My recent posts about careers in law (Legal Careers and Not Covered By LSAT Prep) is generating interesting discussion both online and off. My wife, a very happy solo practitioner for over 21 years, takes a more expansive view of the value of a legal career. She considers a law degree to be a great credential that opens doors to many fields. I did not mean to suggest that the cost/benefit calculation is, or should be, the only way to assess the value of a law degree. Every prospective law student should ask at least three questions: The first is can I afford law school–that is, can I make enough money after I graduate to pay back student loans and live the type of life I want to live? The second is what will a law degree enable me to do that I could not do without a law degree? If your only answer to this question is “practice law” then you need to consider it more thoroughly. Most non-lawyers equate “law practice” with “litigation,” but most lawyers are not litigators. The only times I’ve entered courtrooms since graduating law school in 1981 were to get sworn in, to hear oral arguments as a law clerk, and for jury duty. My law degree led to practice in real estate and municipal finance, which led to expertise in the arcane field of non-rated tax-exempt bonds, which led somehow–here the trail gets fuzzy–to teaching full time in a business school. This is not the type of career you map out in your first week of law school, but it is the type of career a law degree makes possible.
Which does not mean, of course, that I agree with my wife’s position. The third question is do I want to do those things that law school allows me to do? Too many law graduates discover that they really do not like being lawyers. A lot of what lawyers do is mundane, tedious, repetitive, and nit-picky. When I left my BigLaw life in 1988 I learned that I enjoyed being the client much more than I enjoyed being the lawyer, even though as general counsel I was still practicing. I enjoyed it even more when I left practice behind to make business decisions. I only started to enjoy law again when I was free from the constraints of practice. I was lucky to find in teaching an outlet for my interests and talents, but it was not only luck. I was willing and to make profound changes in the nature of my work. When success in practice requires becoming the go-to guy or gal for Section 1031 like-kind exchanges or local permitting for shopping center development, the horizon can become too limiting. Not for everyone, but for many.