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October 1, 2010

Ask the Attorney – October 2010

Filed under: Columns from Our Towne Magazine, General — Paul Czech & Associates @ 4:14 pm

Becoming a lawyer is not the easiest thing in the world to do.  There is a tremendous amount of schooling involved – you must have earned a degree from a four year college before even applying to law school which requires three more years of intensive study.  And these days, given the incredibly competitive world in which we live, it is quite likely that simply earning your Juris Doctor ( or JD – the degree awarded to those who successfully complete the three year program) will not be enough which means you have more schooling ahead of you to earn an L.L.M. or a legal masters degree.  For those super ambitious types, law schools offer a program that allows a student to work toward getting their J.D. while also studying to get their MBA (or Master of Business Arts) turning the usual three year course of study into a four year curriculum.   So if you have a kid that wants to someday practice law, I hope you are encouraging them right now to develop the skills and discipline necessary to make it through.  It usually adds some perspective when I remind folks that if they did all the schooling straight through without any detours (no years off to backpack through Europe with a rail pass, etc.) they will not be able to begin the actual practice of law until they are at least 24 or 25 years old.  And, since most students do get detoured in one way or another, it’s likely you will not begin your anticipated new career until you’re about thirty.

Which is why I try to persuade those who ask me to find a different path.  Not everyone needs to be a lawyer (thank God!).  There are lots of other great career paths out there that can be followed, all of which can lead to satisfying, engaging jobs.  High school students ask me for input about this all the time and they always seem quite surprised when I tell them to focus on a different profession.  I always ask them why they want law school and, after a little prodding and questioning by me, it usually comes out that they want to practice law because lawyers make a lot of money.    That is, of course, a very bad reason for taking up the law.   Yes, some lawyers do indeed make lots of money but there are many more of them out there that do not.   And if it’s money you’re looking for, there are many other professions that, if properly pursued, will likely make you far richer than practicing law ever could.  Medicine is one.  Technology is another.  And how about professional sports?  Entertainment?  I don’t even want to think about comparing Eminem’s bank account with mine.

The one thing that always leads to success in whatever you choose to do is hard work.  So if you’re going to have to work hard regardless of what you choose to do in life, why not make that work go toward something you’d really like to do?  What if you do all the work necessary to get to law school, you graduate, you pass the Bar Exam and then you realize you absolutely hate practicing law.  Now you’re somewhere near thirty years old and you have to start all over again.  Or, even worse, you spend the rest of your days doing something you hate because you mistakenly believed it was going to lead you to easy wealth and riches.  I’ve come across many lawyers in my day who were just clocking it in or popping fees and every single time I’ve felt bad for their unfortunate clients.  You hire your attorney to be your champion, your voice, your advocate.  Can they really work successfully on your behalf if they don’t like what they’re doing?

I have a friend who always wanted to be a doctor.  And yes, he wanted to be a doctor because he could make a lot of money.  Fortunately for him, he was brilliant which made it easier for him to get what he wanted.  He graduated first in his class from one of the best high schools in his region.  He attended Princeton and graduated first in his class there which got him an immediate acceptance to medical school at the University of Pennsylvania.  He graduated first in his class from there as well and managed to secure a plum residency at one of Manhattan’s finest hospitals.  And then he started his residency which is when things all fell apart.  He realized that he hated dealing with patients – couldn’t take it at all.  He was getting too close to his patients and their problems which was getting him so stressed out that it was keeping him from focusing on the practice of medicine.  He made it through the residency successfully but the experience made him realize that he couldn’t practice medicine and he left the profession for good.  When I hear someone say “be careful what you wish for” I always think of my friend.

Of course,  being brilliant, he managed to pick up the pieces and move on.  He decided to go to law school.

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