I’m Worried I Don’t Have Enough Competitive Drive for Law

Dear Ex-Bitter,

After reading your website and working as an intern at my city’s district attorney office, I’m questioning my decision to attend law school in the fall. 

It seems that lawyers have to be very competitive… People on your website worry about grades [here], facial hair [here], hairstyles [here], tattoos [here]—all just to get ahead of their peers.  Even at the district attorney, the ADAs were often petty and manipulative backstabbers when working with their peers and rivals.

I can be competitive; however, I strongly avoid those kinds of situations.  I am much happier just putting forth my best effort and letting it speak for itself.  Will I survive law school like this?  Will I survive a law firm?  Is there a particular branch of law that I should avoid?

Thanks for your help.

If you’re going to let a bunch of whiny lawyers deter you from embarking on your legal journey, you’re in trouble.  Either it’s not a journey you really want to embark upon in the first place (and you’re using Bitter Lawyer as an unconscious scapegoat), or you’re just too damn fragile.  An eggshell plaintiff, if you will.

There’s no getting around competition, sister.  It’s out there in every facet of life.  Dating, sports, school, work…and law schools and law firms are no different.  In fact, it’s more intense.  The people are more driven, and the stakes are higher. 

That doesn’t mean an honest, decent person can’t survive—or thrive!  In law school, the path to greatness is simple: Get great grades and get on Law Review.  In law firms, the path is slightly more ambiguous, but it’s still pretty straightforward: Do good work and bill your ass off. 

In other words, if you put forth your best effort, it will speak for itself. 

Good luck.

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Dear Ex-Bitter,

After reading your website and working as an intern at my city’s district attorney office, I’m questioning my decision to attend law school in the fall. 

It seems that lawyers have to be very competitive… People on your website worry about grades [here], facial hair [here], hairstyles [here], tattoos [here]—all just to get ahead of their peers.  Even at the district attorney, the ADAs were often petty and manipulative backstabbers when working with their peers and rivals.

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

19 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    May 3, 2010 at 5:33 am

    You don’t have the skin for the practice of law.  I’m sorry to say it, but if you’re worried about it now, you probably won’t hack it.

  2. R Smith

    May 3, 2010 at 7:53 am

    If working in a government office doesn’t make you think “if these bozos can pass the bar I can do it while I sleep,” you not fit for law practice and no amount of urging will help. I mean if seeing innocent plutocrats being persecuted by overbearing, evidence-concealing blowhards like Mike Nifong, and two timing corporate harrassers like Elliot Spitzer, or, depending on your politics), marijuana users not being thrown in jail doesn’t arouse your competitive spirit, its not there.  But law clerks to judges, small claims judges etc are perfect places for someone that wants to be fair and not competitive. Patent law, assisting union members and water rights law (water rights is huge out west) can be great areas becasuse of the detail you can master and deploy as needed. But please stop worrying about what you have:  The place to work as a lawyer will become clear. Contrary to all the gloom and doom people, i think law will be back on its feet in 2 years. Not for document review robots, but people that bring value to the fee they charge or salary they take. So go for it and stop worrying.

  3. Dave

    May 3, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Also, if you have this attitude AND you’re not attending a top school or a lower-tier school for free, don’t go.  Get out now; your future self thanks you.

  4. Cali

    May 3, 2010 at 8:31 am

    R.Smith-Document review helps pay the bills when you’ve been laid off. I hate it, but I have no choice.

  5. quado

    May 3, 2010 at 10:16 am

    I changed careers in my mid-late twenties.  I was a big city cop and became disenchanted by the whole city government.  I was getting in too much trouble for doing a good job.  So, I went to night law school at a crap-tier school.  While I was there I also wondered about the competition level. 

    I had one thing going for me, my background.  If you don’t have anything else besides school….you may want to think again about spending that much money on law school.

    Now I’m just getting out of school and have a gig lined up at a defense firm that represents cops who get into trouble on-duty.  It’s a niche…and honestly coming from the crap school that I did my background is the only reason I have a law job. 

    I guess I’m saying if you don’t have the drive and you don’t have anything else to fall back on…forget about law school.

  6. R Smith

    May 3, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Cali: I apologize. That was poorly worded.

  7. nn

    May 3, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    “marijuana users not being thrown in jail…” But, in some states, medical marijuana is not prohibited by state law.

  8. LB

    May 4, 2010 at 6:47 am

    You should only go to law school if you’re absolutely sure it’s what you want to do more than anything else.  The people who go because they couldn’t think of anything else do and weren’t cut out for the health sciences- they’re the ones who dropped out 1L and 2L year.  If, however, you can’t imagine being anything but a lawyer, then go for it. Yes, it’s stressful and competitive.  This is my second career after being a teacher and I haven’t regretted it once.

  9. Bitter In-House

    May 4, 2010 at 6:54 am

    You’d be a fool if you’re not DAMNED sure you want to do it – and the bozos you work with now are probably nothing compared to the ones you’ll meet in private practice.  Flee while you still can.

  10. Heidi

    May 4, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    I’m a recovering attorney ( a lawyer working in a law-related niche inside a company, but not in the legal department) and have never looked back.  I worked in a big firm as a paralegal before I went to law school (and almost didn’t go to law school because of that experience). I would encourage anyone thinking about law school to consider:  (1) what do you want to do with your law degree?  Practicing in a law firm or DAs office is not as fun/sexy as TV/movies portray it. There are a lot of unnecessary politics and competitiveness inherent in the business model. Some folks thrive in that environment; many of us abhor it. If that isn’t what you want to do, focus your studies in an area of the law with application outside the traditional law firm track (e.g., employment law, environmental, water rights, business, etc.); (2) FIgure out what you can reasonably expect to make at the lowest level in that area of law, borrow as little as humanly possible and put yourself on the most agressive payback plan out there.  I graduated in 1993 and have friends who are STILL paying back their loans… I never regretted getting my law degree, despite two smaller recessions and a career path that looks like a switchback path up a steep trail, but I love my job and I’m paid very well. Part planning, part luck.

  11. Get Out Now

    May 4, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    I went to a second-tier school and then practiced law for 3 years including a year at a DA’s office.  Law is a horrible, horrible profession.  I became a federal agent and now I go to work every day enjoying what I do for a change.  Do yourself a favor and just don’t do it.

  12. Anonymous

    May 5, 2010 at 3:30 am

    Women like Heidi are the norm.  Women are best in law only if they are doing women’s law (domestic relations, wills, health care powers of attorney), but they melt when they have to do men’s work (bankruptcy ,corporate, litigation, etc).  I recommend this woman stay away from the tough areas of the law, or just marry a lawyer.

  13. Laid Back Lawyer

    May 5, 2010 at 4:16 am

    To the writer of this letter,

    I am not competitive.  I never have been and, god willing, never will be.  I went to law school, met a great group of people willing to study together and not try to manipulate each other, was on law review and became an editor (literary and book reviews), and graduated cum laude.  I now have a fairly prestigious federal clerkship, for which I get paid more than most of my friends who are associates at law firms.  You do not have to be competitive; you just need to recognize that others are and be willing to exist in that environment.  This “if-you-are-not-competitive-you-won’t-hack-it” attitude is that of those trying to skim down the attorney pool to make their own odds better.  I have never had to use anything other than my personality and intellect to get the grades or the job.

    Good luck.

  14. Evil Lawyer

    May 5, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Anon at 4:40: That is a silly comment. I know, becasue I sued to think that. But women are every bit as good till they have to have kids. That naturally tilts them into something other than caffeine fueled thugfests of litigation.  Good thing too-someone has to raise kids and I don’t want them to be someone waxing about “man’s litigation,” where tough guys don’t use deoderant, file motions for sport and scream on the phone.  Some are very good after kids too, just less wasteful of time and fees, which lots of clients appreciate. I notice a lot of mom types back in the workplace. Uniformly good. Underestimate them at your own risk.

  15. eh, whatever

    May 5, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    fuck it.  two words to live by, in learning and the career.  fuck.  it.  seriously.  I’m not competitive, i do fine.  fuck grades, too.  really.  fuck.  ‘em.  it has everything to do with being good at the job.  very little with grades, donations, tattoos, the cut of your suit, whatever.  it has everything to do with knowing what you’re doing, and having the pair that enables you to go out and just do it.  seriously, fuck ‘em.  (did i mention my conlaw final’s tomorrow?)

  16. what's more,

    May 5, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    fuck the asshole with the comment above the eh, whatever comment (also mine).  Really?  Like, Really?  First, I don’t think I’d have the chutspa to just come out and say something that bigoted, but also, I’m not sure I’d have the narrowsightedness to actually voice that opinion to other people.  I mean, sure, we wear crinolines and go to school to marry up, but no one actually says that kind of thing nowadays!  It’s just unseemly! 
    fuck you asshole.  just because you feel threatened that we’re better than you at your own game AND we can make new people, doesn’t mean you need to take it out on a nervous prelaw.

  17. fgbar

    May 7, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Seriously, not all fields of law necessitate competitive people.

  18. me

    May 7, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    dear asker,

    its simple to state (not that simple to figure it out): do you love the idea of practicing law? If the answer is “yes”, you will face anything and still thrive. If its “no”, dont bodder, keep looking for other alternatives…

    my personal opinion (after 7 years working as a lawyer): i hate it.

  19. Including, without limitation

    May 17, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Don’t go to law school.  You will be miserable as a lawyer.  Lawyers aren’t just competitive in the sense that they are driven and intense; they are manipulative and back-stabbing.  I love the law, I’m extremely intense, and I went to a top 3 school, but practicing law is soul crushing.  I basically got run out of one firm for naively asking questions and trying to learn.  Now, I seem to be on the right track in my new firm because (except when interacting with a few people I know I can trust), I make a conscious effort to be an arrogant, condescending dick to make people think I am smarter than they are and I know everything.  I’d get out of this in a heartbeat if I could, but I wouldn’t be able to support my family.  Don’t go to law school unless you enjoy promoting yourself at the expense of others.

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