Sunday, October 30, 2011

Would You Want Your Kids To Be Lawyers?

This weekend, in two separate conversations (not twitter conversations, actual face to face with food and drink conversations), two different lawyers told me without solicitation, that they would not want their kids to be lawyers.

One is a 30-year lawyer-turned-coach who still practices part-time, and the other is one of the most successful personal injury lawyers around, 17 years in to practice.

The coach said that debt and the job prospects were paramount in his thinking, while the successful PI lawyer said it was due to the lack of professionalism he has to deal with on a daily basis.

So from two different types of lawyers, the feeling seems to be that lawyers, and the money, suck.

I would encourage my kids to become lawyers, but only if they truly wanted to practice law, to be "real" lawyers, to be professionals dedicated to representing clients. These could be indigent clients facing jail, corporate clients looking to screw the general public, or people looking to get divorced. Regardless of the source of the passion, as long as they were going it to it for the right reasons - to represent clients as advocated and counselors, I'm all for it.

I sense the Starbucks crowd, the e-lawyering crowd, and those who believe their law schools are the devil for forcing them to go to law school based on the promise of wealth and fame, are not going to encourage their kids to go to law school. I also trust those who didn't find law as easy and fun as they thought will also hope their kids do something else.

But I'm interested in the discussion.

So if you're going to offer your thoughts (and I'll allow the anonymous cowards in on this one as I'm about to change that policy) please at least tell me how long you've been in practice and what it is you do.

Non-anonymous comments welcome. Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark


Lee Keller King said...

Brian, I would not encourage my sons to be lawyers to make lots of money or to get a prestigious degree. If, on the other hand, they were intrigue by the prospect of helping people and going head-to-head against other bright folks in the courtroom, I would say "go ahead."

So, I guess that means we agree on this.


Anonymous said...

Hi Brian:

I like this profession. I practice state court criminal defense as well as contingency plaintiff's work (PI, products liability, etc.). I've been out 11 years, including four years as an assistant district attorney.

I am not incivil and you develop a detachment to incivility after a while. I've found that trial lawyers are the most civil people while big firm civil litigators (really people who scream about discovery but have never tried a case in their lives) are ridiculously incivil; for no strategic reason whatsoever. Maybe since big firm lawyers never try anything, they intimidate each other at depositions and in letters by being incivil. Criminal lawyers are the best and most civil people.

The recession sucks, but starting as an ADA, private practice litigation feels really lucrative to me.

Questions about whether or not to be a lawyer are meaningless without considering the alternatives. If I could have gone into private equity finance instead of law I would have; but that was not realistic for me. On the other hand, its better to be a lawyer than a plumber.

Anonymous Coward

Ralph Adam Fine said...

All of life's endeavors follows, roughly, a bell curve. For doctors, auto mechanics, lawyers, accountants, judges, etc. On the far left of the curve are the folks who do not care about their product/service. In the broad middle of the curve are those who are mere "journeymen" who go through the motions and get by--some quite profitably. On the far right are those few who have not only great skill but also great passion--they love what they do for the doing of it! Any parent who does not instill in children that they should follow their passion and be the very best they can be because they love what they do, short-sheets them. Passion is the key; skill and the rest will follow, as will happiness.

David Fuller said...

I will actively discourage my future children from becoming lawyers, because I don't want them to find out how much of a dunderhead their old man is.

Actually yes, I'd tell them to be lawyers, if that's what they want. I love this profession.

Aaron said...

I'd be proud for my son to be a lawyer. I intend to be open with him about the profession (he's only 3) and if that's what he wants, bully for him.

I'll be disappointed if he does anything less than professionally.

Doggie Daddy said...

I agree with Anonymous Coward, but as the parent of a future law school student, here is the answer I gave to my child:
Law practice is never going to be as good a living as it once was. Competing with lawyers who have no offices in a price sensitive market (criminal defense) is more difficult each day. Jerks with JD's abound, and if law practice was ever a daily bed of roses with positive feedback from pleased clients, "not no more".
Still, if one is willing to hustle, take pride in their work, and just plain likes people, as a great old lawyer often said, "Baby, it beats diggin' ditches"
It does. I did not give up a career in international finance, movie stardom, or major league baseball to be a lawyer. It has been good to me, and will continue to be a good way of life for people who are not looking for a "Position" or otherwise feel entitled to big bucks, little work, and having their noses wiped at the age of thirty

Anonymous said...

I would rather see my kids be mafia extortionists than lawyers. At least that way when they take money from people who don't have it they can be honest about the evil.

Jordan said...

Depends on the kid. If they want to sit behind a desk, collect six figures, and impress the ladies every night with a fancy dinner, and their fancy job, doing fancy things, absolutely not.

If they want to do something they're passionate about, make a difference in people's lives, have a profession that challenges them, and occasionally make money (and sometimes lose money), then yes.

Law is interesting, and rewarding, as long as you recognize and accept the following:

- Not every year will be lucrative
- It's about serving your clients, not yourself
- You're a lawyer 24/7 365, not a 9-5 employee who punches a clock

If being a lawyer appeals to you, and you understand what it entails, go to law school. If you just want to be rich, prestigious, and well respected, do something else.

I think law is fulfilling because you can keep getting better at it -- you are constantly learning new things.

Anonymous said...


I just walked into Starbucks and plugged in my laptop. I was thinking about you since I'm a "Starbuck's lawyer", so I decided to stop by your blog.

I collected $2k in cash this morning in DUI court, so I'll treat myself to a large mocha latte for $5 instead of the usual large coffee for $2. Then I'll spend the next hour writing a motion, a few letters, reviewing discovery, and most important of all; on internet marketing. Then I'll go home.

I like being a Starbucks shitlawyer.

Brian Tannebaum said...


Don't forget to go to the bank and deposit that $2,000.00, as you wouldn't want to have an issue later. As for the large mocha latte, I've never had one, but I hope you enjoy it. And thanks for answering the question that was posed in the post. Be well.

Brian Tannebaum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grey Tesh said...

Law is a great profession. Most of all, I want my kids to be happy. If they want to be lawyers, great. I'd love that. However, I will support them in whatever they are passionate about.

Passion matters.

By the time they are in their early 20's, higher education will be out of reach for many Americans. The high cost won't be worth it to some. The debt will be overwhelming.

I do criminal defense and personal injury and have been practicing 10 years.


Jacquelyn Gwin said...

Hmm, that may turn out to be a tough choice for some people. After all, the profession does promise a great deal of financial benefits, but it also requires a lot from the person like time and energy. For me, it depends on my children. If they want to be a lawyer, and they understand all that it takes to be one, I would support them all of the way. Every career has its ups and downs, but that should not stop someone from pursuing it. :)

Jacquelyn Gwin

Anonymous said...

"If, on the other hand, they were intrigue by the prospect of helping people and going head-to-head against other bright folks in the courtroom, I would say "go ahead.""

Coming up on my third decade in this profession, I'm simply amazed that there are people who still cite "helping people" or "going head to head against other bright folks" as a reason to become lawyers. We help a lot fewer people that we like to pretend and we aren't nearly as "bright" as we seem to think either.

As for the question, with two kids coming up on entering university, I sometimes think that maybe they ought to consider this career, or at least one should, as its a profession that works, if not suits, people with wondering minds. Having said that, in most moments, I'm horrified when I hear that a child of a lawyer has become one, as I can't imagine any decent parent wanting their children to enter a profession that's so stressful and which is dominated, at least in litigation, by less than admirable behavior.