We've all seen the headlines out there about the legal profession. There is quite a bit of bad press, constantly reminding you of all the hardships you will face as you try to make a name for yourself in a competitive field in a difficult economy. If you're "fortunate" enough to call yourself an associate — congratulations — you're in what Forbes has reported as the number one unhappiest profession in America.
So, if you're anything like me, and the stress of your practice (or search for work) is starting to overwhelm you, it might be hard to remember why you chose to become a lawyer in the first place. Yes, while it is true that this career we have embarked on is not an easy one, and while you may be discouraged or run-down after recently entering the profession, I want to take this opportunity to shine a positive light on our vocation and the future as an attorney you romanticized about while in law school.
Being able to call yourself a lawyer is prestigious. Watching an episode of the TV show Suits alone makes me feel like I have definitely made the right decision. (I know, not realistic, but I can pretend, can't I?) Lawyers enjoy a selective professional status and a glamorous, albeit not completely reasonable, image perpetuated by the media and public. Seriously though, for all the negative opinions that are printed, there are equally as many positive experiences of people who enjoy their job and love the legal profession.
There are many ways to find satisfaction in your work — i.e., believing you are making a difference and that your work actually matters, feeling pride and accomplishment in your work, being needed and relied upon by those who truly require your assistance. Being a lawyer provides you a unique opportunity to experience that kind of satisfaction and success. The more often you feel this satisfaction, the more passionate you will become, and the better you will be at your job.
Your experience as an attorney will largely be determined by the path you choose to take. First off, a J.D. is a versatile degree. It is the second-most-common degree for CEOs, showing that law degrees are also useful in the business world. So, even if you don't practice law, a J.D. can open doors to new opportunities and serve as a stepping stone to a new career, in fields such as business, management, mediation, writing or academia. Likewise, many government jobs are also staffed by law school graduates.
Second, being able to add "esquire" to the end of your title still carries weight. Many companies like to have a lawyer around because they want someone who has been taught to think critically and thrive under pressure.
Finally, if you decide that you want to continue to practice law, you can stick it out in your field and develop your niche. The longer you stick with your niche and finesse your skills, the more money you will make and the more success you will achieve.
I suggest that you remind yourself of your law school application essay — that "change the world" mentality and hopefulness you shared with the admissions team, expressing your interest to enter the legal field. As a counselor of the law, you have the ability to alleviate other people's worries and stresses by explaining the law to them and helping them understand their remedies or options.
There are many positive facets to the practice of law, starting with your ability to easily assist friends with simple legal questions, helping your clients and serving the public good. Whether it be helping a friend with a minor ticket issue, or pointing a buddy in the direction of a family law attorney who can help straighten out his or her personal troubles, know that your friends value having a lawyer in their inner circles.
Similarly, our assistance to clients can be invaluable. A study of women seeking restraining orders claimed that 83 percent of those who had lawyers were able to secure an order, while only 32 percent of those without lawyers got them. Also, many of us are unfortunately familiar with the less-than-honest and unhelpful landlords that are associated with city living. Tenants represented by lawyers are much more likely to beat their landlords in eviction cases. People facing foreclosure and eviction are dramatically more likely to be able to keep their homes if they are represented by a lawyer.
There is a lot of good we can do to actually make a difference in people's day-to-day lives. It is hard to become a lawyer and not acquire a passion for justice. Passion can bring out the best in you and allow you to feel happy and accomplished in your position. Passionate lawyers have been situated at the center of society for generations. We rule the courts, we write the laws and we hold key positions in our democratic system. In these capacities, lawyers are able to impact top policymakers, become top policymakers and serve as agents of change.
So, barrister, buck up. Your future is bright, people want to hear your advice, and your career options are not limited to the practice of law. Should you choose to continue to practice law, remember that you can and will make a difference and that our legal system affects everyone at the national, state and local levels. You have the ability to affect that legal system. As a lawyer, you may find yourself with the opportunity to do something that impacts everyone in your country. This is a life-changing career field. Never forget it.
Priscilla E. Jimenez is an associate at Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia and works on personal injury, pharmaceutical litigation, products liability and medical negligence and malpractice cases. She can be reached at 215-893-3420 or email@example.com