Having been through a few job interviews, both on the giving and receiving end, I'll offer this advice: When asked to "Tell me about yourself," the one descriptor you don't want to use is, "I love working with people." It's cliche and the truth is, there are days when it's a downright lie. I suppose we all like to think we are "people persons". But let's face it- there are people, and then there are people.
Similarly, in a law school application, when asked "Why do you want to become a lawyer?", you probably shouldn't say, "Because I want to help people." It's cliche and the truth is, it's not entirely true. Certainly, you may want to help people. But fast-food workers help people. Sanitation workers help people. Do they do these jobs because they want to help people? I don't know, but I imagine there is a financial motivation in there somewhere.
If you do anything solely for the money, you likely won't be happy. Make no mistake about it; money is important. We need it to live. It pays for shelter, food and other stuff. If we choose a career path solely for the money, we may initially be happy. But eventually we will become dissatisfied. Abraham Maslow predicted it. He called the phenomenon "self-actualization." Once we meet our basic needs in life, we seek to self-actualize.
And that brings me to the point. A legal career can certainly be lucrative. At the same time, the cost of entry can be quite steep. Law school tuition has become notoriously costly. The opportunity cost of foregoing employment for three years is expensive. And the sheer investment of time, reading countless cases, preparing outlines, class time, study groups and the like are a huge investment. And today, with the state of the "legal economy" and high lawyer unemployment, the return on investment may be quite low. But there are still plenty of high paying legal jobs out there. New graduates are earning well into the six figures and after practicing for a few years, can make more money than they ever thought possible.
But practicing law for the money is an exercise in futility. The work is so demanding that doing it for money alone will quickly lead to career disatisfaction.
Instead, career satisfaction will result from becoming the best lawyer you can be. You will derive great satisfaction from developing expertise in your practice area. You will learn to rely upon a unique combination of research, collaboration, investigation, reasoning, anticipating future developments and the synthesis of all it into excellent legal advice. And there is nothing more satisfying than providing the best possible legal advice that, yes, helps people.
The irony of it is, that lawyers help people every day. But law students who go into it wanting "to help people" (in the idealistic sense) and end up in corporate law jobs will quickly become disaffected. Sadly, in many cases, with student debt they don't really have a choice. They have to take the high-paying big firm jobs. I would argue however, that even in these jobs, they can help people. They can help businesspeople solve problems. They can help them resolve disputes. Sure, it's not defending indigent clients, but it's still helping people. In fact, I have yet to run into a legal position that did not require the lawyer to help someone.
So, if you want to be a lawyer, one way or the other, you are going to end up helping people. It may not be exactly the kind of help you envisioned as an idealistic law student. But it's still helping. At its core, the practice of law is a service. And if you do not have the heart of a servant, you will be unhappy in law practice.
I had a doctors appointment yesterday. The doctor helped me in a way that no one else could. He helped to solve my medical problem. It was a pretty serious condition and I had been worried about. As I left the office, I felt a sense of relief and gratitude. And then it struck me.
On the way to doctor's office, just before my appointment, I had returned the call of a businesperson. She needed advice regarding business negotiations she was having that had stalled. She was obviously frustrated and concerned that the project might not make it. I asked her questions about the transaction. She described the project. I asked more questions. She explained some of the points of contention between the parties. In particular was the issue of the assumption of risk of certain elements of the transaction. I suggested several different mechanisms by which the parties could assign that risk. I could hear the "click" of the mental light bulb going off as she realized that these suggestions could effectively solve the impasse. I could sense her relief that there was hope that the parties could find a middle ground. Coming into the call, she was like I was going into the doctor's office. She was concerned and perhaps had worried about the issue. Going out of the call, she was like me leaving the doctor's office. She was relieved and optimistic about a resolution.
Simply, and like my doctor, I had helped her in a way that no one else could. And I took a great sense of satisfaction in that fact. I hadn't saved an innocent defendant from the death penalty. But I had helped someone. And as I thought about I realized that that is the point of the practice of law. We're here to help people. We do it every day. It is not only unavoidable, it's the point of it all. And if helping people ceases to be our reason for practicing law, that is when we lose our way as lawyers.
Best wishes in your legal career.
The fuss about the mid-term elections is dying down a bit. The country, in characteristic fashion, has to a great extent undone much of what it did during the last election. The Republican party has regained control of the House and gained a number of seats in the Senate. Government, politics and business as usual.
One of my law school classmates, Ben Quayle, was elected to Congress, following a successful legal and business career. And I find something about that inspiring. Perhaps it's because I know him and know that he is sincere in his beliefs. Or perhaps it's because he was a bit of an underdog who succeeded. But deep down inside, I think I'm inspired because I know he knows what he's doing. He did well at Vanderbilt, while mainitaining a very low profile as well as his humility. He's a smart guy and he knows what he believes. And that gives me hope for this country. It's pretty easy to be cynical about government and politics these days. But as long as we keep electing bright, principled and dedicated folks like my friend, there's hope for this country.
As I've blogged before, a law degree is excellent preparation for a variety of careers. And there is perhaps no better use for one than in the creating and passage of law. So I'm encouraged that our Congress has as its newest member (and probably one of its youngest) someone who understands, really understands what the law is about. And in a way, I don't really care what his politics are. I just take comfort in the fact that he will be involved in helping to set this country's agenda.
When I get on a plane, I hope to see a pilot who is quietly confident; someone who simply sets about fulfilling his obligations without a lot of fanfare. But I know that his training will serve him well, no matter what we might encounter on the flight. In the same way, I have hope for this country because many of our lawmakers are like my friend- well trained, well educated and dedicated to their obligations.
So, dear law student, as you wrestle with those cases and struggle with the vast and complex curriculum offered in law school, remember that some day you might be using this knowledge in extremely important and meaningful ways. I don't know whether my friend thought about politics when he was in law school. But he's there now. And I am confident that he will serve this country well.
In an earlier blog post regarding the best prelaw majors, I wrote that students should at least consider a "more marketable" degree than the traditional prelaw majors. Conventional wisdom has been that students contemplating law school should earn undergraduate degrees in Philosophy, History, Literature and other similar liberal arts programs. Advisors reason that reading and writing skills are critical in law school and so these degrees will better prepare students for law school.
I suggested in my blog post that prelaw students should consider degrees such as accounting, marketing, engineering and others that can actually be used in a career. I reasoned that if someone really wants to go to law school, they can develop the skills necessary to succeed through these programs, and supplement if necessary through additional reading, writing and other activities. I further reasoned that having a "more marketable" degree was also good insurance, just in case the legal thing didn't work out.
Needless to say, I was lambasted by at least a few readers. Indignant Literature majors wrote, claiming that this was the worst advice they had ever read. After all, they claimed, everyone should choose a major that met their interests. That was the whole point of college, right? You go to college to grow, develop and self-actualize. You go to college to find out who you are and who you want to be.
If there is one thing that this economy has taught an entire generation of college students, it's that jobs are not a certainty. And the truth is that present economy aside, it's always been that way. And the sadder truth is that educational institutions, unlike the rest of the business world, are not required to include a disclaimer on your degree. Something like: "Warning: this History degree is not guaranteed to get you a real job. You may be able to find employment in the fast-food industry, however, this degree will have very little, if anything, to do with it."
Abraham Maslow, the noted psychologoist, taught us a long time ago that we all seek to self-actualize. In fact, he described this process as a pyramidal hierarchy, called the "hierarchy of needs." The pyramid describes the human process of emotional and intellectual development. And at the very top of this pyramid is the gold ring, nirvana, the climax of life- self-actualization. Maslow explained that we all ultimately seek to self-actualize. And self-actualization will result in happiness.
People who tell college students to follow their dreams are, in reality, quoting this self-actualization philosophy. And on the surface, it makes sense. However, when you dig a little deeper, you realize that this advice is flawed.
To understand why, all you have to do is refer to the bottom of Mr. Maslow's hierarchy. At the very, very bottom of the hierarchy are things like food, shelter and security. Without these, one cannot ascend to "self-actualization." So to tell a young college student to "find yourself" is good advice if that student is assured of food, shelter and security for the rest of his or her life. But if they are like most of us, they are probably going to need to find a job. And if they can't find a job, they will never move beyond basic need satisfaction. And they will likely never self-actualize.
So, I stand by my earlier advice regarding the best prelaw majors. To be clear, I'm not recommending that you study accounting if you absolutely hate accounting. But to learn to hate something you have to do it for a while. Further, most likely, there will always be at least something about a job that you are not going to like. That's why someone has to pay you to do it. We have a term for doing something that you absolutely love, it's called "vacation."
And by the way, that's why I believe there are so many disaffected young lawyers. They simply haven't given it enough of a chance. There are so many different types of lawyer jobs- big firms, small firms, non-profits, educational institutions, corporations, goverment, etc. If you cannot find a lawyer job that you like a lot, if not downright love, then you probably haven't either looked hard enough or given the one you have a chance. And that is also the beauty of a law degree- you can do a wide variety of things with one.
But the next time you find yourself thinking about self-actualizing, remember that Maslow himself said that before you go there, you need to take care of the basic stuff first. Like finding a good job and eating on a regular basis.
Best wishes in your legal studies.
Many, many years ago, most lawyers were "generalists". The understood broad areas of the law, possessed excellent reading, writing and reasoning skills and often simply hung a shingle upon graduation from law school. As our country matured, our society became infinitely more complicated. We shifted from a largely common law system to a "hybrid" of sorts, where the rule of law was still managed by judges, but legislatures, regulators and administrators also created vast and complicated rules systems. The law became increasingly technical, requiring technical and specialized skills from lawyers. As a result, lawyers began to specialize in practice areas which today can consume an entire career.
I am asked by law students and those contemplating law school how they should go about choosing a practice area. They are often intimidated by the broad array of specialty practice areas, including tax practice, environmental law, entertainment law, intellectual property law, appellate practice, employment law, securities law and the like. There are simply so many choices and most of them involve areas of the law with which the student has little or no experience.
The plethora of options makes one's head spin. However, instead of stressing about the end game, I suggest a slightly different approach. Without realizing it, most law students actually already have a pretty good idea of their future practice areas. Like Dorothy in the "Wizard of Oz" most students already have a way to get home without realizing it. The question they need to ask themselves is whether they think of themselves as a "fighter" or a "dealmaker".
As anyone who has ever clerked for a law firm understands, these are the two basic career paths for new lawyers. Litigation is certainly what most people think of when they think of lawyers- disputes and lawsuits. However, the truth is that many lawyers find extremely rewarding careers in transactional law- the art of doing deals.
Certainly there are many other specialized practice areas such as intellectual property law and family law. However, I would argue that pretty much every area of the law, in reality, falls into one of the two (and sometimes both) basic categories- litigation (fights) and transactions (deals). For example, family law matters often have elements of both. The first issue is the fight (the marital dissolution); the second issue is the deal (property disposition). Intellectual property matters, on the other hand, often occur in a reverse order from family law matters. The intellectual property owner either creates or formalizes (through some sort of registration, e.g. copyright) the intellectual property (the deal); the owner then sets about asserting or defending its rights in the intellectual property (the fight). And the truth is, that the basic skillsets required for both paths will serve one's legal career in a variety of ways.
However, and generally speaking, most lawyers "grow up" in their careers by taking one path or the other. And with few exceptions, that path- fighting or dealing- will be the path for the balance of their careers. Law firms today do not have the luxury of "cross-training" new lawyers. You are put to work, a lot of work, and quickly develop and cement your skillset. But once the die is cast, it is pretty difficult for a litigator to become a transactional lawyer and vice-versa.
That said, I was one of the fortunate ones. I was able to practice in litigation (corporate employment law defense), as well as engaging in a rewarding transactional practice (securities law). Even better is the fact that I am able to use both skillsets in my work today, as an in-house lawyer for a large, publicly-traded company.
But I digress; back to the question of deciding on a practice area. Law students trying to decide on a career path should, rather than worrying about their actual specialty, would be better served to do some serious introspection as to their basic likes and dislikes, and strengths and weaknesses. If you enjoy debate and the art of persuasion you might look into a litigation career path. On the other hand, if you enjoy working with assets and are comfortable with things financial, you might lean more toward a transactional practice. At the same time, there are a lot of skills common to both practice areas. For example, as a litigator you may spend a great deal of time on research and writing (which I found personally very rewarding). And as a transactional lawyer, you may spend a lot of time negotiating.
And, more importantly, as I recommend in my book "Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education" (Kaplan/ Simon and Schuster- 2009), talk with lawyers. Find out what they do all day. Be sure and talk to lawyers doing both kinds of work- fights and deals.
Learn as much as you can about the two basic practice areas. Like Dorothy, chances are, you already have the answer to your question.
I've recently run into a lot of people who have suddenly become either nervous about going to law school, or alternatively, embittered because they did go to law school (and can't find a job). I've had tweets from folks who claim that they would have been better off learning to become plumbers- they reason that they would at least be able to find a job. Further, they wouldn't have hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt. With law firms withdrawing offers, cancelling recruiting programs and laying off young lawyers, you might wonder whether it's a good time to consider alternative career plans.
I think the answer to that question depends upon the reason you decided to go to law school in the first place. If you want to be a lawyer because you think you'll make a lot of money, this might very well be a good time to consider other alternatives. A decent plumber or other tradesman can earn fifty dollars per hour or more. You'll likely have a lot less stress and probably won't have to work many nights.
On the other hand, if you want to be a lawyer because the law and its workings are interesting (and perhaps even fascinating to you), in my opinion, it's as good a time as any to begin the practice of law. Here's why:
1. The entire economy is presently in the tank. It will likely not remain so. Pretty much all disciplines, including plumbers, are presently having a hard time finding a job. There really are few bright spots, in terms of companies that are still hiring like they were a few years ago. About the only sectors that are growing at present are health care, education and government (that said, if those areas interest you more than the practice of law, then you should go for it. Other than a medical degree, almost any other educational path you choose will probably be less costly than a law degree.)
However, as far as the rest of the economy goes, in the long term, a law degree will probably enable you to find a decent job when your peers with other educations may still struggle. This is because the training that you will receive as a JD has many other applications besides the practice of law. The reading, reasoning, research and analytical skills that you will develop have applications in a variety of jobs.
This versatility is why JDs become newscasters, editors, managers, executives and can engage in many other non-law related occupations. Howard Cosell, Ben Stein, Mahatmas Ghandi, Fred Thompson, Geraldo Rivera and something like 40% of our Congress can't be wrong. A law degree is one of the few post-graduate curricula that provides a general, as well as specialized education. As a lawyer you can practice law. But you can also do many other things. However, non-lawyers (e.g. doctors, plumbers, accountants and the like) cannot practice law without a law degree and license.
2. You may actually want to become a lawyer. You enjoy reading, thinking, analyzing, researching and all the other indicia of law practice. In short, the study and practice of law are interesting to you and as a result, you will likely find reward as a lawyer. Not to personalize this, but I worked almost twenty years in jobs that I didn't really enjoy. I have yet to have a day as a lawyer that I have not enjoyed. The work is interesting, stimulating and I find that it fulfills my need to solve problems and help people.
Does it make sense to make a long-term decision in light of short-term economic conditions? If you want to be a lawyer, then become one. Depending upon the length of the current downturn, you may have to work for less than you planned or in a job with less prestige, but anything you do will accrue to your skillset as a lawyer. Spend this time developing your craft and gaining the experience that will pay dividends down the road.
Which brings me to my next point:
3. Rather than rethink your decision to become a lawyer, maybe now is a good time to rethink your school choice. Traditional wisdom is that law students "should go to the best law school they can get into." This is because an Ivy League education, especially for those who do well academically, have historically been a guarantee of a high-paying large firm job.
In my opinion, this phenomenon has also created a strange paradox: to get those high paying jobs requires a law degree that costs a great deal of money. As first year associates' salaries have skyrocketed, so have law school tuitions. You make more, but then you have to because you owe so much on your law student loans.
However, there are plenty of decent state schools out there, where you will receive a great education, pass the bar, get licensed and go to work as a lawyer. Further, there are part-time programs where you can work and earn your law degree. In other words, you don't necessarily have to go into infinite debt to become a lawyer.
You may be asking yourself whether you can get a job with a "Local U" law degree. The simple answer is: "absolutely." After all, these schools have been minting lawyers for decades; many if not most end up working as lawyers. Will you get a job with a top Wall Street firm? Maybe not. But if you do very well at "Local U" you will likely end up with good job opportunites. Plenty of people before you have.
And don't get me wrong. An Ivy League law school education is a very desirable accomplishment. My point, however, is that you may not need one in order to have the career satisfaction you seek. And if you add the risk presented to the new lawyer by a great deal of debt, compounded by potential unemployment, it make make more sense to consider a lower cost school (I should add at this point, that many schools, including Ivy League schools also offer loan forgiveness programs for graduates engaging in certain kinds of public service/interest law. This could very well make the economic stress faced by new graduates more palatable.)
If legal employers can help new lawyers move past the "Ivy League Paradox", we very well could see a paradigm shift in the employment opportunities for new lawyers. A graduate from "Local U" may not need to make $180,000/ year in order to survive. And further, with associates starting their own firms and developing creative ways of practicing law, we may be on the verge of that paradigm shift.
Will it be as easy to find a job when you graduate in three years as it was for graduates three years ago? Who knows. But I would never give up on a dream because I feared short-term job prospects.
The real question you should ask yourself is: "Do I really want to be a lawyer." As I've said repeatedly in these posts, if you want it bad enough, you will become a lawyer. You just will. And while you're at it, pick up a copy of my book, Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education (Kaplan Publishing, March 31, 2009).
When I started law school, the first question people I met would ask me is "What type of law do you plan to practice?" I always suspected that these people hoped I would answer either "criminal law" or "I plan to be a plaintiff's lawyer." Unfortunately, I invariably disappointed these folks by answering "I will probably be a corporate lawyer. I hate to throw away almost twenty years of business experience."
Even if my answer was a disappointment, the person in question would quickly recover with the follow-up, "Well, I could never defend a guilty person." My instinct, at least early in my legal studies would be to quickly agree. After all, who would admit to wanting to defend, say, a serial killer or other similarly horrific criminal.
However, as I began to mature in my legal studies, I learned something that every law student knows: there are two sides to every story. Facts can be interpreted in different ways. Circumstances which appear to be simple are often, in reality,complicated and convoluted. People that appear to be guilty sometimes aren't.
And this, by the way, is one of the core skills of any lawyer- the ability to identify in any given situation, the "on the one hand" and "on the other hand" arguments. Authors Jeremy Paul and Richard Michael Fischel, in their best-selling legal studies book, "Getting to Maybe- How to Excel on Law School Exams, describe this "arguing in the alternative" in effective detail. Essentially, an lawyer should always be ability identify and articulate both sides of the law, and both sides of the facts, in order to anticipate the other side's arguments and effectively represent a client.
The failure to anticipate both sides of any given situation is called, in the vernacular, "jumping to a conclusion." One generally so "jumps" when one makes assumptions, which in reality, should be identified and dissected before reaching any conclusion.
I describe this phenomenon in my book "Law School Labyrinth". As an example, a client seeking a divorce mentions to her lawyer that she has three children. The lawyer concludes that child custody will be a pivotal matter in the proceeding. However, in reality,the three children are ages 27, 24 and 33, respectively. Clearly, the lawyer has jumped to the conclusion that the youthful-appearing client had referred to minor children.
Which brings me back to the "I could never represent a guilty person." A guilty person isn't "guilty" until a judge or jury decides that they are guilty. Until that point, under the U.S. legal system precepts, the person is innocent and deserves adequate representation. If I decide that person is guilty before judgment, I have "jumped to a conclusion".
I realize that there are "smoking gun" cases where the defendant is caught in the act red-handed. But again, there are two sides to every story. This is why what we call "affirmative defenses" evolved- insanity, self-defense, duress and the like. Even if the defendant is caught with the murder weapon in hand, with the victim lying dead at the defendant's feet, there may be an alternative explanation.
A good lawyer is relentless in the sifting of facts, sorting through each one, in order to properly analyze the matter and represent the client. This is the point of our legal system- to get to the truth and achieve justice in any given matter. And lawyers are the means to that end.
You may be asking yourself, "What about a situation where the defendant himself admits his guilt?" Again, there may be applicable defenses.
That said, as any lawyer knows, a licensed attorney is subject to ethical rules (such as candor before a tribunal and the prohibition against the presentation of evidence the lawyer knows to be false). A lawyer cannot breach these rules without subjecting himself to discipline and possibly, the loss of his license to practice law. The reality is that these ethical rules help ensure the administration of justice.
So, the response to the seemingly simple and inarguably assertion that "I could never represent a guilty person," is not so simple. But the analysis involved in reaching resolution is exactly what drew me to law practice in the first place. Things are never as simple as they seem (except perhaps to simpletons). The role of the lawyer is to identify the ambiguity in facts and law, but at the same to engage in their work such that they are participants and not detriments in the administration of justice.
And if you are thinking about law school, be sure and pick up a copy of my book, Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education (Kaplan Publishing, March 31, 2009).
Lawyer jokes are ubiquitous-
"What do you call 30,000 lawyers lying at the bottom of the ocean? A good start, for one".
"What do you have when you have a lawyer who is buried up to his neck in the sand? Not enough sand."
"What's the difference between a lawyer and a vampire? A vampire only sucks blood at night."
And yet, books, movies and television shows about lawyers are consistently among the most popular of their genres. John Grisham has sold over 250 million books worldwide and he just keeps on cranking out one hit after another. Before Grisham, there were a number of hugely successful lawyer-authors including Scott Turow ("One L" and "Presumed Innocent"), who has sold over 25 million books and Earle Stanley Gardner, who wrote more than eighty Perry Mason novels, the hero of which was adapted into a long-running television series.
Television series such as "L.A. Law" and "Law and Order" rank consistently among the top Nielson-ranked shows. Movies about lawyers, from "Legally Blonde" and "My Cousin Vinny" to "The Verdict" and "The Firm" are top box-office features, earning millions of dollars for their studios, producers and stars.
It would appear that Americans (and arguably much of the world) have a "love-hate" relationship with the legal profession. Why?
1. First and foremost, most lawyers are actually pretty decent people. The rigors of gaining acceptance into law school, graduating from law school and then obtaining one's license to practice law, are very much a "forging" of sorts. The resulting effect is that the legal profession is populated with many smart, hard-working and resourceful people, dedicated to solving the legal problem at hand.
2. Second, generally speaking, lawyers are the only people who can do what they do. Certainly, there has been a proliferation of software for certain legal tasks recently (such as software that purports to enable the purchaser to create their own will), but for the most part, if you have a legal problem, you need a lawyer to solve it. There is simply no way around it. The law is vast, complex and extremely technical in nature.
In fact, most lawyers today are actually specialists, similar to medical doctors who practice in specialty areas. This is because as our nation has grown, its legal requirements have become substantially more complicated, both administratively and substantively. It's simply impossible for one person to gain mastery over more than a few areas of the law.
3. Most people's exposure to lawyers is in an adversarial setting (see Part I of this blog post). Generally, litigation is a "zero sum" game and there are winner's and losers.
4. Regardless, even the winners in litigation usually end up with a substantial expense, in the form of legal fees. It is beyond the scope of this post to comment on the reasonableness of legal fees (and the law firm billing model), however, I will say that unlike the cost of medical care, from which many consumers are insulated due to health insurance, there is generally no insurance for legal fees. The net result is that people requiring legal services typically have to incur expenses that they otherwise would have preferred to avoid (You might be interested to know that there are other countries that employ what is called the "loser pays" rule, in which the losing party pays both sides' legal fees. As you would expect this is a strong deterrent to a would be plaintiff bent on filing a frivolous lawsuit).
So, we Americans hate our lawyers and yet loved to be entertained with stories about them. But the bottom line is, when most people are faced with a legal problem, especially when the stakes are high, they look to find the very best lawyer they can. And secretly, we appreciate and respect the work that most lawyers do for us.
And now for the plug. Law school is a big decision. If you're thinking about it, you need to read my book, Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education (Kaplan Publishing- Mar
I recently read a disturbing online article about a very successful lawyer who is alleged to have solicited sex from a minor over the Internet. At the end of the article, readers could post comments. After the article was published, there were something like fifty comments immediately posted. Predictably, forty-nine of them, were to the effect tha lawyers are "scum, jerks" and other similar epithets. None of the comments really dealt with the issue raised by the article. Instead, the comments seemed to be "knee-jerk" excuses to bash lawyers and the legal profession.
During a recent haircut, my barber told me of his divorce troubles. He was sure he was getting the "shaft" (to paraphrase that immortal C & W song, "She Got the Gold Mine and I Got the Shaft"). Worse, he was absolutely convinced that, in his words, "the lawyers were in on it", in other words, he believed that the lawyers had colluded to rob him of his assets. I will discuss later why, despite popular belief, this is actually an almost zero-probility occurence.
At the outset, I should say that I don't think most people really hate lawyers. Instead, a lot of people merely think they hate lawyers. The problem is exacerbated because generalizing "lawyers" into a single group, is sort of like generalizing other professions into one category.
For example, in the case of doctors, there are doctors who are heart surgeons and those who are brain surgeons. Some doctors who deal with cancer and other doctors who deal with childbirth, pimples, gall bladders and acid reflux. And by the way, generally speaking, you likely would not go to a childbirth doctor (an "obstetrician") for chronic pimples. Similarly, there are cost accountants, certified public accountants, and auditors. I think you get the idea.
Grouping any of these folks into a single category on one level makes sense; but making assumptions about the category can lead to erroneous conclusions. The assumption that all lawyers are alike creates a logical fallacy (e.g. "He's a lawyer. All lawyers are jerks. Therefore, he must be a jerk."). The truth is, certainly there are lawyers who are jerks. However, there are clearly many good and decent lawyers out there who could never be defined as "jerks" under any definition (e.g. Abraham Lincoln), except under a completely irrational and biased analysis.
In our society, most laypeople deal with lawyers personally only in the event of a conflict, typically in the form of a civil lawsuit. Divorces, personal injury, property disputes, contract claims, product liability and warranty matters and other matters of this nature are, by definition, adversarial. Simply, in these conflicts, someone wins and someone loses (some would argue that, in a lawsuit everyone loses). Lawyers are by necessity almost always right in the middle of these disputes. And let's face it, the lawyers typically become the lightening rods in disputes.
It's understandable because to the combatants, the lawyers are the "face" of the lawsuit (And in my opinion, that's the way it should be. The lawyers act as "insulation" and reduce the personal nature of the dispute, and thus the emotional issues, which are almost always present in lawsuits). Essentially, the lawyers "become the fight."
The foregoing aside, I believe another reason people think they hate lawyers, is that lawyers are trained to argue either side or both sides of any issue. We are trained to identify issues, anticipate issues and break the issues down into seemingly infintesimal sub-issues. It's part of the "issue, rule, analysis, conclusion" methodology that drives the American legal system. It is inherent in the process.
Laypeople are generally not trained to spot these issues. There is nothing that can make you feel stupider than having someone point out something you missed. Even worse, if they point it out during a fight. It reminds us of our own shortcomings. But again, remember that this is how lawyers are trained. We do it not to show laypeople what they missed, but instead because it is in our DNA; we simply cannot help ourselves but to analyze issues in this way. But we don't mean anything personally by it.
Another problem is that there is an incredible rigorous labyrinth that one must go through, in order to become a lawyer. You have to first go to college. You have to make good grades in college. You have to take the LSAT. You have to do reasonably well on the LSAT. Then, a law school has to decide you are good enough to admit you. You have to pass law school. You have to pass an ethics exam. You have to pass the bar. It takes an incredibly determined and intelligent person to traverse this labyrinth. Simply, lawyers are focused and smart (I am not going to go into why anyone would hate someone who is intelligent and dedicated. Suffice it to say that good old-fashioned jealousy could very well play a role.)
I have worked with hundreds of lawyers, both before my legal career and during. I have never met a lawyer who was a jerk. This includes lawyers who were my adversaries in litigation. Instead, I have met people who are extremely dedicated to zealously representing their clients' interest (which, by the way, is a duty that every lawyer has to her client). In some of their zeal, some of these lawyers did things I didn't like. In fact, they angered me. But no one ever did anything that was unethical, immoral, dishonest or even unfair.
The truth is, it's very easy for clients to reports lawyers for problematic behaviour to the bar authorities. Bar authorities (which are referred to as "SROs" or "self-regulating organizations") have a huge incentive to appropriately respond to these complaints. Simply, if they do not, eventually the government will step in and do it for them. Also, the future of the profession depends upon its ability to police itself.
Unfortunately, lawyers' license are suspended, and lawyers are disbarred or put on probation every day. But, in the grand scheme of things, these lawyers are a micro-minority of the practicing profession. The percentage of lawyers disciplined each year, in statistical terms, is "statistically insignificant". And it's a very, very small percentage of lawyers that do ever do anything that would even remotely place their licenses in jeopardy. After all, why would anyone gamble with their future ability to earn a living?
There was an old commercial for what I believe were cosmetics, featuring a statuesque European model in an expensive gown. After the camera panned her perfect physique, it focused in on her flawless face. She looked into the camera and said simply, "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful."
At the risk of flattering my profession, when you're in the middle of a fight, you want the best person in your corner you can find. And a lawyer is almost always going to be that person. Most are pretty good at what they do. But the result may not be pretty; in fights there are is almost always a loser (This is not to say that mediation isn't an option; many lawyers encourage mediation and some jurisdictions require it. But if mediation fails, you are still left with a fight). But don't hate the lawyers because of it.
In the same way, people choose to hate and blame lawyers for the disputes that arise as a result of every day life. People accidently (or ngeligiently) hit others' brand, shiny new cars, or worse. Neighbors build fences on other peoples' properties. And unfortunately, families break up.
Lawyers step in to try and protect the rights of their clients. Sometimes, it gets messy. But then again life is messy. But don't hate the lawyers because of it. As the old saying goes, "Don't shoot the messenger."
And if you're thinking about law school, be sure and pick up a copy of my book, Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education (Kaplan Publishing, March 31,
Presently, there are two big factors working against a "yes" answer to the above question. First, law student debt is at an all-time high. Second, legal employment is at an all-time low (perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but with first-year job offers being rescinded and large firm lay-offs, things are certainly pretty bad).
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog recently asked the question of whether "you would still practice law, if you had no student debt?" http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2009/05/28/envision-if-you-will-a-debt-free-beginning/. Needless to say, many readers answered "no".
However, I suggest that prospective law students take a longer view. The economy will change; it always has and always will. The real question is whether you want to be a lawyer. If you do and want it bad enough, then you will figure out a way become one. That said, there are a number of economic realities you should consider before you make your tuition investment (see my earlier posts on the subject).
Why would anyone want to become a lawyer? My own opinion is that it's largely because lawyers may be in one of the best positions in our society to help people. Sure, many lawyers lose their way. But the truth is, people become lawyers because the skills and knowledge gained will enable them to help others. Any first-year law student, approached by a family member during Christmas break with a problem, recognizes early on the power of the profession to help.
I became a lawyer because I wanted to help people. I am an "in-house" lawyer to a large company. I help people solve problems every day. I suppose the cynic would argue that, in reality, I'm helping the company to make money. I would counter that even helping maximize profits helps people, because it may result in folks keeping their jobs in a bad economy.
And then there are those "gem" moments, when someone comes into my office on a personal mission- someone has tried to swindle them with a usurious car loan agreement; a day care center isn't taking care of their children. Clearly, my obligations to my employer and profession require me to carefully navigate these moments. Generally, I can't represent these people. But I can help them- either through a referral or some good common-sense problem solving. And that's why the legal profession can be so rewarding.
The legal profession often gets a bad rap. But as someone who waited nearly twenty years for that law degree, my emphatic opinion is that the practice of law is, by far, the most rewarding thing I have ever done.
One of the great things about a law degree is the number of career options it creates. In fact, one of the reasons I decided to go back to law school after a fairly substantial business career, was I realized that many of the senior business managers around me were lawyers.
Because the admissions requirements and educational discipline for lawyers are so great, it only makes sense that, generally speaking, lawyers are smart people. This makes them ideal candidates for many jobs outside the practice of law, such as politics, business management, news media, education and many other professions.
Choosing an educational path is a kind of risky business. Deciding a major and college curriculum, at the ripe old age of 18 or so is a huge challenge at best. Essentially, you are being asked to pick something to do for the rest of your life.
I would certainly advise anyone to do what they love. But candidly, at age 18, most of the things I loved had very little, if anything to do with earning a living.
This is one of the reasons a law degree makes a lot of sense, if you can cut it. With a law degree, you will be able to practice law (and trust me, there are many worse ways to earn a living). But a law degree also serves as a "platform" from which you can move into many career areas.
This makes a law degree somewhat unique. With most degrees, you are pretty much stuck with the discipline. A marketing major, for example, is most likely bound for a sales career. An accounting major is most likely going to be crunching numbers for a long time. Certainly, people who are the best in their fields can rise into other areas, such as business management.
But with a law degree, the likelihood that you will have more than one option is much greater. Whether it's because law school graduates are generally smarter going in, or coming out of law school is secondary. The simple fact is that they will have many more career options than their non-legally trained peers.