You are winding your way through law school, hearing the abundance of free advice. As the time gets closer for you to make a decision on your legal employment, which road will you travel?
We have all heard the nightmares and the fairy tales about legal employment. The workweeks that extend to 70 hours every week. The competition to become a partner and what that takes. The lawyer lifestyle available at a big law firm or even a corporation, where companies may pick up your college loans and drop $100,000 on a house for you.
In legal employment, you can live large and enjoy a fruitful, satisfying lifestyle.
But what do you want out of your legal employment?
Do you want to climb up the big law firm ladder, working like you are a resident of a Gulag until you finally make partner? The rewards are significant. But the truth is, that road is successfully traveled by one lawyer in 10 who start the journey. Some will fail; some will tell themselves it is not worth the stress and grief along the way; some will have families who ask them to get out. Those who get to partner will find that the stress level does not change; in fact, it intensifies. But the prestige and compensation levels are high.
Does your legal employment dream mean a life of public service, maybe politics? The monetary reward are fewer, and the obstacles may be much greater. Creating change and doing good always meet with some resistance. But the level of satisfaction can be quite high, and for many, this is a calling, not a career. You will also be wired more directly into your community than many.
If there a middle ground in legal employment? Two come to mind. First, you can go the corporate route or find employment in a smaller law firm. The hours will still be significant, especially in the beginning, and the compensation is not going to approach what you would make in a big, well known firm, but you will be solidly middle class. Your kids will attend a good school and you will have a nice house in a great neighborhood.
The second example of the middle ground is to go into solo practice. This kind of legal employment puts you in absolute control of what cases you take on, pretty much what you will make and how you and your family will live. Like a public service career, you are ingrained in your community; like a small law firm, the more you work, the more you make.