Why the Hell Are You Still a Lawyer?

Ex-Bitter Advice from an Ex-Bitter, Editor's Choice, Lawyer

Q I went to law school because I was told it would “open doors.” I soon learned that there was only one door (being a lawyer) and that it seemed this door slid shut. I graduated, took the bar, but walked out of it, realizing I’d rather do most anything in life than be a lawyer.

My chief complaints with the law are as follows:

  • Whatever your reason for becoming a lawyer (money, prestige, intellectual stimulation, doing good), there are plenty of professions that trump the law on each potential motivation.
  • The rise of lawyers reflects the growth of the state, a state that increasingly infantilizes the people underneath it. Practicing law facilitates this coddling.
  • If state-dependence wasn’t a noble enough goal, it is pursued at the pace of peanut butter.
  • Things that should be basic, uncomplicated, and free (e.g. transferring your assets), and which people did for centuries without anyone’s aid, now must be done at significant cost.
  • Justice is not a science. All attempts to systematize it or hem it in through formulas have only created confusion (e.g., 38 exceptions to the hearsay rule, anyone?).

This leaves out much of what is discussed on Bitter Lawyer, such as the hours, the status-obsessed, the sheer monotony. But my question is this: why are you still a lawyer? Wouldn’t it be better to represent the odd sympathetic client in your spare time at little to no cost while pursuing a profession that unequivocally benefits society?

A I don’t know about coddling people and my own state of infantilization, but here’s the deal: it’s personal. While it may be bad logic to be a lawyer today (and I’m not saying I agree with your own logic here), it’s still a personal game for me and, I suspect, most lawyers.

Tell you what, here’s a joke to cheer you up:

I was playing chess with my friend and he said, ‘Let’s make this interesting.’ So we stopped playing chess.

For a lot of folks, practicing law is interesting, and you stop doing it when it sucks. You move on. For some, that’s immediately after law school. For others, it’s thirty years later. I only pity those who hate the law and still slog through it, day-in and day-out. For them, the game lost its interest long ago and the practice of law is more about moving people and paper along until retirement. Not any different than any other shitty job, but that’s why I got out. Not because of some contorted logic that I was supporting a coddling state-dependent system. I just thought BigLaw sucked.

But back to the personal. Law generally is interesting for any number of 2,000 ways: to jack up some big money fast (that’s the thought), to shag summer associates, to hang out with crunks and talk about italicized periods, or to mix with massive egos and powerful people.

Putting aside all the bitterness and bullshit swagger, though, I’m still a lawyer (just not in BigLaw) because it’s a little like Words with Friends, but on a personally profitable and worthwhile scale. I like messing with words and playing with language to make a difference for folks, whatever tiny difference that may be. I also like being an expert on something for six weeks or ten months, however long it takes, and then moving on to the next thing. I once knew the ins and outs of allowable driving hours for long-haul truckers. Or how you legally produce and apply recombinant bovine somatotropin for cows. I’m not sure what’s on the agenda for tomorrow, and that’s pretty cool.

You walked out, and that’s your choice and it sounds like you had your own good reasons. For anyone else sticking it out, let’s put the same question to them: why the hell are you still a lawyer? Maybe we’ll be surprised by the answers. Or they’ll take your logic downtown.


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