The Legal Industry

Consider this page to be perpetually incomplete. Perhaps there is just an outline here waiting to be fleshed out. There’s always more to add, but it was lasted updated on: [8/7/2020]

My history

I wanted to be a lawyer when I was in college. I enjoyed the law and politics classes that I had, and I found the law to be intellectually stimulating. People also told me I would make a great lawyer: I was smart, took in volumes of information well, and liked to argue.

Instead of going directly into law school after graduating from college, I got a job as a corporate paralegal for the law firm Ropes & Gray in Boston. I did this because I realized I didn’t actually know what being a lawyer involved; I wanted to go to a T14 law school (Harvard, specifically), but I didn’t want to take out $150k+ debt before understanding how my degree would be applied.

Well, after working as a paralegal for 11 months, I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer. It actually only took five months to realize this, but I figured I’d keep on going just to be completely sure.

As many lawyers can tell you, the law as practiced is different from the law as intellectually examined in school.

As practiced, the law requires long hours. You have to keep track of your billables. There’s a lot of stress. There’s a lot of drudgery. You will take out huge loans for law school. There is an infinite amount of submitting to many different authorities.

Now, some people love being lawyers, and the career really does work for them. The world needs lawyers of all kinds, and they can accomplish extraordinarily good things. But we hear too much from those people, and we don’t need the amount of lawyers that we have.

I could not make myself care enough about the business of a law firm to tolerate the costs of being a lawyer (even though the firm I worked for was filled with good people). I even worked on Ropes & Gray’s PR team for two years after my paralegalship (there were two years between the paralegalship and the PR role). I have stared into the void, and the void stared back.

So what?

I’m currently working on a project that might wind up being a book. The point of it is to say: you probably shouldn’t be a lawyer. For most people it’s not a good fit, and there is plenty of data to back this up. Unfortunately, the legal-industrial complex and our culture’s prestige norms push and pull people into the field without regard for their individual well-being.

The law is a trap. A. Trap. And the worst part? Many people who fall in don’t really climb out. They just induce Corporate Stockholm Syndrome, and then they lie to younger people who ask them for advice. They say, “The law is challenging and rewarding, although you’ll have to work hard, and the first few years can be rough. You’ll have to work holidays.”

They might even say not to go to law school or be a lawyer, because it’s just such a demanding, all-consuming job.

But this isn’t enough to dissuade type A people (like me). They’re tough and hard-working. They’re not scared. Current lawyers would need to face their own bleak reality, break their own Corporate Stockholm Syndrome, before gaining the capacity to put the fear of the gods into any type A.

What we need is for the legal industry to be put on trial. It needs to be subject to the adversarial process. You could say I’m working on a brief for those proceedings.

For now, I’ll leave you with this:

Law school costs three years, and often $100,000 or more. Then you have to spend more years to pay off that debt. Let’s say three years, if you’re one of the very few who lands a well-paying job at a top firm. So now you’re at six years just to break even.

Now ask yourself: what else could you have done with six years and without a debt burden of $100,000+? You can live a whole life in that time. Maybe you could have actually lived your own true life.