Living The Dream (Law School, Part 4)


Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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26 Responses

  1. Avatar NewDealer says:

    You laid out some of the many reasons that I decided against a career in corporate/big law.

    I already had some experience as a freelance/temp legal proofreader in my mid-20s with Big Law. I saw how generally miserable the associates were and decided against it.

    Still there might be something about the personalities of people who thrive in this environment. Or they simply just really like working all the time. Law does attract a lot of highly-competitive and Type A types.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      True. And it may be that someone will read my description, and the myriad of similar ones out there, and say, “Well, what’s wrong with any of that? It sounds great! That’s exactly what I want to do!” And if they are right about themselves then those people should pursue those sorts of careers.

      I suspect that most people for whom Biglaw is a reasonable aspiration would be more likely to say something like, “I’m willing to tolerate that in exchange for the financial and status rewards.” Experience indicates that those sorts wind up either being unhappy with that choice later in life, or changing direction and bailing out of Biglaw after a few years of the ratrace.

      Again, my purpose is to inform decisions with the knowledge and experience of others. If you go down this road, do it with your eyes open to what’s ahead because the price paid for the trip, for some (“most”?) people, can be very high.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        It seems to me that the most desired law jobs for law school students were biglaw, being a prosecutor, or a non-profit type job. Very few people in my law school really wanted to go into small law or as I call it “real person” law. I was one of the few people in law school that wanted to practice real person law. I really liked torts and wanted to go to court and do hearings rather than sit around and do transactional work. I love working but I also wanted a bit of an actual life.

        I think most people go for biglaw, being a prosecutor, or non-profit type job because those are seen as conferring more status than real person law. Big law is also seen as more profitiable. It usually is but real person law can be financially advantageous to if you do it right. Plus you don’t have to worry about billable hours in many cases. No immigration lawyer that I know of charges clients in terms of billable hours. Plus having to work all the time saves you from having to have a life.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I practice immigraiton law for a living. I started working at my job in August 2007. My boss sent me to court on the third week of August. It would have been earlier but there was a judge’s conference after I was hired so there were no hearings for a week.Report

  3. Avatar Gaelen says:

    Having worked in TN, do you see any difference between practice on the coasts compared to the Midwest (or South).Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      Good question! Here are some significant differences I’ve noticed:

      1. Preparing for a jury trial in TN involved going to court a week beforehand and getting a list of the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the jurors who would be called up in the panel. We were trusted to not tamper with these jurors, but we could conduct background investigations on them all before the trial started if we chose. A juror having a personal friendship with a party or an attorney is not necessarily a reason to exclude them. In Cal, it’s a complete shot in the dark and if a juror knows anyone involved even peripherally, it’s generally a challenge for cause (a juror in one case here was excused for cause because his daughter used to be my law clerk five years ago).

      2. In Cal., I want a paper trail of when and where depositions are going to be. Even when the other lawyer and I agree as to where a deposition will take place, we send one another notices to confirm who should be doing what and when. In TN, attorneys went out of their way to indicate that if I sent a deposition notice, it was an insult to them, an indication that I did not trust them to honor their agreement to produce their client at an agreed time.

      3. Both states’ bars had a degree of xenophobia. However, TN’s bar was culturally okay with other attorneys “visiting” from neighboring states but suspicious of non-Southern states. Cal.’s bar does not discriminate against any particular state or region of “visiting” attorneys that I have noted, although none are particularly welcomed.

      4. Where you come from and who is vouching for you mattered more in TN, particularly from a “trapping” perspective.

      5. Missing a deadline in TN was relatively harder to fix and carried more serious consequences than is missing a deadline in Cal.

      6. Cal. has a unified court system: the Superior Court is the only trial-level court, and it is a court of general jurisdiction. TN has a veritable salad of trial-level courts, and not all counties and districts offer the same combination of courts. With that said, a filing in the wrong TN court was not impossible to fix, although it earned patronizing clucks from the clerks.

      7. Opposing counsel in TN breathed a lot less fire at disagreements than did opposing counsel in Cal. That’s not to say that opposing counsel here are all cutthroat assholes and that everyone in TN was polite and genteel. But when sparks flew in Knoxville or Nashville or Johnson City, they were nothing like what happens in LA or SF or SD.

      8. An amusing similarity: A filing clerk’s office window in Bakersfield carries the sign “We don’t care how they do it in Los Angeles.” A filing clerk’s office window in Knoxville carries the sign “We don’t care how they do it in Nashville.”Report

  4. Wow.

    I once dated a junior associate at a NYC Biglaw firm. (I have not entirely wonderful things to say about him.) He did not seem happy in his career. Now I have a better idea why. And why he was so often drunk. If I were the sort to have Googled him since (perish the thought), it might even be why he seems to have gone from one firm to another to another in the time since.

    It has amazed me what my various attorneys charge for that I do for free for my patients. (Mainly taking phone calls, answering e-mails and reviewing/completing forms.) And it’s very interesting to see how differently partnership is offered between law and medicine.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Lawyers have very high rates of substance abuse. Dentists have us beat in terms of suicides though.Report

      • I mean, I liked the sauce just fine at the time. But dude was lit waaaaaaaaaaaaay more often than me.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        What’s scary is the amount of top lawyers on illegal substances.
        I guess it just shows you how high stress the job is.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        LeeEsq speaks truth. In many if not most states, continuing education requirements must include at least an hour during each reporting period of education concerning substance abuse avoidance. Here in California, we have a resource called “The Other Bar” which is aimed specifically at lawyers falling into the death spiral of substance addiction and to which I would point any professional in any state with concerns about the matter. Substance abuse for professionals is no joke — it’s destructive for the addict and the addict’s family no matter what one’s station in life, but a professional can seriously hurt his or her clients on the journey to rock bottom too.Report

        • There is a lot of attention paid to substance abuse in medicine, too. One of the things I actually admire about my profession is that it seems to take seriously the obligation to help rather than punish the “impaired” physician, and to try to find both short-term rehab and long-term career restoration as a goal.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          The substance abuse is mainly because I think that a lot of lawyers are unhappy with their jobs even if they make the big bucks. You have the un-Godly hours. In real person law, you have clients who could be extraordinarily emotionally draining. Once after a hearing that did not go well, I literally held my clients hand back to the office because I was afraid he was going to hurt himself. In real person law, you are going to do something that resembles psychology and social work at times. You are going to offer comfort and advocacy and talk clients out of making some very bad decisions. Corporations could also drain a lawyer emotionally but they tend not to need the same level of psychological comfort from their attorneys.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          My legal ethics professor liked to read out loud to us from the discipline pages for those arrested or disciplined on drug charges.

          IIRC there was a surprising amount of MethReport

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          There are also all the stories and urban legends of attorneys doing cocaine to get through a last minute push and beat a deadline.

          I have never seen this happen. Just heard stories.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            My friend “in da know” says… never hire a lawyer who does cocaine. They tend to be assholes, who are deliberately wiring themselves up -constantly-.
            The lawyers on marijuana are /downcycling/ (and, fwiw, appear to be just decent folks).Report

      • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

        I was under the impression that chemists actually have the highest suicide rates – and that the sample sizes for each profession mentioned is too small for inference anyways.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      Your former friend (“boyfriend”? not important) may have switched firms not so much from dislike of the work as to leverage competition for associates for greater compensation. There’s companies that maneuver individual attorneys and sometimes whole blocs of them from firm to firm, negotiating better compensation packages for the transferred attorneys and taking typically a quarter of one year’s salary for each attorney as their fee. You may recall a prominent former contributor to this blog whose day job is exactly this. This sort of “talent scout” has become a feature of the ratrace in the past fifteen years or so on par with, say, that of a casting director in the entertainment industry.

      By way of comparison, what sorts of achievements and personal attributes are medical practices looking for to extend offers of equity?Report

      • I actually suspect (given some of his gripes at the time) that his moving from firm to firm may not have been entirely his own decision. And though I’m no expert in the field, it did seem that they were of declining prestige.

        But that’s all hypothetical, if I were the kind of person who would have Googled him. Which clearly I am not.

        It’s probably not all that different in medicine, when you get to the underlying principles. Really, who seems to be an asset to the practice in terms of having patients who like her, want to see her, tell their friends what a great provider she is, etc. But it, at least in my limited experience, is less cut and dried than the calculations you lay out. Obviously, we wouldn’t offer a partnership to someone whose days went unbooked because nobody wanted to see him, but since a busy practice will keep most providers relatively busy at equivalent levels, it’s more a “this person is personable and has a patient panel comprising patients who like him, and has a good track record of sound clinical decision-making.”Report

  5. Avatar weinerdog43 says:

    Burt, this is simply great. It has the added benefit of being absolutely true.

    I too did the baby insurance defense lawyer, baby plaintiff lawyer thing before finding my calling… in house insurance coverage lawyer at Big Insurance. 2 big drawbacks: 1.) Associate money your whole career; and 2.) Another drone in the corporate hive.
    2 big benefits though: 1.) Sane working hours (I knocked off today at 3:35pm); and 2.) clients (staff) that think you’re the smartest person at the company.

    One thing I’ve noticed over the years however, is the perverse need by some of my colleagues to berate/humiliate/score a cheap shot off the Biglaw partner or associate just to justify their existence. Fortunately, this seems to be confined to the VP types who are frequently human vermin anyway.Report

  6. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Agreed, this is great, Burt. Vivid.Report

  7. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    This is fantastic. Seriously.Report

  8. Avatar A Teacher says:

    This was a fascinating read right up to the part where you lamented trying to manage 20 clients, and their egos at the same time.

    In *Some* jobs we find ourselves manageing 120 “Clients” and their volatile egos, their demands that you know and recall every aspect of their lives, that you have their entire “case” memorized so that when they call you can rattle off any number of relevant facts, that you modify your other work to accomondate them, and that you respond promptly (ie within hours) to any communication sent to you. All for the bargain basement price of a mid 5 figure salary.

    Quite frankly I’d commit some sort of felony for the right to charge them $300/hr for this….Report

    • Avatar A Teacher says:

      A follow up, with considerably less snark, is that I would be fascinated what would happen if I were to send you an “itemized” list of things I did on a given day at work, and then let you figure out the billable hours/ fees that I “charge” for that time were education treated more as a Free Market profession, ie Law.

      I imagine the resulting post would go viral in education circles….Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        How frequently do sub optimal outcomes with your clients result in threats of lawsuits against you personally or attacks on your licensure? Conceded that I suspect the number is greater than zero and conceded that I have tasted of the fragile egos of students and parents myself and it is indeed tedious and tiresome.

        My comment to which caused you to look askance is aimed at young people who think representing big corporation s is “clean” or “easy” because the corporation is motivated solely by money and therefore will make rational decisions. Ain’t so.Report