Welcome to part 2 of this series, which will discuss what it is like to work in the legal profession. Part 1 of the series discussed financial aspects of becoming a lawyer that anyone thinking about going to law school should read: https://freerangelaw.net/2019/04/30/should-you-go-to-law-school-arguments-for-and-against-part-1-of-4/.
If you follow this blog, you probably have a favorite lawyer show. My favorite is this one:
Whichever one you like best, though, chances are it does not accurately depict the day-to-day life of your average lawyer. Lawyering usually looks much more exciting and stimulating on TV than it is in real life.
If you want to be a lawyer, you will probably have to work long hours on a regular basis. According to The Balance Careers, the billable hour requirements of most large firms require lawyers to work 60-80 hours per week. Note that hours billed is not the same thing as the hours worked – for each billable hour, there is significant additional time spent on tasks which are not billable. Furthermore, if you want to move up in a larger firm, you had better exceed the billable hours requirement, not just meet it.
If you are a solo practitioner, you will have to either do all the work necessary for your clients’ cases, or delegate that to others and pay for that assistance. When you have tough cases and demanding clients, you will be kept busy.
Lawyering can easily take over one’s life, especially if you are a litigator. Not only will work hours be long, but urgent situations will often come up. You could be on-call up to 24/7. Here’s a common scenario: Just when you were about to take a nice weekend trip with your family; opposing counsel filed an ex parte motion that requires your quick opposition response. A case that you were sure would settle will go to trial and you will need to prepare. A client will be in trouble and require immediate assistance (because they are in jail, having another dispute with their ex, their insurance won’t pay for their latest medical treatment), and more. If you are going to become a lawyer, you should be ok with having your career come above all else.
Note that a few niches of law will make a much greater degree of work-life balance possible. But it will be up to a lawyer to learn what is necessary to get into that niche. Getting in is competitive. Such niches include estate planning and writing wills and trusts (not estate litigation), tax law, and patent prosecution. For patent law, having a scientific background can be helpful.
Many people think that they would make great lawyers because they love to argue and debate, they are highly logical, or they like to fight for the little guy and save the world. Those are all great things. However, they will not make you a great lawyer. In fact, if you are a passionate, and/or intellectual person, you will probably burn out in law practice, in my opinion. This is because so much of law practice is mind-numbing, tedious, and boring. Sure, learning about law and the philosophical and sociological and historical aspects of the justice system, and policy and how landmark cases have been decided, is fascinating. I loved law school, and I still love learning about the law. But ironically, the same reasons I loved law school were also the same reasons I came to hate the constant red tape and repetitiveness of actual law practice.
Many people believe that they would get respect from others if they become a lawyer. It is true that there is a certain degree of social prestige in being a lawyer, as is the case in any profession with a high bar to entry. However, lawyers also take a ton of shit from people all over the place. Opposing counsel will give you a hard time, no matter which side you or they are on. Judges will have power plays and condescend, and often will have their mind made up about a case regardless of what you do. The State Bar will have their hands in your pocket every time you turn around, and if you get in trouble they will probably be unhelpful. Clients will complain about how much you charge, usually without appreciation of the tremendous sacrifices inherent in the profession or how expensive it is for the lawyer to practice law. They will often expect you to be a miracle worker, and be upset with you when everything does not go their way (even though you got them a deal that was pretty darn good under the circumstances).
Of course, there are also plenty of fair judges, opposing counsel who are a pleasure to work with, and clients who are grateful and will think you are wonderful when you help them solve a difficult problem in their lives. When that happens, it is great. But know that law practice will not always fluff one’s ego.
Stay tuned for the next part of this series, where I will discuss why going solo could be a lawyer’s best shot at personal satisfaction and financial success.
As always, dear readers, thank you for following me. I hope you enjoyed this, and learned something valuable.
** Got a legal subject or question you are curious about? Email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your question may be discussed in a future blog post!
Please note that the above is offered for educational purposes, and as a means of encouraging intellectual curiosity about the law. The information presented may not take into account every exception, variation, or complication which could apply to someone’s legal matters. Accordingly, nothing in this post or blog is ever intended as, nor should be construed by or relied upon by anyone, as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney who can give you assistance specific to your needs.