Monday, September 5, 2016

Advice to law students. . . Quit. Or at least think.

Yikes!  Are you serious?


Okay, let me explain.

First let me note what this isn't.

A tour around the net can find a lot of blogs or net articles about how law schools fooled people into miserable careers, or by or about lawyers who hold their careers are miserable.  This isn't a post like that.  Indeed, as the Internet is one vast sea that is more akin to a vast sewage pond than it is to a pristine Mare Pacific, who knows how accurate that stuff actually is.  Usually happy people don't post stuff rejoicing "I love my job!", although I would guess if I google that about the law you'd find lots of hits. If you are a law student, I encourage you to do that. To get a balanced dose of the questionable, you probably ought to google something like the opposite as well.

Anyhow, that's not what this is about, except I don't want to be reading your  new blog in four years about how you are an unhappy camper.

No, what I have in mind on this Labor Day is something else.  On this day, all across the country, new law students are contemplating their first or second weeks of law school, probably nervous and excited at the same time.  Happy that they made it in (although that was never as big of challenge as they thought it was).  Sent off by happy parents who have dreams that in a decade they'll have a big job, big house, and a beautiful wife/husband, rather that a little job, big debt and a divorced wife/husband.  Somebody needs to tell the what their professors, most of whom have very little experience actually in the law, or the real law, won't.  Quit.

Now, that's the same thing that my great University of Wyoming Calculus teacher, Steve Morello, told us on the first day of class.  More specifically, he said "I encourage you to quit this class".  Why did he do that (and no, I didn't)?

He wanted people to know exactly what they were getting into.  Calculus, for most people, is really hard. The class entailed long hours of study and very hard tests.  You had to be dedicated to make it through the class.  And if you had a career that required its use, you had to have a real acclimation for it, or a real desire to work in the field.  I made it through three semesters of collegiate upper mathematics and liked it, but it was a struggle the entire time as unlike my father and his father, I don't have a natural mathematical ability.  

So I didn't quit, but if I hadn't had a goal at the time that accepted that this was fraught with difficulty it would have been a peculiar effort.  Morello only wanted students who were dedicated like that.

Now, I'm not saying that law school is rough like that.  Indeed, the entire belief that law school is difficult is a laughable joke.  Law school was like a cakewalk compared to my undergraduate in geology and I've never grasped how anyone could think law school was hard.

The practice of law is, however.

This isn't to say, right away, that there aren't a lot of good things about the practice of law.  There are. But those things are almost never emphasized to potential students, so that's not the thing that attracts them.  It's interesting and varied, but people don't use that a s recruiting pitch.  You might be able to go to your hometown  and work, rather than be one of the three people who go into what the ABA calls "Big Law", which most lawyers don't give a rat's ass about.  If you like reading and writing, we read and write all the time.  Just some of the stuff that is good about what we do.

Law students, however, come into law school, by and large, with a set of distinct beliefs about the practice of law, 90% of which are completely erroneous.  Unfortunately the American legal education system is populated mostly by professors whose connection with real law is brief, and they don't know it any better.  Indeed, Justice Posner recently commented on that, noting that law school professor ships are a refuge from the law in many cases.  Generally, a torts teacher, for example, is unlikely to have spent twenty years in tort litigation.  Shoot, he's unlikely to have spent more than a few years, bare minimum, in private practice, if that.  And clerking for a judge isn't working as a lawyer.  Sorry, it isn't.

Given that, all those bright shiny faces that are entering into law schools are by and large entering into an academic world that will feed them bull about the profession, or tell them nothing at all about it, until they emerge on the other side as lawyers.  That's great, if they want to to it, and have the ability and acclimation for it.  If they don't, and as they don't know what they're getting into most don't know, that's not so great.  Indeed, if they end up doing something they love and are really well suited for, it's a little bit of an accident.

So let's look at the frauds about the law, student, to see if you've been fraudulently or negligently induced to fill that seat.

1.  With a law degree you can do a lot of things.

People tell law students this who are already expressing some doubt about practicing law or whom the speaker feels isn't really suited to be a lawyer.  Whether they feel that way or not may or may not be valid, but the statement itself is complete bunk.

Oh, sure, some people with law degrees do something else.  But by and large the one and only think a law degree does is to let you practice law.  That's it.  If you are getting a law degree so you can become an entrepreneur or something, quit right now.  When you are  a public defender four years from now that's going to have seemed like an exceedingly stupid thing to have done.

And if you are so uncertain about entering the profession that this is your parachute, you are going down in flames already.  Seriously, are you about to spend thousands of dollars to study something that you think you might abandon, with a jump into. . . who knows what?  That's like boarding a rickety airplane to Hawaii and figuring, well, if it doesn't look good, I can always jump out.  Into what? The Pacific?

Not the time to think, well, uncertainty is my plan.

2.  Lawyers help people, and other self romanticizing propaganda.

Bar associations like to shovel this drivel but its really self serving propaganda.  You can find the same propaganda, by the way, in ever single profession.  Pick up any trade journal and you'll find it.  "The Journal of Executioners. . . detailing the dirty work in helping people since 1642".  "Journal of American Turkey Pluckers. . . Helping People since 1875".

Sure, lawyers help people, garbage men help people, postal carriers help people, dog catchers help people, whatever.

Lawyers hurt people too. They don't tell you that very often.  I've met people who lost hard fought causes and were left with a burning hatred of the opposing lawyer, and sometimes their own lawyers, even though I know those lawyers and they're good guys. They were just doing their job.  We don't worry that much about the ultimate result so much as we worry about winning.  Lawyers don't hate other lawyers who are their opponents, we expect that.  Clients are often baffled by that "I hate that guy. . why aren't you running him over in the parking lot".  Why?  His client probably hates me.

By the way, if you can't stand being in a group of hated people, you truly don't belong here.

The general self aggrandizing belief here, which we tell ourselves, is that we are a noble profession out for truth, justice, and the American way, or something like that.  Well, bs.

Lawyers are in actuality part of a system, the justice system.  That system is based on the old English trial by combat theory that if you put two combatants together, the right one will win, most of the time.  That may in fact be right, but the entire concept of it is that two champions will afflict as much pain and destruction on the other until the one that wins ought to win.  The little acknowledgement in there is that we know sometimes the matches aren't even and the wrong one wins.  Oh well.

 Lawyers in court. . .oh wait, those are British Tommies in World War One.  Hard to tell the difference.

This has very little to do with "helping people" in the way that people seem to think it does.  Indeed, people who believe that lawyers "help people", in the warm and fuzzy sense that they believe it, have a distant view of the cause in the same way that people who glorify war do.  It's easy to back a war if you don't have to make the decision about whether or not shelling the village to save the platoon is a good idea.  Up close and personal, war's icky.

 England, Australia and New Zealand, Attorneys and Counselors at law, arguing with the firm of Ottoman and Empire, 1st Gallipoli District Court.

So is litigation. So is a lot of law.  Keep in mind I'm not talking about transactional work, but most people who feed the "lawyers help people" pablum aren't into transactional law.  

War is often necessary.  

Litigation is as well.

But romantic notions about it being something like feeding starving children are misplaced entirely.

Additionally, as aspect of that, there's a common concept in the "helping people" line of thought about a singular event.  That is, Joe Lawyer gets out of law school and takes on the Big Case for the Little People and wins.

Okay, fine, but that isn't how things really work.  Being a trial lawyers isn't so much akin as signing up for one Crusade as it is volunteering to be part of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914. Sure, there are going to be those big days, but you are going to be there day after day after day, fighting in all of them.

Indeed, you'll have a lot of fights going on, great and small, all the time.  So, that concept of singularly glory should have George Armstrong Custer in mind. Yes, he was glorious at Gettysburg.

But a decade later, at Little Big Horn, not so much.

I should note that it doesn't even work this way for "public interest law", most of which entails a person working for darned near nothing for an organization that has a cause. If you can afford to use an expensive education for free, well so much the better for you, but you have to keep in mind that your role in that cause is as a foot soldier.  Not as the general. So, when your boss tells you to get in the Enola Gay and nuke Hiroshima, that's what you are expected to do, providing its within the rules.  Put in legal terms, if you work for that organization that's seeking to stop coal shipping in your state, and you succeed, and then you see Joe Railroader walking down to the unemployment line with his fifteen starving children and his wife, well you have to accept you hurt them and you can live with that.  Just doing your job, after all.

That's because in a legal contest, there's always two sides. And the two sides almost never involve good vs. evil. Usually everyone involved in the contest is a pretty decent person.  Somebody will probably win and somebody else lose (actually a settlement is more likely) but people who like to imagine that the will be Charles Martel are more likely to be Charlie Chaplin.

And some of the causes lawyers advance in the name of "helping people" are quite detrimental, in reality.  Lawyers were heavy in radical socialist movements around the world when they were up and coming.  Fellows like Lenin didn't really help people all that much.  No, not at all.  Lawyers helping people right now have seriously undermined the nature of domestic relationship in real natural terms, and long term this will be regretted.  There's almost no bad idea that lawyers won't back in the name of the public interest.

3.  The money and the glamour.

Yeah, right.

Even now, in the wake of lots of stories about lawyers being unemployed, there's a common belief that once you find that law job you'll be rich and live in glamour.

Maybe you will be rich. And maybe you will be glamorous.  But probably not.

The other day I was in a deposition with a whole host of plaintiffs lawyers when the lead plaintiffs' lawyer went into a long dialog to the witness about all the real world problems associated with the law and lawyers.  He had them memorized.  Some huge percentage of lawyers are addicted to something, in his words "booze, drugs or women". Depression is rampant.  On and on. It was something that had clearly been on his mind, and I'd regard him as a dangerous (in litigation) but jovial fellow.  I was stunned, really.  But he's right, all of it is true.

Most lawyers don't make huge amounts of money, and even though some do, by and large the law is a middle class profession.  As a middle class profession it really isn't glamourous at all.  For transactional lawyers its day after day in the office. For litigators its day after day on the road, away from home, under high stress, and sleeping in hotel rooms.  I have yet to meet a lawyer that I think is glamorous, although I've met some young ones who were living in full delusion that it would be (one such fellow told me he couldn't stand working indoors, which of course is exactly what we were doing).

And lawyers work.  

Once a person really become established in the law they never quit working again.  I never have a morning I don't think about a case. There's never a day that goes by, no matter what I'm doing, that doesn't involve thinking about the law.  Most lawyers work more than eight hours a day and more than five days a week.  

Indeed I think actually practicing law might fundamentally alter a person's thinking.  I'm not sure, but I wonder.  I tend to think it does.  If a person is going to be an effective lawyer they have to have an analytical mode of thinking to start with, and that will be forever emphasized in their thinking.  It can make lawyers hard to be around for people who are close to them, as lawyers will inevitably analyze any problem presented to them and get very frustrated if their analysis isn't wanted.  It's common, for example, so spouses to dump problems on their spouse and not really want the fix.  A lawyer husband or wife is going to give the fix, and then given argument if the suggestions are ignored.  I do this all the time. 

That fact combined with the intense nature of  the work burns out any competing interest over time with many lawyers. I feel that's the real reason you'll see lawyers in their 80s still practicing.  "They sure must love the law".  Maybe, but what did they do when young?  This might be all that's left.  I know that at nearly thirty years in I now do less of everything than work than I did twenty years ago.

All of which isn't to say that all lawyers are misdirected fools.  Far from it.

So, young student, that's the point.  Are you motivated by an accurate, obtainable, goal? 

I doubt it.

Ask yourselves these things.

Am I in it for the money?  If so, quit and do something else.

Am I in it for the glory?  Well, there's no glory here.  Indeed, there's little glory in anything, and most glory is conferred accidentally in anything.  That's why its glorious. But if you must have glory, the PKK and YKK are recruiting.

Am I in it as I like to argue? Well, then you are an asshole and we don't want you.   Seriously, argumentative people are just argumentative. We want thinking people, not jerks.

Am I in it for the prestige? Sorry, lawyers are hated by more than admire them. No prestige available.

Am I in it to help people?  The world needs people who will help, in real terms. Doctors Without Borders really helps people.  The Red Cross really helps people.  Consider becoming a Rabbi, Pastor or Priest (and if you can't imagine why you'd do that, if this is your goal, then your desire to "help people is so thinly grounded you'd better sit down and reflect on it).  The law isn't a crusading profession, no matter what the ABA might have told you or what you read from your law school.  It's trench warfare for whatever side will pay you.

Am I in it as I like to fight? See the one about arguing and double it.

Do you just not know what to do?  Well, misdirected polymath, okay.  Lots of lawyers fit that definition.  The law might be for you, but read the rest of this stuff first.

Do you just love the law?  Great.  You are weird, but you should be a lawyer.

Am I condemning the entire profession and all in it?  No, I am not.  I've been a lawyer for almost thirty years.  But in recent years I've seen more and more young people enter this career and feel lost. And I know something that they don't.  This profession is changing, and not for the better.  It's slowly getting stupider, nastier, and poorer paying.  Hours are getting longer, and its only a matter of time until state bar boundaries are destroyed to the point where all the good work is grounded in big cities, most of which are not worth passing through, let alone living in.  I'll be retired, or dead, before all that happens to its fullest, but those entering today will not be.

But I don't want you unhappy.  More than that, I don't want you messing up a profession that's somewhat messed up to start with.  If you don't belong here, and I think you might not, please don't come in.  Indeed, maybe part of what we need in order to address a system which seems to me to be in decline is for people to say, "ewww. . . ick. . . " and not come on in and stomp around the slop and then leave crying.  If you don't sign up, that tells the 1,000 year old lawyers who are in the judiciary and the three or four people left in the ABA that something really needs to be done, and a judicial declaration that you can self identify as a tree sloth or something isn't really taking that on.

Well, happy Labor Day. And, no matter what your Liberal Arts teachers told you at Big State College, you are getting an education so you can get a job.  You are already on campus, so today, before class starts tomorrow, go look in the window of the medical and pharmaceutical schools (they "help people"), check out the college of business (business actually is about making money), see what's up in the engineering school (it's not to late for a second bachelors in an industry that also helps people), go check out ROTC (a real fighting profession).  Read that course catalog.  You can still do something else. But once you get that JD, you can't, and don't fool yourself that you can.  You're one of us now, like it or not, and if you don't, well too darned bad for you.

And if you really want to help people, you can probably still get in the Seminary next fall.

No comments: