Jenna Zebrowski, JD, MBA
I think "cons" are also situation-specific: if you don't like your job or what you are doing, then it doesn't matter what kind of lawyer you are. All of the education to be a lawyer can be expensive, and there is a lot of pressure and a lot of reading and writing in law school. When you start out as a lawyer, most attorneys have to learn more about the specific area they are working in, so there can be a steep learning curve, and you may have to balance competing interests, such as balancing a client's goals with ethical legal practices.
If there is an area of law you might be interested in, then you can also find an attorney that practices in the area and ask them for a chance to interview them about being a lawyer in that area to learn more.
1. It is generally a stable career choice because it is mostly recession proof and there are always a wide variety of viable career opportunities to available so it is easy to find possible jobs and pivot when needed. Most opportunities come with good pay and benefits, but I will say that it is not always as lucrative as many assume and you should consider what law school will cost you because the loan debt can definitely make a decent paying job feel like a low paying one for the first third or half of your lawyer career.
2. The legal industry is ripe for major disruption and as a result, there are near limitless opportunities for lawyers with an entrepreneurial spirit who are interested in not just working for a traditional law firm and paying their dues until they become partner, but instead want to build their own brand and/or embrace the business side of being a lawyer. I think there are lots of exciting changes on the horizon that will ultimately make the career path of a lawyer much more fulfilling and address some of the larger downfalls that currently exist in the more traditional models (See cons below for more detail).
3. It is challenging and it can be incredibly fascinating so long as you make sure that your practice area and the type of job opportunity you pursue align with your interests, strengths and goals. You will be a lifelong learner as a lawyer and you will constantly be growing as a professional and expanding your skills and knowledge, which I personally find to be one of the most enjoyable components of the career path.
4. As a professional service industry, there are limitless opportunities to use your legal career for great networking and community and to have unique professional experiences that you find exciting such as serving on a Board of Directors, engaging in a meaningful nonprofit, pro bono or volunteer work that you find fulfilling, being a keynote speaker or conference presenter, publishing/authoring articles in major publications, serving as a legal expert for a project, news program or other cool opportunity that you find worth your time, etc. Professional development opportunities for lawyers are endless and there are lots of awesome ways to use your legal career to challenge yourself outside of just your day to day work.
1. Law school is expensive and loan debt can be utterly debilitating. I have often wondered whether becoming a lawyer was an economically wise decision solely because of the large student loan debt that I would not have had I just gone straight into a corporate business role where I could have made a comparable salary without the massive loan payments coming out of my pay each month. Make sure you think through the costs versus benefits thoughtfully and with all the information so you know exactly what it means for your earning potential compared to other professional routes you could go instead.
2. It is very easy to find yourself trapped in extremely high stress lawyer roles with long hours, potentially toxic work cultures, unreasonable expectations and difficult people. I do think there are plenty of positive changes being made overall in the legal industry and by legal employers that seek to tackle some of these negative trends that have existed for decades, it is unfortunately still common for lawyers to encounter in their career and it can be extremely challenging as young lawyer to avoid these issues and navigate around bad work situations. Both myself and virtually every one of my close lawyer friends can attest to having one or more of these negative or toxic experiences in our practice that pushed us past our limit and/or resulted in a very tough and unhappy moment in our early career. I strongly encourage all young lawyers to find one or two outstanding mentors who will not only provide guidance and advise to you in your early practice but also will be a strong advocate or sponsor for your career development by championing your growth, connecting you to opportunities and defending your potential. These mentors are hard to find so it takes work, but it is a game changer when it comes to making your first 5-10 years of practice a positive experience and one that is healthy and in alignment with you personally.
3. Legal clients tend to be a more challenging consumer to provide services to and until you are in a position where you are able to define your ideal client and say no to all the rest, you will likely experience some of the misery and stress that comes with the occasional difficult or unreasonable client and the occasional client management challenges or conflicts that arise even with great clients. Unless you are in a lawyer job where you are not permitted to have much direct contact with clients (which I think in a lot of ways can be even more miserable and unfulfilling), you will encounter tough client situations that are rarely enjoyable to deal with and can feel particularly stressful when you are still learning the practice of law. A lot of these client burdens can mitigated by adopted a good customer service and client management strategy, having consistent systems and workflows in your practice that allow you to be responsive and efficient on client matter needs and ultimately, by defining the client you want and making sure you resist the temptation to accept difficult / red flag clients (ie. unreasonable, can't pay, lies about his or her facts, etc) simply to build business.
Pros: Going to law school and learning to "think" like a lawyer teach you skills that you will use throughout your life, both in personal and business settings. It is invaluable training. Being a lawyer is stimulating and challenging.
Cons: Being a successful lawyer is hard work. You have to be willing to put in time and effort.
Rachel recommends the following next steps:
- Intellectually stimulating
- Sense of accomplishment when closing deals
- Collaborating with smart people
- Long hours
- Pressure to bill and originate work
- Being a good service provider even when clients are unpleasant