Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Remember the time....

As most of you should know by now, I spent a long time working in small firms before I landed a dream job that actually bored me to tears. I loved it and I will always miss the dream job because it allowed me to break $100K. And for that alone, I was grateful. By the time I landed the dream job, my interest in the nitty gritty of small firm practice had waned and I was feeling guilty practicing shit law.

I find that the amount that one is paid is conversely related to the amount of excitement in his area of the law. For example, a prosecutor is usually passionate about what they do and excited to go to work on a daily basis. Consequently, they are paid less in the spectrum of law jobs. Corporate lawyers are bored to tears with their work, especially if it's transactional. But they are paid extremely well. So, in line with that logic, in the beginning; I found my work extremely interesting when I could barely afford to pay my bills. But in an odd way, it kind of took a chunk out of my heart too. I felt bad about what I did for a living...

Let me explain...

I dabbled in many areas of the law, but the experiences that stick out in my mind involve people and their problems... .

Since I wasn't the boss, I would try to do what's right. For one, all people seeking a divorce from their spouse come to an attorney ready to fight. Even if they have three pennies between them, they are ready to fight hard for what is owed to them. So, if someone approached me and they were ready to tear their spouse to shreds because of infidelity or a drug problem or general irresponsibility, I would try to talk him/her off a ledge. We'd discuss what they think they would be willing to concede to and what they think their spouse would agree with. I'd always try and push the uncontested route with my clients. Sure, we would make less money that way. But the path of least resistance is always best.

Only when negotiations fell apart, would we proceed with a contested divorce. Of course, the clients would get caught up in the grounds... but that was never the meat of the case. It was always about the property. Like I said, most of my clients had very little to fight over.... a home, a couple of cars, a pension. Although I didn't send the bills, I felt very bad knowing that the "fortune" that my client and his/her spouse built together was ultimately going to end up in the pockets of both parties' lawyers. In the end, my clients were satisfied with the results. But I was left feeling a little dirty for having gotten involved.

One time, a client made an appointment to come and speak to me. We sat in the conference room for an hour while he explained that he believed his daughter to be suicidal if she didn't come and live with him soon. Apparently, she hated her mother. Stupid me, thinking that the client told me for a reason. After all, why would you pay an attorney $275 to speak to her for an hour, for no reason??? I filed an emergency motion to change custody based on the change of circumstances. When the client received his copy of the brief in the mail--he came to my office and tried to throw a chair at me. Apparently, I was wrong in thinking that he wanted me to act upon that information. He thought that I ruined his daughter's life. My boss intervened, saving me from bodily harm. Once again, I felt dirty. In the end, I was successful on the motion and, ultimately, the divorce went his way. He kissed my feet at the end of the case.

One time, a young father came into my office. He had a new baby with his wife, and thought it was time to have visitation with a child he had previously, that was now 10 years old. Apparently, the mother refused my client visitation with his child when he ended their relationship. To the child, who was 3 or 4 at the time of the separation, he was from "Daddy" to "Cousin Joe." I was very optimistic about the case. Once I got my client on target with child support, we filed the visitation petition and went to court.

We were both sitting there, waiting for roll call, when my client saw his son. He saw his son call his mother's husband "daddy." Then the child eyed my client and said, "Mommy, why is Cousin Joe here????"

My client was crushed. He stood up and said, "I can't do this. He thinks that man is his father." Well, I couldn't convince him otherwise. I understood why he was upset. He paid the firm for my time. But the outcome didn't sit well with me.

So, after years of doing "interesting" work that made a difference in someone's life, I was excited to leave it behind me. The excitement was cool, but it felt a little naughty. And I felt like my soul would burn in eternal hell for fucking with people's lives. Ultimately, what choice did I have? It didn't even pay well. But that's the last time my career excited me. Now, I just want to pay some bills. Is that so wrong?


  1. No, it isn't wrong. What you experienced is one of the reasons law is supposed to be a profession, and it's also one of the things law schools utterly fail to prepare us for.

  2. you want the good, but not the bad. you got too greedy.

  3. Too greedy in what way? That I wanted to do right by my clients without fleecing them? The money was much more alluring when I stopped LOVING what I was doing.... besides, I went into debt supporting myself at such low-paying legal jobs. I don't think it's selfish to want to earn good money.

  4. you want to earn good money (a 6-figure salary) without all the negatives (witnessing human conflicts). go figure!

  5. You are not a lawyer at heart, you are a business man. A true lawyer feeds off of the power and privilege of deciding the fate of people and would never shirk that responsibility because she feels naughty about it. Only little children and sex kittens have the right to indulge naughtiness.

    Lawyers are like Jesus. The price we pay for saving other people is our own humanity. If you became a lawyer because you wanted a high salary, it is a foregone conclusion that you will end up bitter.

  6. I am a little concerned about anyone who uses words “sex kittens” and “little children” when discussing the “right to indulge naughtiness.”

    It seems that everyone would like to see lawyers give away their services. We have the ABA writing stories about how great it is that students without jobs are volunteering, after completing LS and the bar, at state offices and private firms. As lawyers all we have to sell is our knowledge and advice. Once the ability to do that is gone, we do not have much left. You are right to want to receive decent pay for providing advice. After all, how much have you given up to obtain the knowledge and experience necessary to do your job?

    Another thing, you should not feel bad about trying to stop your clients from spending their life savings on attorney fees. As a lawyer, you have to be the “sober driver” during your client’s crisis. People become crazy, especially during family law matters. I have also seen lawyers take needless depositions, file motions that did not need to be filed, and generally run up the tab at their clients expense. A good lawyer knows where a client will likely end up and does not attempt to burn up every penny of the retainer to get there.

  7. You seem to have bounced from shitlaw to non-partnership track contract lawyer at a huge law firm (Skadden). Those are the extremes of the profession. From reading your posts, it seems to me you should look seriously into insurance defense. It pays much better than shitlaw. And the insurance companies pay you, not the clients. So you can feel less guilty about destroying people's financial livelihoods. There are lots and lots of insurance defense jobs (or there will be once we start to pull out othe recession). They just tend never to pay above $150,000 ever (and can start as low as $50,000). The bottom of insurance defense is car accident fender-benders. The top of insurance defense is doctor, attorney, and accountant professional malpractice. You should learn some insurance law while unemployed.

  8. Please, insurance defense??? Have you spoken to many people who work in that end of the field? Most insurance defense positions are not for malpractice, but rather for premises liability, negligence, etc. Those jobs are horrible. I know because I worked at a plaintiff's negligence firm, and from speaking to defense attorneys who bill insurance carriers, the pay barely reaches 6 figures at most firms if you are lucky, and this is even with 10-15 years of experience. I know someone with close to 20 years of "insurance defense" experience and he was getting paid in the low 90's. The exceptions might be attorneys who do a great deal of trial work (vs. pre-trial and discovery work). Also, I don't think it is wrong to want to earn a decent living as a lawyer, given all the barriers to entry to the profession (i.e. law school, bar exam) and the constant investment into ourselves that we are required to do (CLE courses). It should pay well after all that, and all of the responsiblity that rests on your shoulders.

  9. "I find that the amount that one is paid is conversely related to the amount of excitement in his area of the law."

    Actually it seems like senior partners have a pretty good deal. They make good money; they do the work that's interesting; and they delegate the scut work to someone else.

  10. I love the speculations about my career. I won't speak to them either way, but I find it interesting that you try to guess.
    I did insurance defense at some point too. We are billed out at so little, that partners cannot pay you well. Even if you deserve it... so... it's a dead end. Anyways, the point of my post wasn't really the pay, but it was more about the passion that I had for practice and how it became eclipsed by the dirty side of it. I imagine I would feel guilty for pushing pleas down defendants' throats if I had become a prosecutor as well. Unless you're dealing with cash and contracts and deep pockets, the human element of practicing hurts my stomach.
    I would hardly call myself a business person either. Most people say that you must be a business person to be involved in solo practice and that law schools do us a disservice by not teaching us to operate a business. I abhor collections of money. I would prefer to have a check and not chase down clients... I have always only wanted to be an employee and not make the hard decisions when it comes to running a business.

  11. "I have always only wanted to be an employee and not make the hard decisions when it comes to running a business"

    That's a perfectly reasonable perspective. But the problem is this:

    It's been observed that, generally speaking, there are 2 kinds of attorneys: Those who work for client and those who work for other attorneys. If you fall into the latter category, the attorney above you will always have a strong incentive to (1) pay you as little as possible; (2) give you the most unpleasant work; and (3) dump you the moment business slows down.

    There are a few narrow exceptions to this rule, such as government attorneys and general counsel positions. But those positions are pretty rare and competition can be pretty fierce.

    The upshot is that a lawyer usually needs to get clients to have a shot at a decent life. Either by hanging out a shingle; going into partnership with others; or making rain from within an established firm.

    Just my humble opinion.

  12. Eddie --

    Get a grip, guy. Those of us who graduated from better schools have never worked for less than six figures. But Angel only made six figures once, in her dream job. You are disgusted by making low 90s, but someone with her school ranking would -- or should -- be very happy to make low 90s.

  13. I would love to make 90K or 80K or 70K at this point... I can only find 50K. There is something wrong with a career where the secretaries make more than the professionals. Don't you think?

  14. Eddie was telling it like it is.
    Insurance defense is a volume, commodity business and the insurance companies know it.

    A professional with a doctorate degree and 20 years experience in a particular specialty should definitely command more than the average federal government employee gets paid in the D.C. area (94k), not all of whom are lawyers, and who usually enjoy exceptional benefits.

    angel is also right: legal secretaries now tend to out-earn attorneys.

  15. Funny how you used the word "passionate" in this blog entry. You hated that word in a previous blog entry.

  16. Good point. I hated it because I once believed it was possible to passionate. I just know better now.

  17. I could say a number of things, but it distills down to this, "The Practice of Law is a Business." It's clear that most of us miss or missed out on the BIGLAW gravy train. Now, we are stuck with what is next. Is it worth staying of $1000 Divorces or $100 Wills? Are there other fields that pay more? Yes. For the soothsayers that say "it will get better!" where is your proof?



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