How to Feed a Lawyer (and Other Irreverent Observations from the Legal Underground)

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I am a law student. I already like knowing about the law. A lot of things I've always wondered about are becoming clearer every day. That's what I like best so far.

What do I think I'll like about being a lawyer? Well, I think I'll like advocacy. It's good to have something to fight for, and I'll enjoy working for clients who I like an respect.

I will like wearing suits.

I will like working with intelligent, thoughtful people. I've had plenty of jobs where my co-workers were not of great intellectual prowess, and it makes a big difference with regard to the quality of the work atmosphere.


I went to law school in large part because I saw the impact that some lawyers had in their communities. That's really what I want to do with my life, try to make the community in which I live a better place. It's probably more political than legal, actually.

And no, I have no intent to EVER work at a large firm.


Shark Attack,

Your thrill at underrstanding legal issues is short lived. You will not like wearing suits after doing it every day for a six months and while you may be surrounded by intelligent people, you will find that they are rarely thoughtful. You sound like you want to work at a think tank. Come up with some new reasons or you are going to suffer serious disillusionment.

As for myself, I like criminal defense work. Its fun. Which makes me wonder why I defend civil class actions. Oh, thats right, the paycheck. Hmm, now I am drawing a blank.


I thought Shark Attack was joking.


Shark Attack: You wrote, "I will like working with intelligent, thoughtful people."

That was at the top of my (short) list but didn't quite make the cut. It's true that some lawyers, once you get to know them, are very interesting people.

Or were you joking?

Taco John

As a prospective law student (so really, really setting myself up for disillusionment), I think I'll like the part, like Evan said, about becoming an expert on something that I didn't know anything about. But then again I want to study sport law. So I might become an agent. Then it will be the money. Or my trophy wife. Or I'll enjoy suing the NCAA. Or defending the NCAA.


To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women!


The inability to answer this question led me to a career with Westlaw!


Once upon a time I might have had an answer to this question, but as a jaded 3L, I'm definitely drawing a blank. Maybe the ability to write letters that strike fear into the hearts of men?


As a law student, I am really not too sure. I like the notion of representing people I can respect and helping them get what they deserve, but I am representing the downtrodden right now, and find that more often than not, they have put themselves in their predicament through their own lack of coping skills, not to say dingbattedness.
But on a macro level, these are the people who need the most help. See, halfway through law school and I still want to help the little guy.
But I hate wearing suits. Not joking.


The part I like best is. . .um, . . .well a part I like is, hmmmmm. . . .well something that is halfway okay about it is. . . .,

Well, in all seriousness I'm way past the point where I could list something without going into fits of hysterical laughter or break down in sobbing tears. But, if I was to to list anything, it'd probably be that it lets me live in an area where there's not much other work that lets my wife stay home with our young three kids, and still lets me have the occasional delusion that my main vocation is something else, althought that delusion is sustainable as such less and less. That's about it.

And that isn't to say that we're getting rich, scraping by would be more like it.

Interesting to read the comments from law students. It is so long ago now from when I was in law school that I doubt anything I experienced then is relevant now, but it's odd to read the aspirations of students, even if partially in jest. It seems to me that law students have aspirations, and then when they graduate they need to get jobs. Some get the jobs they want, and a lot just get jobs. Then you use your skills for the work your employer wants you to use them for, not for whomever you'd like to use them for. And soon it won't even occur to you that your goal was to represent the downtrodden, or whomever, if that was your goal. My goal sure wasn't to be a litigator, and that's what I've been my whole career.

Jim Husen

What I like best about being a lawyer has to do with the all-encompassing nature of the enterprise. Every day I am able to help people with disputes and issues that are beyond their own ability to handle. In performing this service forthe clients a vast array of factors is drawn upon including but not limited to, my knowledge of the law and procedure, my knowledge of the court, my knowledge of the subject matter of the dispute and the personalities involved, my knowledge of human nature, the code of professional ethics, my character, reputation, connections with others and wisdom. Thus, what I like best about being a lawyer is depth of the job inasmuch as you yourself as the lawyer are the product and service which you are constantly improving as you increase in knowledge, skill, reputation and networking. In some ways, today's lawyer is like the priest and wizard of the middle ages. People come to us to learn the law and morality. People come to us when they are caught up on vortexes of instiutional power or face insurmountable obstacles or feel like they have been wronged. When we help them we draw on everything in our lives. I can think of almost no other jobs where that kind of commitment is called for.


Jim Husen has given an excellent answer, but it raises a question that I'll take the liberty of posing here.

We are always hearing from lawyers that what we like is the opportunity to "help people". I wonder to what extent that is a bit of a rationalization as to our individual practices.

This is not to say that we do not help people. All lawyers help some people, usually for a price, of course. But, in the area I'm in, I do not think that we so much "help people", as we hire on to their causes in a mercenary fashion.

Jim references Priests and wizards from the Middle Ages. But I don't think that we resemble so much Priests, as rather Medieval Champions. We sign on as combatants, under a system that has a basic assumption that if two sides wage war, the just will prevail. Within that system we do not, generally, really worry about the right or wrong of the cause. That is not our problem. We aren't really even worried about helping the contestants, usually. We're more worried about the results.

Within this system we're really like the Prussian General Staff. We're okay with our own actions as long as they fit within a set of rules. Within those rules, we're free to fight for wrong for the best possible result for our side. We're loyal to the side irrespective of its merit in a larger sense. If we invade Belgium, or shell a town full of civilians, well, it's okay as long as the rules allow it. The goal if for Kaiser and country, so to speak, not the rights of man.

So, if we help people, we help them by trying to get as much for them as we can, or help them avoid as much as they can. And this is the case even if it means they get more than they deserve, or that they avoid being responsible for what they are morally responsible for. That may be help, but it is not the warm human kind of help most people think of when thinking of "help".


I believe that if there isn't a solution, there isn't a problem. The law provides a lot of solutions.

Seeing people harassed by the powerful pisses me off. The law generally allows you to sue someone hurting others.

It feels good keeping someone out of prison.

It's contest living -- Winning feels good.

Ability and effort matter -- Lawyers who work to improve generally see tangible results. For me, this matters most of all. I would hate knowing that in 20-years, I would be at the same level of competence as I am now. Lawyers who establish a routine remain routine lawyers. Lawyers who seek excellence achieve it.

There is a lot of independence -- Clients give directives and you must follow the court rules, but within those broad confines, you can roam freely. I could never work a job where someone was always looking over my shoulder.

There's none of that Marxist alienation crap -- The lawyer's product is his own. It's not created using assembly line tactics.

Second to science, the law is the best way to put a productive mind to good use. A big lawsuit (even if the plaintiffs only win coupons) can end a lot of aggravation and cure much injustice.


Mike: If you ever do get tired of being a lawyer, you have a future as someone who can cheer the rest of us up. "Mike's Counseling for Burnt Out Lawyers"--something like that.

Good comment, by the way, as are all the comments today. Does it have something to do with the Valentine's Day?


By the way, Evan, congratulations on writing a post which has something for everyone -- Which explains the number of comments. Satisfied people will leave happy comments, and grouchy people will leave grouchy comments. Everyone has a forum!


"Second to science, the law is the best way to put a productive mind to good use."

You've got to be kidding. Science, engineering, medicine, education and dozens of others would rank higher for me.


It is unfortunate to see so many lawyers who no longer like what they do. As a trial lawyer, I still love the thrill of a trial. That first few minutes in an opening statement is magic. The world belongs to me. Nothing matters for anyone but the words coming out of my mouth. I savor those moments...

Then my client opens his mouth and all comes crashing down!

I have been doing this for a while and still love it. I enjoy counseling clients--they trust me. They listen to me. I tell them what to do and they do it. I solve problems for them. They come to me and open their hearts--sometimes more than they should. But they do it, because they trust me.

I like being a lawyer because I have the ability, access and opportunity to change, make or clarify law. It's a thrill to read an appellate opinion based on your argument. It is also a thrill to do a westlaw search and see your name pop up--and it is equally thrilling to see your case sited by law review articles.

These opportunities are rare in any other profession. Maybe a doctor having saved a life can claim something of the sort--but, not much else come close to the thrills of being a lawyer.

Of course, in the day to day affairs, you do deal with idiots on both side of the bench--but, in the final analysis, the thrill always outweigh the rest.

Prof. Yabut

You guys are all too young, or too healthy. The best thing about being a lawyer is being a retired lawyer.

Poor Mike does seem slightly delusional about law and productivity. From society's point of view, two of the worse things about the legal profession are: (1) too many of our best minds go into law; and (2) too many mediocre minds (and hearts) go into law.


" 'Second to science, the law is the best way to put a productive mind to good use.'

You've got to be kidding. Science, engineering, medicine, education and dozens of others would rank higher for me."

Somebody recently posted a link on my blog to a forum which was populated by lawyers seeking to get out. Most of that stuff was fairly discouraging, but on that forum there was a post arguing that lawyers were generalist in their likes, rather than specialists. That is, lawyers liked a bunch of stuff equally well, if you are in a positive frame of mind about it, or they were equally unenthusiastic about everything, if a person wants to take a more negative approach.

I'm not sure that I really agree, completely, with that thought, but there is something to it. Litigators (and I know nothing at all about a lot of the other areas of the law) do tend to learn a fair amount about some area they are not in, for the purpose of a case, and then they move on.

I think a lot of litigators do in fact find that part of their job to be interesting. That is we can learn what a certain type of physician, a truck driver, a welder, does without wanting to be any of those things. That might drive others crazy, but I'll concede that I usually find just about any topic interesting enough to learn about it, even if I have no real interest in it. And I know that outside the law I tend to do the same thing.

That may also be part of the reason so many lawyers grow disenchanted with the profession, as we were really never that interested in the law to start with. And it may explain why some lawyers sometimes seem to do well in other surprising careers.

I don't know, however that lawyers appreciate that they are often less focused on their careers, in a true sense, than other people. Lawyers talk about the law all the time, it's what they know, but I don't know how many have a really driven interest in it the way that some other careers professionals do, or at least seem to. So I think Jeff is doubly correct here, in that the sort of productive mind that goes into law is usually not the sort that goes into the hard sciences, I suspect.

Indeed, it is sometimes the case that those who transfer over from a hard science, for example, to the law were ill suited for their first career, or, at least in my opinion, will have a bit of a period of adjustment in their second. That isn't to say it cannot be done, but the thought process is not at all similiar. And, fwiw, my first degree was in a hard science. I did much better in law school, fwiw, even though I found the first degree more meaningful.

I also sometimes think we lawyers suffer from the illusion that everyone in the career is really sharp. Obviously there are lots of smart people in the law, and some have some really impressive talents, such as the author of this website. But there are some pretty low intellects in the law also. Law school is not as difficult as some undergraduate degrees, which few lawyers seem to realize. And we may not be as important as we think. There's a lot of really significant work that can be done by the highly intelligent that would benefit us all besides law. And law is not a career where individuals are dedicated to public service, in spite of the way the various associations sound in their propoganda. Law may be vital to our society, but individual lawyers usually are in the field to make a buck, not to benefit mankind.


I'm sorry that so many lawyers hate practicing law. Probably I am delusional because my mentors (the youngest of whom is 40 and has been praciticing law for over ten years) are very much in love with the law. I caught their enthusiasm. I wonder when one of the older fellows I learned from (he's 73 and has been practicing for over 40 years) will learn that the law sucks!


I like knowing the rules. More than anything else, I like that fact. I don't have to wonder where I stand legally with regard to much of anything. If I don't know something, I know where to find out about it.

I'm not worried about getting sued for this or that because I know the truth about those cases and if they are worthwhile. I'm not worried when a cop pulls me over because I know what he can and can't do. I'm not worried about a real estate deal because I know what to look for in contracts and I know what my rights are if things go south. I'm not worried when someone threatens me with a suit because I know what it takes for them to follow through and I know that 9 times out of 10, they won't do it.

And sometimes, when I'm somewhat caught up and I have to go to the local law library to research something with plenty of time to do it, I really, really like learning the law.

Wasn't there a Seinfeld where Jerry referred to lawyers as "referees"? The law is the rules of society and we are the refs?

I like being an official. Although there are times when I wish I could be a player just a little more often.


I don't know if I will like anything about being a lawyer, but if I do like anything it will be working with people and getting to solve problems. I like fixing problems. I am happiest when I am fixing a problem, regardless what kind of problem.

Tim Hadley

Most of the commenters so far seem to be litigators. Are there people with more transactional practices out there who have responses to Evan's question?

After about two years of experience with litigation, I know I've got no great love for it. I can do it -- I like to think I'm even pretty good at it for someone with my experience level -- but I don't get an especially strong charge out of the contest like many lawyers I've encountered do. But that doesn't mean I'm ready yet to say that law practice isn't for me; it just means that I want to adjust the emphasis of my practice.

I've really enjoyed working with some of my clients, both in litigation and transactions. I've met some good people who were doing interesting things or providing important public facilities and services. Sure, I've also had to work with some that were unpleasant -- rude, arrogant, or committed to harebrained ideas. But not all the time. Not even a majority of the time.

So what I hope for is to find more of those people who are good to work with and who are doing intriguing things, and to be able to help with the legal aspects of what they're trying to accomplish. I like to learn all that I can about my clients' businesses so that I can provide advice best tailored to their businesses.

Perhaps as a personality matter I'd be better off in some kind of business management. I could yet end up going in that direction if I can keep counseling business clients as I hope to do. But for now, I'm going to keep looking for a place where I can gain and improve skills in transactional legal counseling, where I can find and serve some of the kinds of clients I want to work for.

Am I overly optimistic? I hope not, though I suppose time will tell.

Matt Bishop

My wife has a transactional/estate planning practice. Has no desire to see the courtroom. She says she likes helping people get a deal done that benefits them, whether it be putting together an investment company or closing on the purchase of a shopping mall. She enjoys the back and forth of business negotiation, and the fact that she gets to play the heavy at times ("The lawyers say we have to have this") so the client can get what they want but still maintain a good relationship with the other party. That last part may say more about my wife than anything.

She likes the estate part because she knows how important it is, and how much of a benefit it can be to people who choose to develop an estate plan. How it helps preserve family harmony, and really takes a burden off the client once that's taken care of.

At least that's what she tells me.

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