyer , but I am a physician who knows many lawyers. People always told me not to go to medical school because too long, too expensive, no jobs , bla bla bla.......
    And now I am who I am and love my life and my profession.
    With all due respect!
  • crankyoldmancrankyoldman Registered User Posts: 454 Member
    Well, here's totally contrary advice: don't go, and this from a lawyer almost 30 years out. We've got two-count 'em, two-unpaid law clerks in my office right now. Both are UMichigan grads, and both have passed the bar. The market is unbelievably bad, and it's clear that plenty of people who have no idea what they are talking about(see above) will give you advice. Well, they don't have to take on the debt-and they sure won't be paying it. So go only if 1. you can keep debt load down and 2. you can get into a law school that has at least a regional or statewide reputation.
    And I've got to adress this "passion" business-folks, it's an education that gets you a job. It's a bad idea to do something b/c you're passionate about it-particularly since you've never done it before. At best, you may be "passionate" about the idea of being a lawyer; trust me, the reality is different. It's a job; one you can take a great deal of pride in if you do it well. Anyone who tells you to follow your passion is selling you a bill of goods. This is a decision that requires a lot of thought and rational decision making-as in will I get a job? will the debt be too much?
    So with all due respect, I totally disagree with the physician giving advice on law school; It's an terrible job market out there; if you decide to go, go, but don't go because your "passion" drove you to it. Only go if, after a lot of careful thought and a thorough cost/benefit analysis, the potential reward outweighs the obvious risk.
  • LaBarristerLaBarrister Registered User Posts: 168 Junior Member
    I will go about replying to everyone’s comments in no particular order. However, I would first of all like to comment on JET99999’s remark by saying that a comment lacking such in reference and information will be taken lightly by me.

    You see, this is something that frustrates me greatly – not even necessarily that the law schools are depicting pseudo employment prospects, but that such employment prospects are pseudo employment prospects! It pains me to see the reality of the profession that I want to pursue. I have thought of several ways around it, other than simply taking my chances, and this brings me to the post by turtlerock….

    Hi, turtlerock. First of all, let me thank you for your contribution to this post. I appreciate the directness with which you address me. I have not done a lot of research on the working lives of paralegals, but from what I have gathered besides, I would probably concur with XaviFM’s predicament as a paralegal, similarly to how I would concur to the predicament of the law school graduate in today’s economy. The two facets of law that paralegals are shunned from – giving professional legal advice and participating in litigation (by this, I refer to actually litigating) – are what makes a lawyer, well, a lawyer. I couldn’t become a paralegal and hold myself with any esteem. I’m in no mood to be a ***** to those whose places I would rather have. While that is my personal take on being a paralegal, I in no way disrespect the need they serve to attorneys and the legal profession. Please, do not take that statement personally, XaviFM.

    Anyway, turtlerock, I have a chemical engineering background and am preparing to go to graduate school. I have deeply considered getting a degree in and working as a forensic engineer. These folks do a ton of materials science research on accidents in construction and such (you can see where this is going). They spend a lot of time with attorneys as expert witnesses on the stand, sharing their expertise in litigations involving law suits with regard to liability of the accident. To me, this sounds pleasing. I also see job offers all the time for these guys, typically ranging between $115,000.00 and $145,000.00 working full-time for consulting firms and such. I am seriously considering following this pathway; but I still would like to become a patent attorney.

    Thanks again for your comment. If you’re interested, I suggest you check out the link below to learn a little about forensic engineers. Most people that I talk to, while it may not be you, have no idea that this professions exists.

    NAFE - National Academy of Forensic Engineers

    Ramanarayanan, your post is heartening. Thank you for your comment.
This discussion has been closed.