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Legal Careers: Two Views, Both Bad

Two items in the news today combine to make a single point: Law is a jealous mistress but not always a generous one.

By way of the New York Law Journal comes word of a just-published New York State Bar Association report on work-life balance in law. One striking feature of the report is its scope. The NYSBA's Special Committee on Balanced Lives in the Law, chaired by Syracuse lawyer M. Catherine Richardson, spent nearly three years on the report, meeting with lawyers in all corners of the state, in all types of practices, of all ages, genders and ethnicities. Across the board, lawyers said they found it difficult if not impossible to find balance.

"What struck us as we reviewed the results of these forums was that the attorneys' responses -- regardless of their number of years in practice, size of firm, practice setting, etc. -- were consistent on one central point: They all were having a very difficult time achieving a balanced life in the law. ... Most felt that their life was not balanced (work dominates their time and attention, at the expense of their personal life). Most felt that, at the time they decided to go to law school, they didn’t fully appreciate the extent of the demands a legal career would place on them (the number of hours required to be worked each week, the extent to which work would intrude on their private life, etc.). The law is indeed a jealous mistress, and they underestimated how jealous she would be."

Yet the report goes on to say that, with few exceptions, if given a second chance, the lawyers would still  choose a career in law.

Well, at least lawyers are paid well, right? Ask Jeanne Wrenn about that. The 36-year-old Chicago prosecutor, a single mother seven years out of law school, moonlights as a bartender to make ends meet on her $59,000 annual salary. Wrenn is among the lawyers profiled in a Chicago Tribune piece (via ABA Journal) with a title that says it all about the income gap in the legal profession: Two lawyers walk into a bar. One orders a round of drinks for the house. The other one puts on an apron and serves it. Yes, the article says, some lawyers make a fortune, "but these days, far more lawyers make far less than is widely assumed." A Northwestern researcher who studied Chicago's legal community found that between 1975 and 1995, the bottom three-fourths of the profession lost ground in income, while the top fourth jetted far ahead -- and that trend has only intensified in the years since.

Like the lawyers in the New York study, Wrenn might also have made the same career choice if given a second chance. While she sometimes wonders what life would be like for her and her daughter had she gone corporate, she tells the Chicago Tribune, she did not go into public service to become a millionaire. "You're more concerned about doing good than doing well." I'll drink to that.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on April 9, 2008 at 03:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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