Why the Hell Are You Still a 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.

(Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/spunkinator/3120731043)

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.

7 Comments

  1. Guano Dubango

    September 2, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    In my country, a crying man would be given to the ladies tent and they would emasculate him in short order.

    You Americans have a good expression for this: Tell the person to “man up” if he goes to law school, he must learn it is not for wussie.

  2. Anthony M. Wright

    April 18, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    I am still a lawyer after all of these years because I can offer a lot to people when they need advice, and that pleases me. With the breadth and depth of my experiences, I can bring multiple perspectives to the clients’ attentions and guide them through to resolutions. Losses hurt worse than wins feel good. It is a constant struggle, emotionally and financially–but I thrive on it. Each day is different from the last, but then I run my own firm and have one less duty–to a boss.

  3. NCLawyer

    June 8, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    Because the rule of law is still better than the rule of the sword, and occasionally you have the satisfying experience of bitch-slapping a greedy bastard into next year on behalf of a small business person who’s just trying to do his job. That experience doesn’t come often enough, but as long as it still happens from time to time being a lawyer is worthwhile. I also like learning about industries I know nothing about and talking to experts in various fields. The thing about law that sucks are the other whiny bitch lawyers who make it less fun and less reasonable. And I’ll wager a guess that the Ex-Bitter who wrote this allowed himself to be “coddled” by access to low interest student loans. But that’s just a guess…

    • bil

      July 8, 2014 at 7:06 am

      Why did they NEED all this ‘Help” is the legal community so convoluted that it;s no longer about JUSTICE, just law…So Law has moved from being FOR THE PEOPLE and more ‘FOR THE LAWYERS ??????
      It’s so sad to hear all the lawyers defend this corrupt and broken system By saying : its the LAW it;s NOT JUSTICE….JUSTICE AND LAW IS NOT THE SAME THING’/’Well no crap !! If YOU hadn’t done such a bad job LAW AND JUSTICE “WOULD ” BE THE SAME , as it very well should be.

  4. N.F.Sihotang

    August 7, 2014 at 10:30 am

    well, I’m still a lawyer, part of it because I’ve living in a country with a lot of powerful public officers that abused their authority and bullies people, either the non-educated, or the educated but not so powerful in society. in short, I love being bullies’ bully. call me shallow, but I have and always will, hate people who taking unfair advantage of others.

  5. Olivia

    September 30, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    I am still a lawyer because… look at the alternatives. What else can I do for $200 per hour while working from wherever I want and still have time to exercise and go on vacation? And as a lawyer, you get instant respect when you tell someone what you do (or hatred, depending on what kind of work you do). Mind you, I’ve never worked in biglaw, nor would I ever. I shudder at the thought of billable hours.

  6. RD

    December 15, 2014 at 10:52 am

    It has been my experience that hiring a lawyer is like coiling a rattlesnake around my neck to protect me from other rattlesnakes.

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