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More on Unhappy Lawyers

Just eight days into the New Year comes the first story (and I'm not so sure that you can call it news anymore) about how Biglaw practice no longer offers the same fulfillment as it once did.  In part, lawyers' dissatisfaction results from the usual suspects: dull work, long hours (incidentally, I'm quoted in the article about that point) and the realization that hard work doesn't necessarily guarantee success.  But the article puts a slightly different spin on the issue, positing that in an entrepreneurial age, once respected professions like law and medicine have lost their cachet:

Make no mistake, law and medicine — the most elite of the traditional professions — have always been demanding. But they were also unquestionably prestigious. Sure, bankers made big money and professors held impressive degrees.  But in the days when a successful career was built on a number of tacitly recognized pillars — outsize pay, long-term security, impressive schooling and authority over grave matters — doctors and lawyers were perched atop them all.  Now, those pillars have started to wobble.

The Times article has spawned plenty of discussion. Commenters at WSJ Blog have mixed views, though a majority opined that law has never been highly regarded profession even since Shakespearean times.  Solo champion Susan Cartier Liebel agrees that large firm practice no longer is desirable, and she blames the firms for their plight.  Cartier Liebel also says that solo lawyers don't have the same angst as large firm lawyers, because solos decide about their "work life, income and definition of success."   

At Concurring Opinions, Frank Pasquale suggests that perhaps, large firm lawyers' are afflicted with a bit of the "grass is greener" syndrome.  He writes:

Perhaps a brief swim in the TechCrunch DeadPool could bring these folks out of their quarterlife-style quagmire. For every glittering Mt. Zuckerberg, there's an iceberg of "wanna-be-preneurs" with little more than a business plan and a prayer. Seriously, there are reasons for doctors and lawyers to be glum, but I think they have little to do with the fantasies of early retirement or nonstop creativity the article adumbrates.

In contrast to Cartier-Liebel, Pasquale suggests that lawyers may find their salvation not by moving towards individualism but instead, considering a more communitarian approach.  He believes that this will help lawyers return to the original spirit of "doing good" that once served as the underpinning for professions like law and medicine.

Other law bloggers used the New York Times article to reflect upon their own personal choices. Victoria Pychon of the Negotiation Law Blog reflects on her career history, and urges readers to "take the long view" and follow their dreams.  And Kevin O'Keefe at LexBlog also advises lawyers to

Find something you love doing.  Do work you'll find personally and professionally rewarding. May hurt in the pocketbook in the short term, but it's worth it.

As for me, I've always believed that neither law (nor medicine for that matter) ever guaranteed wild financial success.  Exposing and reinforcing this fact may be redundant, but it deters those people interested only in money from entering the legal profession at all.  And perhaps that, more than anything will improve the morale of the profession and raise its stature. 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on January 7, 2008 at 04:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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