I recently completed my post grad degree from law school and if there’s one thing I can say about it – it’s this; if you can manage to survive till the end of it you’re quite a star. To be able to deal with the competitiveness, to always stay focused on your goal, to be able to tune out the insanity and most of all to always unconditionally and passionately love the subject would amount to only a handful of reasons which would want you to jump out the window – pretty often.
Being a lawyer sounds pretty awesome – & if you watch shows like Suits and Boston Legal, heck being a lawyer even looks pretty awesome! But in reality, being a lawyer has some aspects which can really push you in the corner at times and force you to either push back and break through or suffocate and sink.
Here are some things I’m sure every lawyer can relate to….
You were a star in law school, but you really know nothing.
School teaches you how to go about a given set of facts – it tells you all that has been done in the past and it inculcates within you all those fancy Acts and Statutes you ought to know. But as soon as you step into a law firm you will almost instantly realize that law school didn’t really give you enough practice of how to think like a lawyer. It does not really prepare you to practice law ‘per se’. Trust me, no matter how bright a kid you were in law school, more than often your job will make you feel like the dumbest person on Earth because and I quote my boss, ‘it takes time to develop the legal common sense’. *sigh*
Your first job is just that.
Law firms are no longer a closely knit family affair like they used to be… about like a century ago. Business practices are moving faster than ever and have also become complex knowing no limits. Be it multinational companies or compact law firms; everyone is operating and competing across borders. Whilst it is very important to find your niche in the industry you aspire to build your career in; it is equally important to keep an eye out for the firm’s reputation. Since most fresh attorneys take up their first job out of sheer desperation to start working, I would warn them to be very careful that their first job should not attach to them its bad reputation (which again is one thing that matters a lot in the legal industry). If you get a bad vibe from your boss or even a handful of your fellow attorneys – run. You wouldn’t want to dread in guilt by association. There are a lot of good firms but there are also plenty that can ruin you.
Getting paid is like pulling out a tooth. Yourself.
So we all know how the system works right? We have clients, we do their work, we charge them by the hour, the work is done, the client is happy, they pay us, we pay our employees and we all go home.
Life would be bliss if that happened as easily as it appears up there. It’s all good up to the point where the client is happy – because after that, nope they don’t pay us that easily. Law firms usually have a mixed plate of clientele – super wealthy and famous people and the average Mr. Z – the one common problem: they won’t pay their bills. So if you are a lawyer – embrace yourself for being broke for 8 out of 12 months (on average – if you’re lucky it could be 7).
Reality eventually beats perception
One must love their job to able to succeed in it. True. But if you are choosing to become a lawyer you will almost always have to passionately love what you do not only to succeed but to survive. Sorry, but there really isn’t any easier way of saying this. So if you want to get out of law do it before you become middle aged, frustrated and professionally depressed with no recourse of going back either because it’s too late or because you need the money. Young lawyers should actually aim to never lose interest in their job because working for a law degree can never be a great way of eventually doing something else.
It’s either the big bucks or everything else.
Although it is important to be goal driven and know what you want or which area of law you would like to practice. But all the excitement does tone down a bit. Back in law school there were so many of my classmates who were all about ‘I shall set up an NGO and do pro bono cases’ & ‘I shall be Captain Planet and save the environment’ – in the end – well you become ‘that’ person’s lawyer who is doing nothing but the exact opposite of everything you wanted to protect/save! Yup, it’s good to be optimistic and environmentalis-tic but it’s important to keep a reality check. And in today’s world, sadly, it all comes down to ‘cha-ching!’
But on a lighter note, it isn’t that bad – subject to how much you love being a lawyer of course! 😛 Like me? I thoroughly enjoy my profession. Even when there are days when I have no work – I still rock at being a lawyer! And despite all the reality checks – being an attorney is so much better than being a law student. There are no more hypothetical cases – no more make believe characters – no more ‘assumptions’. Everything is reality – real people – real life scenarios. The good, the bad and the ugly. And all eyes are on you. On what you say. On how you argue their case. It does give you an adrenaline rush!