Being Real

Some law students know why they are there.  I corresponded this week with a former student, now a 2L, who has known she wanted to be a lawyer since she was five.  (I don’t know how one makes that decision at the age of five but I believe her when she tells me that’s how it was.)  As much as one can, she knows what is ahead.  She gave me permission to quote from her email:

I was born to be a lawyer.  It’s all I’ve ever wanted, all I’ve ever hoped for, all I’ve worked towards.  I’ve always been sure, but as I continue on my journey I’m more and more convinced that it’s what I was meant to do-my purpose here on Earth.  And that purpose has nothing to do with Corporate Law.  I went to law school to be a criminal defense attorney, and that’s what I intend to stick with.  Corporate America doesn’t need me.  I’m needed else where.  I believe that I can affect change, make a difference, even if small, doing criminal defense; that is where I’ll thrive . . . So I’m not worried about the hoopla with corporate jobs . . . I may be in the minority among a lot of my peers in school, but I’m happy with my position and I came to terms with it because there was a time when I felt the pull to consider corporate law.  You have career counselors pushing you in that direction-to even just try it.  You see all the money you’re amassing for your law degree and cringe that you’ll be paying it back for what seems like forever.  But during the summer I decided to go with what I truly wanted to do.  And it becomes difficult and annoying explaining your decision to people.  Everyone expects you to go after corporate law-make the big bucks, work at the prestigious corporations.  When I tell them that that’s not my path, its like why?

I’m confident she’ll get where she wants to be.

Be Real

Recently a blog reader suggested, after reading Considering Law School?, that I am down on law school.  I’ve thought about her observation quite a bit.  I don’t think my thoughts about becoming a lawyer have changed much in the past decade.  Are recent posts about law as a career choice more critical than my posts of a few years ago?  I’ve counseled caution before the recent bear legal market.  Don’t Go To Law School, The Purpose of Law School II, and Thinking of Law School? Read This have a similar message, which is that many law grads earn salaries that barely cover–or fail to cover–student loan payments.  (Click here for links to all of my law-school related posts.)  I am not singing a new tune.

Still, as the legal job market deteriorated over the past year my advice became more pointed.  There are far fewer jobs for new lawyers today than there were twelve months ago.   Starting salaries are less than they were a year ago.  A friend who graduated this year from BU Law was hired by one of Boston’s best firms as a first-year associate with an expected salary of $160,000, to start this September.  The firm wrote last week to confirm that the incoming class will start work in January 2010, not a major delay under current conditions.  Her salary is still up in the air.  Somehow, as if my magic, the major Boston firms will all decide independently to pay incoming associates the same as-yet-undetermined amount.  Whatever she it is, her salary will be at the top end of the market.  She’s in the minority.  She earned top grades in college and law school, worked incredibly hard, and had to pay her dues to land a big firm job.

Most of the prospective law students I advise are interested in corporate or business law.  Many express their interest in working at large, national corporate firms.  Others possess the interest but are more circumspect about expressing it.  Most are unlikely to get there.  Being a lifelong B+ student does not mean you won’t have a satisfying and successful legal career, but it does mean your chances of landing a job at any of the top 100 firms in the country are miniscule.

Be realistic.  Do not define success by whether you (or anyone else) lands a big-firm job.