On this site, we address the lack of jobs out there in the market for newly minted attorneys. But, what about the people who get one of the attorney jobs that are actually out there? Is the work environment for an attorney worth risking financial ruin? Not by a long shot. Attorneys are among the unhappiest people, as measured by job satisfaction surveys. I recently ran across a couple of different posts: one by an associate at a large firm, another who took jobs with small firms. As you will see, neither job scenario is appealing at all.
The large firm associate's day can only be described as hectic. The busy day for this associate is a continuous fire drill, comprised of client created emergencies. The most galling part of it is that the attorney spends almost 21 hours in one day at the office. When a person always works at least 13 hours a day, 7 days a week, that $150,000 starting salary suddenly doesn't look that great. The attorney ostensibly accepts a work schedule that would be unacceptable to most normal people because he has huge loan payments that need to be paid off so he can move on to something more satisfying. The Biglaw job essentially becomes a way for the associate to erase the huge financial mistake he has made by going to law school in the first place. Is an "education" that is so useless and financially burdensome that it forces graduates to take jobs that with this much stress really worth it? Oh, and if you are laid off, you have a black mark against you that makes it much harder for you to find another Biglaw position.
If you are unable to get the brass ring that is a Biglaw job, things are even worse. Not only do you have to put up with a schedule that can rival the Biglaw associate's, you have to do it for a lot less money. This person had a couple of terrible jobs that are representative of what to expect if you are unable to break into a mid to large size firm (Note: there is a lot more in this article I will discuss at a future date). His first job was at a firm that "ran through associates like tissue paper". I unfortunately also worked at such a firm. The partners had no interest in developing anyone or providing the training law schools expect firms to give new graduates. They simply hired whoever would work for the least money and let them go if things didn't work out. There were so many people out there that their ad would always get tons of resume submissions. The second job this person took required him to work for free as an "intern" for three months. After that, he made $1,000 per month for three months before getting a raise to a $2,000 per month salary.
I unfortunately also have experience with this. My first job out of law school was with an attorney who agreed to hire me for $400 per week plus 20% of any fees received from cases that settled or that we won. This was reduced to $300 per week one day after my boss expressed surprise that I expected the $400 per week. He swore up and down that he had said $300 per week. Not wanting to rock the boat, I agreed to the reduced amount. I eventually ended up leaving after five months when no case monies were coming in and I was forced to ask my parents to loan me gas money so I could drive to the office. This was in 2004, so I can only imagine what indignities law graduates are having to put up with now.
For most people, the law is a terrible choice. I do everything I can to discourage people I meet who want to go to law school because it seems "interesting". Still, some fail to heed my advice and still go. The fight is not over until our message is known to everyone and the ScamDeans and ScamProfs are forced to discount their services to what they are actually worth.