I am facing a very interesting set of life decisions in the next couple of months and I need some advice.
I go to a very good law school, and the typical career path for about 75 percent of graduates is to go into a major law firm. These jobs typically pay 160 to 175k pre-tax and require 70-90 hour workweeks. They are not known for excellent job security, but people who are “shown the door” typically can find something comparable or not much worse after leaving. This career path recruits pretty much exclusively between the first and second years of law school. If I do not get on the train now, I do not get on at all.
I do not have strong concerns about whether this is a “fulfilling” life path, or whether I would be working for the “bad guys”, or any of that, so please don’t take this thread in that direction. I do have serious concerns about what this lifestyle would do to my health (which, at the moment, is excellent). On the other hand, most associates who enter these firms seem to survive notwithstanding the hours, and they are typically in locations where you can find excellent, healthy food (which seems to be the big variable). And 160k, with bonuses and yearly lockstep raises, is a ton of money, especially to someone in their mid-20s.
Any advice? I’m not really sure what I can do with a law degree other than work in a big firm, especially given the market for newly-minted lawyers. I can say that from both a professional and a health standpoint, graduating unemployed would be an unmitigated disaster. I don’t want to come off like I’m complaining (a lot of people would kill for these sorts of jobs) but I do worry about the effect on my health. Anyone who has experience in similarly intense jobs (I’m thinking I-banking, finance, law firm, medical residency, etc.) is especially welcome to comment.
I am facing a very interesting set of life decisions in the next couple of months and I need some advice.
You’re still young. Go for it, or else you will live with the regrets and the what ifs.
I owned a business and worked 7 days a week for more than 10 years. I loved the job, but it did take a toll on my family life. When diabetes reared its ugly head in my life, I knew I needed to slow down, so I did. I eventually sold the business.
Currently, I’m a PhD candidate completing my dissertation. Although advanced graduate work has been stressful at times, I love to write and I love to do research, so it has been a labor of love, much easier than the working world. At least for me it has been this way.
You have been afforded a great opportunity, so you need to go for it. Who knows, you may thrive and draw energy from working at a high-powered law firm. You’ll never know unless you try.
For what it is worth, I am a retired Trauma Radiographer, and worked usually 60 to 66 hours a week, which included the on-call time frame. The main trauma center (Level II trauma) that I worked at, was almost a 1000 bed hospital. The ER had 22 beds total, with 2 major trauma beds in one room, and 4 trauma beds in another. In the heart room, was 2 beds. There were also times that I would get called into surgery to do films. I hated surgery - too boring.
It was exhausting, exhilerating (sp?), super extra busy, constantly on the go, but it was womething that I totally loved. Everyone that I worked with, knew that I am diabetic, and would holler to me when a trauma was coming in, in order to grab some juice beforehand. They didn’t want me passing out while I was working a trauma. My health then, was much better, than it is now. I actually suffered no ill effects from having done this kind of work, other than burn out.
I would imagine that your chosen profession, would be similar, but in a different aspect. The advice that I would offer, would be go for it. You can always set up your own law firm or office further down the road. I believe that this experience would be very good for your future. As long as you have everything you need with you, including in the courtroom, you should do ok. Also, before meeting with clients or the judge, etc., it might be a good idea to have a glucose tab before hand - depending on your fingerpoke, or at least have some juice or an ounce or so of a real soda.
You’ll do fine, and congratulations!
You’ll never know unless you give it a try, right? You know best how you handle stress & long hours. If intensity is a challenge you enjoy, then go for it. Some people derive energy from pressure & flourish in that environment. Others don’t. Law school is hardly a low stress environment & it hasn’t had ill effects on your health.
I am a lawyer and I love what I do. I did start in the mega firm (and I do mean mega) world and became partner but I left to find greater fulfillment. In-house is a completely different animal. I ended up with a whole other specialty in law and and work with healthcare sector (biotech, pharma, device). But I know of a lot of other alternatives too and guide a lot of young people in this law idea – admittedly, it’s not for everyone but there are a lot of other things to consider that you haven’t listed. If you’re interested, shoot me friend request and I’ll be happy to help you more specifically via E-mail. I think I can help you sort this one out.
Ok, let me present a “sobering” view. You can aspire to do what you want, but you should be prepared to take what you can get. Maybe you are going to a good law school and maybe you are in the top of your class, but times are tough and the claims about how bright your job prospects are is a bit optimistic (perhaps even a lie). Whatever you do, follow a multipronged approach to assuring your employment. Nothing could possibly sck more than finishing law school, not getting a job, having six figures in loans and having frggn diabetes.
Sorry to be a nudge.
It’s better to regret something you have done than something you haven’t… If you can get a job at a top firm, I would think you should both want to take it and sort of have to take it? I know some people who are having challenges getting work after law school like the ones mentioned in BSC’s article.
I say go for it. Provided you’re already well-controlled and know what to do to stay in good control, you should be fine. I used to work a pretty hectic job and while I definitely had difficult D moments, I was (for the most part) able to manage things just fine. Not perfect, but fine.
Another thing to consider is working in the federal government. I’m a federal employee and there’s a fairly significant need for gov’t lawyers. The money is not as good, but the health insurance is amazing
Go for it. Get the experience and then figure out what you want. Like you said the key thing here is “newly-minted.” Get your CV bumped up with experience, pay off your loans and get your feet wet with what you need to know. From there figure out what you want and move on.
Many years in IT sales for me was a very intense job - hadn’t planned on going in that direction, but the money was attractive. In the long run I had to make some changes. If you’re doing something you enjoy than doing the 90+ hour weeks with no job security beyond the next quarter / next case you can find a way to make it work for you. It sounds like you’re looking at a few real opportunities - my advice is to go for it. If you find out that it’s not for you, make a change.
Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it certainly makes life easier, especially to make it easier to manage the D. If you can remember to take stock every so often and make sure that it’s still what you want to do or not. 10-20 years in a job you hate can also kill you, a couple of years probably not so much.
Good luck & best wishes!
BSC, I do worry about this, but ultimately I am at one of the best law schools in the country (Elle Woods agrees) and have reasonably good grades, or did first semester. This is obviously not a sure thing, but I’m reasonably sanguine about recruiting season.
I pretty much see it as Gerri put it, what “type” you are, and what makes you happy. My brother and I are very different personalities. He (who has had a very successful law career for 40 years!) is very driven, and thrives on hard work and challenge. While I retired at 58, he is 66 now and still going strong, and when I ask he says it’s because he loves what he does. Me, on the other hand, while I was also good at my chosen career, I need a lot of down time, and always have. I do best working at my own pace and in this fast-paced multi-tasking culture have been seen by some as “self-indulgent” when I try and take care of myself.
Since that IS the nature of our culture, I always support my students in taking care of themselves, and making choices that will make them happy, not just wealthy. So those are some of the issues I would suggest you explore for yourself or with people who are close to you and know you well. I also agree with what several people said, that if you “go for it” now you can get a couple years under your belt and then move in another direction that may present itself. I totally believe that we should move around in our chosen career or even change that career altogether over the course of our lives in order to stay fresh, challenged and nurtured.
Finally do you have a mentor? Someone in the legal field who you really admire, for personal qualities as well as career success? If so that would be a good person to talk with about the ins and outs of your decision.
Btw I just checked your profile and it sounds like you and my brother are alumnus of the same law school.
Hello, I’m a lawyer and faced the same decisions you did about 7 years ago, when I graduated. I did well in law school and did a “summer associateship” at a large firm. That helped me make the decision not to go with a big firm. I didn’t like the work, didn’t like the people, and it just wasn’t for me. My A1c also jumped up and I took more insulin and gained weight that summer. Also had some bad lows. I attribute that mostly to the really long hours and the stress.
I ended up clerking for a Federal judge the year after I graduated. Best decision I ever made. not only did it buy me another year to figure out what to do with my career, but it also provided invaluable experience in learning the basics of lawyering and how judges think. It was awesome. The hours were long, but my bg’s were much easier to manage and I really enjoyed it. I clerked in TX, and I am actually going back down there next month for my judge’s retirement party! All his former clerks will be there. My judge and I still keep in touch, and he has been a great mentor.
After my clerkship, I decided to go government. I was very blessed in law school because I got a scholarship for my last two years, so I’m not saddled with a crazy amount of debt that requires a large salary. Still, I think I make good money and am as happy as can be at my agency. I work in a small office and have gotten to represent witnesses in depositions, write briefs for Federal cases (and win some!!), write and implement regulations, and advise my “client” (which is my agency) on a wide variety of topics all the time. I love it. Right now, I work from home and write opinions concerning appeals of administrative law judge decisions. Government isn’t for everyone, but it’s stable, and I love it.
I also recommend clerking. That’s just my $0.02.