To The Lawyers Of Tomorrow

 
 

Would you ever go to art school if you didn't want to be artist?

Probably not.

Then don't go to law school unless you want to be a lawyer. 

Do you really want to be a lawyer? 

Here are some things I think it is important for future prospective lawyers to know before going to or applying to law school: 

1. The current legal profession is in flux and subject to a lot of economic stress.

Twenty years ago, people went to law school because they had a B.A. in something arcane, didn't really know what they wanted to do, but thought that being a lawyer would be prestigious and lucrative.

This is not really true today. Every lawyer I know is worried about the future given the spate of economic and technological realities that permeate modern legal practice.

As in every profession, technology has cut costs and it is increasingly difficult to justify extremely high hourly rates. A lot of basic legal information that lawyers used to charge a lot of money for (basic incorporations for example) are now routinely handled by automated legal platforms and bots.

Companies are now routinely growing and developing their own in-house legal departments, filled with BigLaw refugees, in lieu of hiring outside counsel. 

Meanwhile, law school remains a very expensive proposition, with entry level BigLaw jobs increasingly difficult to get. Taking out a $200,000 loan doesn't seem like a big deal when you're 22, but at 32 you might start to wish for a time machine ...

Don't expect a JD to convert into a six-figure job as an automatic proposition. Far from it. And don't expect the job you might get to remain immune from increasing technological automation and  information obsolescence. You're going to have to work hard to keep your expertise. 

2. Whatever you end up doing, you will be doing a lot of it.

Every lawyer I know is working a lot. It doesn't matter the field, industry, for-profit or non-profit; the profession has done an awful job of policing itself, setting standards, and prioritizing self-care. There also doesn't seem to be much of a correlation with pay: I know lawyers making $60,000-$70,000 who work as hard or harder than BigLaw lawyers making $200,000. 

Whatever you end up doing, you are going to working late nights and weekends. You will have to cancel some personal time, you may find yourself on your laptop on a vacation, or on a call with a client or a senior partner at the firm. You are going to see the days go by and largely measured by time-keepers that you enter into a bill that goes out to the client. 

When you're thinking about what type of law to practice, choose something you don't mind doing a lot of, because you are going to be doing a lot of it. You are going to live and breathe it. If you want to be a data privacy specialist, go for it. If you want to do only patent litigation, there is a lot of work in that area these days. Learn it, love it and do it. Don't choose something to practice unless you love it and are okay with it. 

3. Remember the nobility of the profession, and aspire to it.

Most young people are attracted to law out of romance. They have notions that lawyers can change the world in a positive way. 

Lawyers, can, in fact be a force for good, even a great force for good. But the current profession is not conducive to this. Crushing debt burdens mean that most young lawyers are scrambling to find ways to service their debt payments. Older lawyers who have "made it" find their time increasingly spent on business development in order to adjust to changing economic and technological pressures. There just isn't a lot of time to do the romantic pro bono work that most young lawyers think is what lawyers do 24 hours a day. 

But it is possible to make a difference. You just have to make a really concerted effort to make the time and to focus on those endeavors. And you'll have to come to grips with the fact that most of those efforts may go unrewarded or unacknowledged, and almost certainly will come at your own pocket. 

And if you are doing super revolutionary, it can be a hard lesson to learn that many of the legal non-profits out there may not encourage you to follow your passion. Lots of non-profits are tied to their funding sources and at best, need to hire people who can fulfill a grant proposal; at worst, they may lack the imagination to understand what real, deep, revolutionary change might look like. 

4. Become a lawyer because you will love being a lawyer.

Go to art school because you know deep down you are destined to be an artist, and that no matter the instability, the challenges, the pain and the uncertainty, the journey is your journey.

Go to law school because you know deep down you are destined to be a lawyer, and that no matter the instability, the challenges, the pain and the uncertainty, the journey is your journey.

5. Think outside the box.

Lawyers are trained to be risk averse. In today's legal profession, you may need to think outside the box with respect to career development. Learn to understand exciting new legal trends and become the expert in that area. Learn new ways to use technology to brand yourself and your expertise. Don't be afraid to apply those same technological forces that are upending the profession to your benefit.

But remember ethical obligations as well. Lawyers are tied to a variety of ethical rules, and you have to be careful in what you do. Also, be very wary of non-lawyers who want to engage in legal-tech ventures -- they are not tied to the same ethical obligations as you are, and likely won't care for them.

6. Remember what it is that is driving you to become a lawyer.

Think about what it is that is driving you to become a lawyer. If you have done the right type of thinking, you should be able to identify the client base and the issues that you care about that are taking you to law school. If you have no idea who you want to represent, and what types of issues you want to handle as part of that representation, and how you intend to make money -- you need to think long and hard before taking the plunge. 

If you've been practicing for a while now, and you feel burned out, this exercise is also very important. What was it that made you decide to go to law school in the first place? See if you can remember it. Think about what it would take to light that passion. Life is short. And the profession is too grueling to not be doing the law you want to practice and living the life you want to live.