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Lawyers ‘feel’ lack of prestige in profession : New York Times

January 6, 2008

The biggest lesson I learned in 17 years of practicing law was that you couldn’t separate who you are and what you stood for as a person with who you were and what you did as a lawyer. If the two didn’t mesh, it meant for a big psychological drag. The symptoms of this drag: ‘wondering if this was all the law was about?’ and at times, worse, ‘depression.’

In this mornings New York Times Alex Williams writes about the struggles of our legal profession and its fall from grace along with another noble profession, being a doctor. It’s the latest in what seems to be onslaught of press and Internet discussion about lawyers being unhappy with their work. Money’s not enough.

The pay is still good (sometimes very good), and the in-laws aren’t exactly complaining. Still, something is missing, say many doctors, lawyers and career experts: the old sense of purpose, of respect, of living at the center of American society and embodying its definition of ‘success.’……..[M]any doctors and lawyers still find the higher calling of their profession — helping people — as well as the prestige and money, worth the hard work. And the stars in either field are still that: commanding the handsome compensation and social cachet. But to others, the daily trudge serves as a constant reminder that the entrepreneur’s autonomy simply can’t be found in law or medicine.

How bad is it? Per the Times’ Williams:

  • Forty-four percent of lawyers recently surveyed by the American Bar Association said they would not recommend the profession to a young person.
  • Law firms lose, on average, nearly a fifth of their associates in any given year.
  • 20 percent of lawyers will suffer depression at some point in their careers.
  • Law school applicants dropped to 83,500 in 2006 from 98,700 in 2004–representing a 6.7 percent drop between 2006 and 2005, on top of the 5.2 percent slip the previous year.
  • As firms demand ever more billable hours, lawyers find less time for pro bono work — the very thing that once gave them a sense of higher calling.

I’m not an expert, I just lived it. But I agree with Richard Florida, the author of ‘The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life,’ who told Williams ‘There used to be this idea of having a separate work self and home self. Now they just want to be themselves. It’s almost as if they’re interviewing places to see if they fit them.’

If you’re struggling as a lawyer, find something you love doing. Do work you’ll find personally and professionally rewarding. May hurt in the pocketbook in the short term, but it’s worth it.

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