I’m a lawyer by training, and experience. I’ve been licensed since 1999, and I’ve done a whole crapload of different jobs in the law, from criminal defense, to commercial litigation, to personal injury over the years. I have practiced in a big firm setting, a non-profit setting, and now I work for myself. I think that it’s fair to say that there are few people who’ve gotten as wide an exposure to the practice of law as I have. And I’m here to report back:
It sucks. It all really sucks. I wish I’d never ever gone to law school. I wish there were literally any other job that I could do, instead.
Why does it suck? Many reasons, but let’s discuss the most prevalent:
- The billable hour. Let’s review some basic economics, shall we? There are certain fixed costs associated with being a lawyer- the cost of rent, the cost of one’s cut of employer-funded health care, the cost of malpractice insurance, the cost of research (more or less, but for this purpose assume it’s fixed). There are a couple of variable costs, but not many- the cost of fuel to and from court or depreciation of a vehicle, filing fees, maybe. And that’s about it for variable costs. So, every additional hour billed by the attorney is almost 100% pure profit. As you might imagine, there is INCREDIBLE pressure on attorneys to bill more hours, as, again, it’s ALL PURE PROFIT. Please examine the attached link from Yale Law School about what the billable hour actually means, and what certain levels of productivity actually require. Yale on the Billable Hour So, when they say “2000 hours “, that’s not even remotely what they mean.
- The sheer volume of lawyers: It’s not just that there’s a ton of competition, which there is, but it’s also what the volume of lawyers does to the practice. When I started out, I did criminal defense in rural New Hampshire. I dealt with the same opposing counsel every day of the week. So, I rapidly developed a rapport with them, and more importantly I developed a reputation with them. I had goodwill to trade upon, and they knew that if I said something, it was reliable. This happened quickly. Now? I might not see the same opposing counsel for years. There’s no cost to burning an opponent, because you can play the numbers game. Also, because there are so many lawyers, and so few (relatively speaking) clients, lawyers will try to poach your clients. It happens. All that does is wind up creating unrealistic expectations on the part of the clients, because they’ve been promised all sorts of bullshit.
- Judges who’ve never really practiced law: If you go from law school, to a clerkship, to the bench, you have no freaking idea what actually being a lawyer is like. You don’t know what it’s like to have clients, or manage a docket, or what the daily experience is like. So invariably, you’re not going to understand the practical implication of your decisions upon the practice of law. Don’t believe me? Look at the backgrounds of the current members of the Supreme Court.
- Elected judges. Man, Andrew Jackson shit the bed on this. People have no idea how to choose judges. Worse yet, all that money gets into judicial races, and the judges are then beholden to special interests. Judges should be appointed. I can elaborate on this if you like.
- Insurance Companies: Ponzi schemes, one and all. They’re pretty insistent upon you paying premiums, but they’ll spend a shitload of money avoiding legitimate claims.
- Greed: Specifically, greedy doctors and lawyers. I can’t tell you how many attorneys are hooked in with “treaters” on the plaintiff’s side, and how they create an amazing feedback loop of graft.
- The death of collegiality: Even in my career, I’ve seen that the ability to work things out between colleagues has declined. Everything is a fight, and many things that shouldn’t be fights are fights. When I was a defense attorney, even when I was representing insurance carriers, there was a willingness and an interest in working this out. That seems to be gone, now. The practice is set up as a disincentive to work things out. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good fight, but I don’t need to fight about everything, for no reason.
I’ve spoken with a whole host of my colleagues recently, from many different practice areas, and multiple different states, and to a man, we’re all fed up. Everyone hates this, and would do something else if we could.
Thankfully, my debt load is relatively manageable. I owe less than $40,000, and I’ve stretched it out over time at a super low interest rate. I cannot imagine coming out of school now, and owing over $150,000. At least, for me, I could do something else relatively easily (all things considered). For those poor dupes coming out now? They’re REALLY fucked.