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Byzantine

Do you find law rewarding?

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Hey Everyone, 

I'm considering whether I should go to law school in 2021. I've read a lot about the financial outlook for lawyers, but I know that's only one part of the equation for a fulfilling career. 

I realize this will vary between individuals, but I wanted to get a sense of whether those practicing law find it rewarding and fulfilling. Are you able to help others in your job and make the world a better place? Or do you feel as if you have to sacrifice helping others or doing work you find less fulfilling to put food on the table? 

For me personally I'm on the west coast and would be attending either UBC or UVIC and plan to stay here. I'm 28 and finishing up my undergrad now as I've taken time off to travel and work. I'd probably graduate with around $50,000 in debt from undergrad and law combined, but I think I could do well in law school. I want a career that is financially secure, but also one that is fulfilling on other levels. I think I could find personal value in either helping others (helping people immigrate, personal injury, helping smaller businesses, helping prosecute wrongdoers) or having a positive impact on the environment, animal welfare, or government. I'd be interested in eventually turning my legal experience to use in writing opinon pieces, advocating for legal changes, or getting involved politically. 

So I guess I'd like to ask if you find your legal career rewarding, what you do, and if you have any advice for me. Thank you for reading and any responses! 

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Posted (edited)

I’ll give you an answer that probably you won’t like. But there is truth about how lawyers  often dissuade other people from going into law. Of course, people don’t listen and go into law anyway. And, that’s legitimate as you shouldn’t live your life based on what other people think. In fact, if I could give one piece of advice about law school in general is not to listen to others, either about what or who was important. As a concrete example, i chose professors based on others’ reviews. That choice ended up being totally wrong for me, and I would have had a more enjoyable experience and better grades with a professor who had a mixed reputation. 
 

In any case, i will say that with a law degree it opens doors that wouldn’t be opened before. But that’s true about many degrees, and even jobs/opportunities. So a law degree is  not the only way to open doors. At the end of the day, yeah you can probably find fulfillment and happiness in law. But I don’t think it’s the only and/or “right” way to get there. Nobody will be able  to say that for you unfortunately.  You live and learn.

 

 
 

 

Edited by sassycow
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2 hours ago, sassycow said:

I’ll give you an answer that probably you won’t like. But there is truth about how lawyers  often dissuade other people from going into law. Of course, people don’t listen and go into law anyway. And, that’s legitimate as you shouldn’t live your life based on what other people think. In fact, if I could give one piece of advice about law school in general is not to listen to others, either about what or who was important. As a concrete example, i chose professors based on others’ reviews. That choice ended up being totally wrong for me, and I would have had a more enjoyable experience and better grades with a professor who had a mixed reputation. 
 

In any case, i will say that with a law degree it opens doors that wouldn’t be opened before. But that’s true about many degrees, and even jobs/opportunities. So a law degree is  not the only way to open doors. At the end of the day, yeah you can probably find fulfillment and happiness in law. But I don’t think it’s the only and/or “right” way to get there. Nobody will be able  to say that for you unfortunately.  You live and learn.

 

 
 

 

Good post.

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Posted (edited)
9 hours ago, Byzantine said:

So I guess I'd like to ask if you find your legal career rewarding, what you do, and if you have any advice for me. Thank you for reading and any responses! 

1. No.

2. None of your business.

3. Don't do it.

Edited: I was going to leave it there, but I felt bad. That said, abstractions (personal value? Rewarding?) can be worthless so I don't really know what you mean. 

Look, if you want a simple answer to the question of "what should I do with my life", then stop. The most successful people in law I know are people who knew what it is and did it anyway (e.g., clerks and assistants). So here's the best advice I have without all the navel gazing: be the weirdo who shadows a lawyer for a day (or week?). I could give you an answer here but you wouldn't believe me anyway if your heart is set on it so just try to experience it in some way. Think of it like moving to a new city. Best idea is to live there for a few weeks. 

Edited by grishamlaw
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I’m 1 year out, so this could be growing pains talking but, no generally it’s not rewarding. I can count on one hand where I felt like I truly made a positive impact in someone’s life and was really happy to have helped. Usually, it’s clients, opposing counsel, and sometimes judges just beating you down constantly. 
 

I have gone home a lot of days crying because it’s hard, and exhausting and thankless. But, I’ve also cried and celebrated with clients upon a good resolution of their matter, and it’s felt worth it. 
 

so, I know you won’t take the advice, but I probably wouldn’t have gone to law school if I knew how unlike “helping people” it would be. I wanted to help people and make a difference, but coming out of school I was so in debt and had to give up those dreams in order to pursue avenues to afford my life and debt load. 

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I doubt any lawyer here can summarize their experience and advice for you in a post or multiple posts as mileages in the legal field differ and so does views on the subject. It is better to speak to lawyers in person and ask them these questions. Ask them what's in a day, a week, a month, a year like for them as lawyers? In the end, you must know yourself.

The answers you are looking for sometimes come down to the area of law you choose to practice and what ultimately motivated you to practice this area of law - though you probably wont know this unless you enter law school. After all, what can be considered rewarding extends beyond monetary compensation and any real or perceived prestige you might feel graduating from law school.

But first, don't do it for the money. You are setting yourself up for disappointment and regret.

I find my job (family law litigation) rewarding and challenging despite the outward perception by many within and without the profession that it remains one of the most soul-crushing, stressful, and traumatic areas of law for anyone to practice. Matrimonial litigation is not an area that many would consider entering or remaining for long after they have discovered the nature of the work - emotionally sensitive clients, abused children, impoverished families, destroyed lives, forgone opportunities etc.

Why do I find it rewarding? This is because this field of law aligns with my personal values and experiences. This is what I want to do in life.

I do not profess that I do something as noble or grand as making the world a better place. I try to make it less miserable for those immediately impacted by a marital or relationship dissolution. All I can say is I care about people, their kids, and their lives after separation. Like many lawyers out there, I have sacrificed my lunch, my sleep, my vacation, my family time, and so forth to squeeze an extra hour to two at work.

Even though not all my clients appreciate what I do, I know for a fact that if most of their clients were to try to manage a messy divorce on their own; some would spend years in court and thousands of dollars with no end in sight. Some would go from lawyer to lawyer, ending up spending thousands and thousands without a result. I consider steering many away from litigating based on emotion or past grievances a major victory (i.e. taking the emotional baggage out of it). 

Sometimes rewarding comes in the form of directing vulnerable people to my network of mental health assistance, childcare resources, financial aid, and legal guides. Other times it is doing pro bono work for a parent who would sell everything he/she has to save a child.

On the other hand, to give you a balanced perspective, I have received threats on my life, the firm, and my legal license during my short tenure as a lawyer. Many such threats came from files where I did everything I could think of to help. Collectibility (i.e. clients paying you for your time spent) is another challenge that all family lawyers face.

It comes down to this: Ask yourself what makes life rewarding or worth living for you?

For me, it is about working with an area of law that affects everyone on an intimate level; and those in their greatest moment of need in life.

 

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On 5/24/2020 at 3:32 PM, Byzantine said:

Hey Everyone, 

I'm considering whether I should go to law school in 2021. I've read a lot about the financial outlook for lawyers, but I know that's only one part of the equation for a fulfilling career. 

I realize this will vary between individuals, but I wanted to get a sense of whether those practicing law find it rewarding and fulfilling. Are you able to help others in your job and make the world a better place? Or do you feel as if you have to sacrifice helping others or doing work you find less fulfilling to put food on the table? 

For me personally I'm on the west coast and would be attending either UBC or UVIC and plan to stay here. I'm 28 and finishing up my undergrad now as I've taken time off to travel and work. I'd probably graduate with around $50,000 in debt from undergrad and law combined, but I think I could do well in law school. I want a career that is financially secure, but also one that is fulfilling on other levels. I think I could find personal value in either helping others (helping people immigrate, personal injury, helping smaller businesses, helping prosecute wrongdoers) or having a positive impact on the environment, animal welfare, or government. I'd be interested in eventually turning my legal experience to use in writing opinon pieces, advocating for legal changes, or getting involved politically. 

So I guess I'd like to ask if you find your legal career rewarding, what you do, and if you have any advice for me. Thank you for reading and any responses! 

Not really, but I don't find many things very rewarding, including life itself.

JK. It's a fine profession. You can do all the things you mention, plus many other things you've never considered.  

 

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"Rewarding" is a simple concept that is not so simple in practice. In private practice, if you are billing enough for your services, the money clients pay you is the reward. Most people aren't going to thank you - they are going to pay you a significant amount of money to do a specific thing. So most of your files will be the opposite of rewarding, they will be rather thankless. Even worse, sometimes clients pay you a significant amount of money and end up unhappy with the result, whether or not that is your fault at all as the lawyer. Law can actually be rather disappointing sometimes. And, with the way most human brains work, even if 9 of your files have good results versus 1 file with bad results, the disappointing one will probably stick in your head harder and longer.

If you are a public service lawyer, where you represent the state or some poor person accessing your services which are paid for by the state, the dynamic isn't all that different. The state isn't going to pat you on the back and poor people are, understandably, not often happy to have to access underfunded public legal services; they don't view you as some noble public defender - they often view you (correctly) as part of the public system which, generally, they don't like. 

So, I think, most lawyers fail when they look for meaning and fulfillment in the direct effect that they have on their clients. 

In a broader sense, if you want to find meaning and fulfillment by "making the world a better place" you're also likely to be let down. You see lots of law students endeavor to make a difference by doing immigration law, environmental law, animal welfare stuff, health and disability stuff, poverty law, etc. but, as they exit school and enter practice it becomes apparent that the realities of the legal job market do not align with their goals. The money is not exactly on the side of the lawyers who want to purely improve the planet. Yes, you can work at, say, a legal clinic doing environmental law, but those jobs are few and going into $100,000.00 in debt over three+ years to make possibly less than a school teacher is a hard pill to swallow. And even if you are okay with working in the environmental group at a big firm, those niche areas of law tend to take many years of practice to break into; in ten+ years you might have enough experience and seniority to really make some sort of impact in your preferred area of law, but who will you be in a decade? 

So, I think, most law students who think they might find meaning and fulfillment in the general impact their practice has on the world will end up very disappointed. 

Now, if you just kind of like doing the law for the law's sake, it can be easier to feel fulfilled and rewarded. If you are able to extract some enjoyment out of what you actually do on day-to-day basis you will have a good start. Some lawyers just like advocating in court, some like doing in depth legal research, some like the process of providing information and advice to clients and helping them make decisions or navigate complicated things. Some enjoy the adrenaline rush of oral advocacy or tense/timely negotiation and decision making. Whether your personality lines up with the day-to-day actions of a lawyer is probably much more important than whether your career can "help others" or have a "positive impact". 

It's just a tough career to navigate for a lot of reasons. There are much easier ways to make enough money and be happy. I would not tell my kids to go to law school. 

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Posted (edited)

I like being right and winning because I’m right more than I care about helping people, necessarily, so law is great for me. 

Further, I love law and how it works, and love learning more about it. The learning itself is rewarding for me, and the learning is endless.

Edited by easttowest
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Yes. I will say though that I've had an up and down relationship with the law, especially as I learned more about it and its practice and history. Law has many many issues. More so than another profession I'm familiar with (engineering). 

But it's also filled with really incredibly smart people, and at least my circle everyone is well meaning - even the right wingers who keep sharing news about Chinese conspiracies in Canada. Everyone wants to do good, mostly. There are just many different ways of doing good, and many different ways people want to do good.

I've had three different summer legal jobs. All very different. From private small firm helping marginalized individuals navigate the legal system, to a quasi government body working on human rights (both domestically and internationally), to straight up government. All very different roles. All doing good in their own way. All interacting with interesting people.

As I said I've been up and down about the law. But I've calmed down sort of, coming to peace with the fact that there's good and bad people in any profession. They don't speak for the profession as a whole. My career's been all over the place, which is frightening because it seems like all my friends are already on track to be rich, married, own a home and a cottage by the age of 35 while I continue to dance with the devil of practice, academia, or NGO work in different places. But that's my own demons at work, and frankly they've made my career and my life much more interesting and meaningful than if I'd never gone into law (even though I'd be way more rich and stable right now).

Feel free to PM for more details, if anyone is interested.

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First, I'll talk about my own experience. Yes, I find being a lawyer so far to be rewarding. I am a criminal defence lawyer and a recent call. I think it is essential to ensure the state is held to its burden of proof, and that individual rights are upheld. Those concepts mean a lot to me, and upholding them is an honour. I also volunteer in my community and did so before I entered law. Drawing on my legal education, I became involved in advocacy for police accountability in ways that would be impossible without a law degree and I made a significant impact on the issue in my community. I am also now involved with legal organizations at the provincial and national level advocating for systemic change in the profession and my practice area.

But I did not graduate with law school debt because I come from a place of socio-economic privilege. And there have been incredibly difficult times on the journey to becoming a lawyer. I also did not became a lawyer so people would think highly of me. I was somewhat  wisened with life experience before entering law school. I saw law as a tool to make an impact with skills I had rather than a shiny gloss to impress others or an answer to "Who am I?". Also, I have what's fair to describe as a unicorn-like position for a young criminal defence associate in terms of salary/work-life balance, and that is in part due to high academic performance.

Second, I'll provide my two cents to you. I think it is possible to have the career in law you want, i.e. financially secure, helping others, and advocating for systemic change. But the path may not be straightforward, a chunk of the 'doing good' work is likely to be on top of your daily job responsibilities, and you have to be comfortable with moral complexity. For me, defending someone charged with first degree murder who I personally believe did it is something I am fine with, because I know my role in the system and why it matters. Others may not be comfortable with that. Other fields of law I'm sure have similar challenges.

All that said, do I think law is the only path to achieve what you've described? Absolutely not. I would reflect carefully about your skills, interests, networks, and so forth, before deciding whether a JD is the right path to achieve what you want. Reach out and speak to people who you look up to (lawyers and non-lawyers alike) to learn more about their career paths. And I'd be happy to chat with you more, should that be helpful.

 

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I laughed when I read the question.

But seriously it can be rewarding but depends on what keeps you interested and your personality type.

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Like others have said, it really depends on your personality/passion/drive/interests/firm/practice area/etc.

I really enjoy the area of law I'm in and I find it intellectually stimulating and rewarding. However, that is not to say every day is peachy or easy. There's always tough days and days, weeks or sometimes months where you need to make some personal sacrifices, which can be draining.

Despite the usual challenges and sacrifices that come with this profession, I'm happy to go to work each day (pre-COVID - not going anywhere these days) and can't imagine myself doing any other area of law.

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Posted (edited)

The one thing I personally struggle with is the constant lawyer jokes or just plain hate. Trying to learn to not take it to heart but it takes a lot of the joy out of law for me. And to be clear, I don't need people to fawn over or think highly of me, it is just discouraging to see hateful things so frequently. Today there was a thread of lawyers themselves saying they hate most lawyers and that the jokes are well deserved. :( 

Edited by CoffeeandLaw

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On 5/24/2020 at 2:32 PM, Byzantine said:

Hey Everyone, 

I'm considering whether I should go to law school in 2021. I've read a lot about the financial outlook for lawyers, but I know that's only one part of the equation for a fulfilling career. 

I realize this will vary between individuals, but I wanted to get a sense of whether those practicing law find it rewarding and fulfilling. Are you able to help others in your job and make the world a better place? Or do you feel as if you have to sacrifice helping others or doing work you find less fulfilling to put food on the table? 

For me personally I'm on the west coast and would be attending either UBC or UVIC and plan to stay here. I'm 28 and finishing up my undergrad now as I've taken time off to travel and work. I'd probably graduate with around $50,000 in debt from undergrad and law combined, but I think I could do well in law school. I want a career that is financially secure, but also one that is fulfilling on other levels. I think I could find personal value in either helping others (helping people immigrate, personal injury, helping smaller businesses, helping prosecute wrongdoers) or having a positive impact on the environment, animal welfare, or government. I'd be interested in eventually turning my legal experience to use in writing opinon pieces, advocating for legal changes, or getting involved politically. 

So I guess I'd like to ask if you find your legal career rewarding, what you do, and if you have any advice for me. Thank you for reading and any responses! 

There is such a wide range of what constitutes practicing law that it is hard to give you a straight answer. For example, the kind of work that a corporate lawyer does compared to a criminal lawyer is night and day. But, in general, I think the common misconception of activist-type students is that they seem to think that by becoming a lawyer they can make a positive change just by virtue of their future position. While that may be true for some lawyers that has not been true for me -- at the end of the day I take instructions from a client, and its the client who will ultimately decide whether or not the work I do for him or her will help others and make the world a better place. To me being  a lawyer will always just be another job. I'm only concerned about helping a client with doing what he or she thinks will improve his or her life within my narrow role, and whether that will create any positive impact for the rest of society is irrelevant to me. I think your question is based on the false premise that being a lawyer is somehow different than other careers in the professional services, i.e., accountant, engineer, architect, doctor, and etc, when really it is just another profession in its own bubble. 

Besides the above, I enjoy what I do more than not. Some weeks are good while others are bad. I know I would not be able to make a comparable income with my skill set doing something else. Not having to worry about money in the same way as less fortunate people gives me a substantial amount of peace of mind. Although I work long hours I still have time to occasionally volunteer and do other public interest work, although COVID-19 has taken that away from me for the time being. My advice would be to contact someone in your family or social group to shadow lawyers from different practices to get an idea of what being a lawyer is actually like. 

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