T Nation

A Career In Law

Are there any lawyers on the forum? The reason I am asking is because I am interested in becoming a lawyer and would like to ask the lawyers on this forum questions regarding a career in law.

I’m in my last year of a JD/MBA program. I have a job lined up for next year in the tax department of a large law firm here in the northeast. I’d be happy to answer any questions. LL

I got my JD in 1998, I don’t practice law but I can provide a few insights. Here are a couple of quick facts, I remember reading about a study that found two thirds of lawyers would choose a different career if they had the opportunity. Also, we had around 50% attrition in my law school class, very few were academic related, most just realized they didn’t want to practice law. I’m not trying to discourage you, a few of my friends enjoy practicing law the rest dislike it to varying degrees. Remember, most people don’t truly enjoy their job, I’m one of the lucky few. As a matter of fact, a lot of the people in my profession dislike their job but it pays well.
BTW, a JD/MBA is a great combination if you want to enter the business world and you won’t be restricted to just practicing law.

I post under a different name but I’ll use this one for this topic. I graduated from a top 10 law school in 1999 and went to work in the litigation department of a large East Coast law firm. I have a 6 figure salary, no life, and a serious case of work-related depression. The happiest day of my life was when i told the firm i was quitting. I’ll be leaving in a few months to work elsewhere. I’ll be staying in the legal field, but i would never again work for a big firm.

The problem with law school is its cost. By the time you graduate, you’ll have so much debt you’ll have to work for a big firm. Of the people I graduated with, probably 95% went to firms. Of those that I stay in contact with, only a handful actually like their jobs. The rest absolutely hate what they do.

If what you know about the legal profession comes from TV and the movies, you'll be in for a big shock. I don't know who writes these shows, but its clear they never spent 5 minutes as a lawyer. I can describe the legal profession in one word: paperwork. Lots and lots of fucking paperwork. You know how in cop shows the main chracters are always getting in gun fights and are always roughing up suspects and driving 90 mph through the streets of San Francisco, yet in real life cops spend 99% of their time giving traffic tickets and doing paperwork. Same thing with the law. If you watch tv, you think lawyers are constantly in court battling the opposition, fighting with the judge and giving these grand, eloquent closing statements that win the day with the jury. Bullshit.

If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them. However, my advice is and will probably always be- go into a different field.

anyone involed in sports law. thats actually the area i’m most intrested in however i got a while to go as i’m only a sophmore in college.

I studied a double degree of Law/Commerce for a year, only to change paths and move into my current Exercise Science degree. I hated it and followed my interests. Basically, as Muhammed Ali says, I’ll be the greatest at whatever I do, so I might as well have fun along the way.

Thanks for the responses! I am glad I am finally hearing from people with experience! Out of curiosity, what does JD stand for? I presume the D stands for degree but I cannot figure what the J stands for! The JD/MBA advice is great (thanks LL and Javaguru). When I discovered that one must go to a four-year college before law school, I asked my career counselor to recommend a major. He recommended English (on the grounds that lawyers read and write a lot). Did he give me good advice or does he not know what he’s talking about? Wow! Law sure sounds fun! LOL! I actually knew it involved lots of paperwork, but I never imagined that the majority of lawyers dislike their occupation. I am currently reading Law 101: Everything You Need to Know About the American Legal System by Jay M. Feinman and, as devastatingly challenging as it is, I am enjoying it! Of course, just because a person enjoys reading about psychology doesn’t mean the person will enjoy a career as a psychologist. I must thank everyone for opening my eyes. I am not discouraged but I am now aware. Again, thanks to all who responded!

JD = Juris Doctor, the degree needed to sit
for the bar in most states except California.
Though one can have an LLB and take the bar,
not too many schools offer the LLB anymore.

Brock

I’m thinking about a JD/MA with the MA in economics. I’m not sure exactly what to do though. I’m a junior in college going for an BA in Economics but don’t know what to shoot for. I want to have a job with a much variety as possible. Is this an option in law? I worked this summer and part of this year as a runner for a decent sized firm and didn’t get the impression that it was that fun. Moving 50 forty pound boxes of paper around was bad enough but knowing that some poor shmuck had to read all of that shit was more than I could take. On top of that I noticed many of the lawyers where I worked at were dorks and had no life outside the office. I guess I’m anxious because i’m going for a professional degree and not just an undergrad. Does anyone here think a law degree gives you more options or just limits you to a high paying high chance of me commiting suicide job? Any response would be good.

Let me make a small correction to Brock’s post. J.D. stands for Juris Doctoris. Yup, I’m “Dr.” 3d year.

Ah, sports law, the dream of half of my buddies in law school. Hang out with pro athletes, go to games, make big bucks negotiating contracts, sleep with cheerleaders.
Reality? Unless you have some serious connections, or you’re good friends with everyone on the Duke basketball team, its not going to happen. If there’s a bigger breed of shark than the personal injury lawyer, its the sports lawyer. Your worth to these guys is directly related to the number of potential clients you know.

As far as getting a JD along with an MBA or some other business degree. Go for it. My friend's father practiced law for about 15 years before getting fed up with it. Now he's a businessman who spends maybe 10-20% of his time doing legal work. having a law degree has helped him immeasurably as a businessman. He can draft his own contracts, he knows all about zoning laws (and if he doesn't know something, he knows how to get the info), taxes, corporate law, etc... Most important, though, he knows when the otherside's lawyer is trying to fuck him.

And i was probably the poor shmuck who had to spend 10 - 12 hours a day reading through those 50 boxes of documents.

i know sports law is more of a pipe dream then anything else but if i dont set my goals then they have no chance of comming true. Either way at this point in my life i’m a sophmore business major in umd and this summer i’m going to get an internship with the NY islanders and see if i can make anyconnections that way.

T-Teen – I’m a 3L at a top 20 school and I teach LSAT classes and do admissions counciling on the side for a test-prep company. I would say that English is a good major for lawyers in general, but there are a couple things you should consider in picking your major.

Firstly, it should be something in which you excel, as your GPA is one of the two most important factors in getting in to a good law school (the other being your LSAT). Secondly, it should be something that requires you to logically analyze and break down your material, and to come up with solutions to problems. Thirdly, it should be something that requires you not only to read, but also to write a lot, as the majority of your time in law school will be spent doing those two activities, and all your grades will come from how well you write (mostly under god-awful time constraints). Perhaps a combination of majors such as econ and philosophy or econ and history would work well for you in those respects.

I'd also like to say that, from what I've observed the past two summers in working as a summer clerk (I know, I know, it's not even close to the same thing as really being a lawyer, but I tried to keep my eyes open and learn a few things), your best chance of being happy with a legal career comes from knowing what you want and knowing what you're getting yourself into. The big-firm corporate job is a plumb in the eyes of most, but it will come with long, long hours and, at least in the beginning, mind-numbing work that it seems like your secretary could do. Do a lot of research on firms (Insider's Guide is a good source for big firms -- alumni from your law school are the best sources IMHO) so you know the culture and what they expect of young associates (I personally think attrition rates speak volumes about firms). Find out what are the chances of making partner. Decide if you want to work in a big or small firm, keeping in mind the advantages and disadvantages of each. Find out what the job is like at all levels: starting associate, mid-level associate, senior associate and partner, and decide if that's what you want to do.

Anyway, hope that helps.

Question: What is MBA? I understand it has something to do with business, but that is all. I would appreciate it if somebody gives me information on MBA. Again, thanks to everyone who responded. 3L T-Man, great info. Thank you.

MBA=Masters of Business Adminstration. Basically what you need to be a manager in most big companies.

What do you dislike so much about being a litigator in a high powered law firm? That is most law students’ dream. What job are you going to enter that you feel will afford you more satisfaction?

All right now kids, here’s the story. I’m a trial lawyer. I graduated magna cum laude from what most consider a “top” law school. I have been practicing law for 20 years, the first half in private practice in a really large, allegedly prestigious, international firm, and the second half for the US government. I’m sort of like a prosecutor, except that I don’t do criminal work – instead, I pursue civil violations in what is known as an administrative forum.

It is true that surveys show that many/most lawyers are unhappy with their jobs. On my last big case (over 100 trial days), I lived in a hotel for almost 18 months, worked 14 to 16 hour days, and saw my family on the weekends, if that often. I spent the entire workday cooped up with a large number of unpleasant people whose sole object in life was to make my life miserable and try to keep me from presenting my case (and they would say the same thing about me).

It’s a living, and it pays reasonably well, but you have to live with a great deal of dysfunctionality, and, if staying in shape is important to you, you should be aware that it can get really hard to get your workouts in let alone eat right.

Sometimes it is intellectually challenging, other times it is just plain boring. Being one of the guys who has to look through all of those boxes of documents before I can be ready to go to court, I can tell you that part really isn’t that much fun. There’s a lot more preparation time than there is courtroom time, and after the initial thrill, being in court really isn’t that exciting. If you live near a courthouse, go down and watch a few trials – all the way through, not just an hour here and there – and find ones that no one except the parties would care about (no OJ trials, check out the supermarket slip-and-falls), because that’s what most trials are like. If this sounds glamorous to you, go for it.

Porkchop

I’m a 2L at Hastings (in SF)

Everything that 3l said is very true.

A couple majors people don’t really think about are the ethnic studies majors. Even if your’e not a bleeding heart (I am), they will force you to see/argue things from different perspectives, which is what law is all about.

Your school probably has some type of “pre-law” classes, where you do persuasive writing. By all means take a few of those - their probably in the poli sci, philosphy or econ departments.

Most importantly, pick something you can get a high GPA, because that is so important. Also, by all means take a LSAT prep class. Yeah they cost 1000, but when you think about how much undergrad and law school costs, it is really a drop in the bucket.

Also, one thing that I did that not many people do is to take your admissions essay to an editing service. I don’t mean your college’s pre law advisor - he/she may be able to give some advice, but they are not a profeessional editor. I used a service called collegegate.com - do a google search and you will find it. They have all sorts of different packages - I used the one that is about 50 bucks - you write the essay to the best of your aBILITY, email it to them, they edit it and send it back within 3 days. My first draft was pretty good but after I implemented their suggestions it freaking rocked. The pre law advisor said it was the best she had ever seen.

And when you get to law school, use supplements!!! No, not nutritional, I mean Emmanuels, Glannons, Legallines etc . . They help so much, even if the school and proffessors tell you they don’t.

Good luck.

Matt

I graduated in commerce law and worked for big city law firms for 4 years. I was an absolute star and had car parking under the tower, awesome offices with views, good salary etc etc. It was still the absolute pits. Apart from the predominantly dead boring work, long hours and high expectations (read: perfectionism) the people were the worst part. They generally were a little too smart for their own good, usually eccentric, usually boring, usually bitchy and political and mostly had little or no experience outside law and their similar lawyer buddies.

I am proud of the things I acheived in private practice but would want near half a mil to go back (and, trust me, you earn every cent).

At 28 I took an inhouse job with a multinational for a 6 figure base, 20% bonus, car and awesome super. 3 years on Im averaging 10-15% pay increases each year (plus a nice bonus), Ive been promoted to General Manager Commercial as well as general counsel of a $200m a year business. I still easily manage a four day split plus partying and cardio and money is never an issue. Work is challenging but rewarding and Id say I have it easier and better than most of my pals (IT, Accounting, cooking, mechanics etc) I love inhouse law and cant imagine anything better. And Ive never encountered an inhouse non govt lawyer that didnt think he was a lucky bloke.