Law school and the practice are hard because they have to be. And they’re hard because they have to make YOU hard.
You don’t need an actual prize to motivate the participants, after all—merely the idea of a reward will do the job. In preapocalyptic America, parents force their kids to run and eighteen-year-long-marathon for a similarly futile remnant of the American Dream called The Promise. Graduate from the right college, The Promise goes, and you’ll learn all you need to know to land a good job, meet the right mate, and have a great life. … Once you cut through all the hype, the financial and emotional sacrifices Americans make to send their kids to college just don’t yield the payoff that many of them are looking for: financial security.
Rall, Ted. “College Is for Suckers.” Revenge of the Latchkey Kids: An Illustrated Guide to Surviving the 90s and Beyond. New York: Workman Pub., 1998.
I went to the most expensive undergraduate program in the world and earned a B.A. in the most financially useless major possible: Political Science. This is my second law school rodeo, only this time it’s at a private university and after ten years of higher education inflation—which has been outstripping RL (non) inflation by magnitudes the last decade. If I had any delusion of becoming a lawyer for the money, it would have been stripped away a long, long time ago. I certainly didn’t come back for the money. I already have six-figures in student loan debt that I had to “settle” (for lack of a better word) just to afford to get back into law school and accumulate tens of thousands more in debt by the time I’m done in 2015.
I’ve been planning to be a lawyer and a politician since I was inspired by Bill Clinton over 21 years ago. This was never about the money. If I wanted a financially safe career I’d have become a plumber or electrician out of high school.
My entire life’s goal has been to change the world and to make it better. That was and remains the single greatest legacy left to me by my mother. So I’m willing to incur probably something like a fifth to a quarter million dollars of undischargeable debt before I make a penny off my law degree because that the investment—that’s the price I’m paying to ensure that I have the knowledge, skills, and background to do what I want to—what I will—do.
My point is this: If you still cling to the The Promise, and think that college or God forbid law school (Though how someone could at this point and given all the venom spewed at law school, especially in the last five years, is shocking but not surprising) is some stepping stone to financial security, you are sorely mistaken and will be disabused of that notion very quickly in practice if you haven’t been already.
To my fellow 1/2Ls and fellow 2Ls and 3Ls, I mention this now during finals as a more appropriate form of encouragement. You’ve made it this far, and by now you have had the realities of the profession drilled into you heads and hearts and very souls by now. But you’re still there. And while you may be reading this now, you’ll be back to outlining and studying and taking finals soon enough.
So remember why you’re really here, what you hope to accomplish, and who or what you hope to do it for—especially, and realistically, yourselves above everyone else. It hasn’t gotten easier. IT WILL NEVER, EVER GET EASIER THAN TODAY. It just becomes a more familiar routine for an upperclassman. But you’ve been hustling, and will have to do more. For grades. For certain extracurriculars. For recommendations. For internships/externships. For that first post-law school job. And then you have to really hustle your ass off because unless you you either make money, or you make the partners money, or you find another job. Or you hit the right stats if your plan is to be a government attorney for any length of time. Oh, and you also have to win or bury your cases. Deal with demanding clients. If you go into practice as a solo or co-owner, or become partner, you will have to hustle your asses off to get new clients and keep existing clients, and in the process to put up with all of their bullshit and all of your personal bullshit, and all of your associates’ bullshit, and hopefully see your stake in the firm earn revenue—something that is not guaranteed given that even giant, global firms have imploded in the last half-decade.
What you’re doing, what you’ve done, and what you will do as a member of the bar will always be hard. It may be fun and interesting on rare occasions, but it’s still hard and it’s still something that we’ve subjected ourselves to—and it cannot be or have been for the money.
But, hey, enjoy yourselves. There’s life outside of school and outside of the profession. It’s weird to say that given how the law touches everything—we live in a society whose foundation is The Rule of Law and the Social Contract—but it’s the code. Life is everything else that’s built upon it, and it’s just as important when it comes to functioning as a human being. If you miss life for the code and the grind of cranking it out so that the world looks like The Matrix after Neo becomes The One, then that’s no life at all. In fact, awareness of that is what makes the successful lawyers I know and I almost became just that—being aware that they practice law for something way more important than money—be it family, ideals, or oddly the love of practice and the law itself. Money doesn’t drive them. They make good money because what drives them makes them excel, and excelling earns them money in spite of all the effort that goes into practicing to their level.They all also do very well, but all but a few are still paying their student loans well into their forties or beyond.
We’re at a very unique time for the law and to be in law school. The system is changing. The bar is changing. And the world is changing. But those who think of nothing but how this will make them rich, or even financially secure, are fools and will not sustain in 21st century law. Some will persist like cockroaches after the apocalypse, but this is not a practice and a profession to make filthy lucre. Mammon is the byproduct of doing what we think matters.
So think about what matters. Why you’re here. What you want to do. What you are doing. What you will or can do in the near and far future. Pin them to the inside of your head. And think about that when you’re stressing and struggling.
My paternal grandfather had a great saying: IT’S A GREAT LIFE IF YOU DON’T WEAKEN.
Law school and practice are great experiences in spite how how hard they are. The first time you will do “good” for a client (or in general as a lawyer) is an experience that I cannot express in words.