Advice for Law Students

This article has been written by guest author Harvey Gilmore, LL.M., J.D., Professor Monroe College.

There is a great body of research that states that there is a great deal of career dissatisfaction in the legal profession. Yes, it is true that there are a number of practicing attorneys who detest what they do. Yes, there are any number of stories about attorneys who have suffered from depression, substance abuse, and have even attempted suicide.

However, I am here to tell you that just because there are several horror stories out there, do not automatically assume that you will become the next statistic, just one more victim of job burnout.  Why? Not only are there attorneys who enjoy what they do, but there are also law school graduates who enjoy what they do. I know; I am a happy member of the second group. I know what it is to go to a job that one can’t stand. I was an accountant for ten years before I went to law school, and hated a couple of jobs that I had early in my career.  Believe me, when one hates his job, he does not look forward to the next day. He cannot get a good night’s sleep because he knows, or more accurately, DREADS what’s coming tomorrow.

No job is ever worth suffering that kind of despair, no matter how good the money is and no matter how good the other perks might be. So, before you find yourself in a similar situation, I suggest that you think about what your true career desire might be. Yes, I know that there might be family and professional obligations to take into account. But, once you realize that that there are several viable career options out there, you will be able to make a better informed decision regarding your career pursuits and find the job that is best for YOU.

After law school, your professional pursuit should be something you enjoy and are passionate about. When you enjoy what you do, the workdays zoom by, and you are much better able to handle the less positive aspects of the job. Does this mean that you will never have to deal with demanding bosses or upset clients? Of course not; there is no such thing as a 100 percent stress free job. However, having a job that you enjoy puts you in a better position to handle the occupational stress that comes every so often.

Also, in this day and age, not only do people change jobs, but people also change careers (sometimes more than once) as well. A very popular misconception suggests that because one graduates from law school, it automatically means that he is confined to practicing law for the rest of his career. I cannot disagree more, and nothing can be further from the truth.

Believe it or not, not every law school graduate fantasizes about being the next Atticus Finch (“To Kill a Mockingbird”), Jack McCoy (“Law and Order”), Denny Crane (“Boston Legal”), or even Arnie Becker (“L.A. Law”). And not every law school graduate fantasizes about scoring a big firm job, getting that corner office, and eventually becoming a partner. I never did. I went straight into academia after law school and that was the greatest career decision I ever made. I enjoy what I do and my getting a law degree made that all possible.

That said, there are law school graduates who want the big firm lifestyle and all the trappings that I just mentioned. As long as you have the desire, stamina, and intestinal fortitude for that career path, I say: GO FOR IT!!! GOD BLESS YOU!!! In the final analysis, it comes down to what you really want to do with your career. This is true whether you are looking at a big firm job, hanging your own shingle, doing something completely different outside of law, or even a little of each.

In addition to legal practice, law school graduates also have successful careers as business consultants, entrepreneurs, sportscasters (Howard Cosell, & ESPN analysts Jay Bilas and Rod Gilmore), professors (like yours truly), & even politicians (Barack Obama, Bill, Clinton, Richard Nixon & Rudy Giuliani, among many others).

The best thing about pursuing a career after law school is that there is something for everyone. We all have our own reasons as to why we wanted to go to law school. The next step is to decide what is best for you. Nobody is going to go to work and do the job BUT YOU. So again, you might as well like what you will do. This is ultimately your call; no one else will make that call for you. I sincerely hope that my two cents helps you in some small way, and not only do I wish you success, but I wish you something even more important: CAREER FULFILLMENT!!!