Commentary: To be or not to be … a lawyer
It seems like only yesterday I was filling out applications for law schools. Being a lawyer didn’t strike me as being that important. In fact, I was considering getting a Ph.D. However, the law school applications took so long to fill out, and having been admitted, it seemed like I might as well just go to law school, so I scrapped the Ph.D. idea.
Through the years, I’ve known many lawyers that were not satisfied with their chosen occupation, but for me, it was a good decision. I would have been pleased if one of my three daughters had chosen my profession, but I was never upset that they didn’t. Still, I kind of got a kick out of it when my oldest step-son, Patrick, applied to law school.
When I was awarded a J.D., jobs weren’t too hard to come by. When Patrick considered applying to law school, lawyers across the country were losing their jobs, and as the truck pulled up to the house to move him away from home, Patrick told his mother he wasn’t sure he should go. That caused his mother more than consternation. Nevertheless, he ended up going and finished third in his first year class, not bad for an ambivalent law student.
Patrick never seemed particularly interested in either corporate or criminal law. Last week, however, he was offered a different perspective on the law. Over the summer, Patrick has been doing research for a law professor and interning at a public policy institute that works in the health care arena. That group was, needless to say, interested in what the Supreme Court would do with the Affordable Health Care Act. Having two major decisions handed down by the Supreme Court on two successive days; one, generally striking down the Arizona immigration law and one, generally upholding the health care law, provided a dimension of the law beyond civil procedure or the rule against perpetuities. Those recent High Court decisions, illustrating the interplay between the law and public policy, energized Patrick. He is now considering transferring to Georgetown Law School where he will likely encounter law students and professors with a different emphasis on legal education. Going to D.C., a town that eats, sleeps and drinks politics and public policy seems exciting to me anyway. It reminds of the days when I worked on Capitol Hill as a graduate and undergraduate student.
In a world where law schools are churning out too many lawyers, where fees are often too high, where making a living is not as easy as it used to be and where many lawyers don’t seem to be enjoying what they are doing, it is reasonable to wonder if going into the law makes sense. The answer is somewhat dependent on what the would-be lawyer is looking for. If he or she wants a ton of money that could work out, but there may be easier ways to make a good living. If the drive for success includes the drive to do good, there may be no better path to take. The occupation of American lawyer, whether in Abraham Lincoln’s time or Patrick’s time, has always been a profession that offers a broad scope of endeavors under which one can make a decent living and do some good.
As I think Patrick may have learned recently, the need for legal advocacy is ever present, including drafting laws, supporting laws or questioning laws. There is a constant need for advocates, both to aid individuals or companies in their private struggles, and to serve in broader capacities in charitable, political and non-political policy positions. The profession is crowded and it may not be as easy as it was in the past. Nevertheless, there are still significant opportunities to help clients as well as working in our country and throughout our communities for the public good. In these tough economic times, lawyers may need to adapt to economic realities and concentrate on providing more value to their clients than the next guy, but there is nothing wrong with that. And as far as I’m concerned, being a lawyer is still a better way to make a living than most.
© 2012 Under Analysis, LLC. Under Analysis I a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Mark Levison is a member of the law firm of Lashly & Baer. Contact Under Analysis by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.