Monday, November 14, 2011

How To Make Money As A Lawyer - Forget Law School

A couple years ago my electrician showed up to my house in a BMW. A few days later he showed up in a Porsche. I asked who's Porsche it was, and he said "mine, the BMW is in the shop."

Recently, there's been some discussion about this country developing an economy of lawyers, doctors, and accountants. No one wants to be a plumber, electrician, or other trades person. It's demeaning. Mom and Dad won't be proud, and all the money to be made is in lawyering.

Yeah, right.

I will tell you this: If I graduated plumbing school 17 years ago, I'd be making as much or more than I am now. I'd have 10 trucks, ads running around the clock, and my name plastered everywhere around town - from bus benches, billboards, airplanes over stadiums, and charity events. No fancy office, no Bar regulations, no judges wanting me in court NOW, no sleepless nights wondering if Mr. Jones hot water is working.

With all the discussion about "the future of lawyers," I haven't seen one post about "the future of plumbers."

Will there be a time where people no longer stop up a toilet? Will sinks no longer need to be installed? Will giant condominiums be built in 2023 without bathrooms and kitchens?

Will we be taking a shit on our iPads?

From the ABA Journal:

Hedge fund manager Daniel Ades of Kawa Capital Management tells the Wall Street Journal that students should seek an education that pays the highest salaries relative to the cost of education. According to that analysis, technical colleges are the best. "We're in a skills based economy and what we need is more computer programmers, more [nurses]," he tells the newspaper. "It's less glamorous but it's what we need."

The article is geared towards the discussion of loans, and why it's more cost effective to pay for a trade school education in terms of making money in a career than it is to pay for law school.

So there's the answer, forget law school. If money is the goal, go to trade school. it costs less, you don't need to wear a suit, you can use all your shiny toys for business, and you don't have to worry about social media for lawyers.

Let me know if you do it. I'll hire you to fix my toilet, and bitch about how much it costs as you drive away in your Porsche.

Anonymous comments are welcome as long as they say something relevant and half-way intelligent and aren't a vehicle for a coward to attack someone. I trust you understand.

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


Wade said...

You're basing this on an anecdotal sample size of one? I agree with the general sentiment - don't go into law to make money - but the building-related trades have also taken a beating (probably even worse than law has) during the past several years. When new housing construction dries up, so do the job opportunities for plumbers, electricians, etc. Oh, and as to the comment about "no bar regulations" to deal with, trade workers in most states have to deal with union or guild oversight, which is no picnic.

Basically, there's no clear path to success in the technical professions, either.

AP said...

With my law school degree firmly in hand, the presents opened and the family dinners finished, I started my life as a lawyer. I was told people would respect me and I could start counting the piles of cash that was to come.

Reality hit me like a bullet train about one week into life as a fresh-faced criminal articling student. There was nothing glamorous about the life of a criminal defense lawyer. I was poorly paid and I worked like a dog. I got maybe 4 to 5 hours of sleep a night (not in a row mind you) because I was the voice clients would hear when they called at 3:00 am on our firm’s 24-hour “hotline.” Sometimes clients called because they were in police custody. Sometimes clients called because they wanted to know when their next court appearance was and sometimes they called because they wanted to talk. I ran from courtroom to courtroom in my shitty $100 suit. I drove around in my beat up 11-year-old Civic hatchback (I turned many a client in driving that crap box). Clients yelled at me constantly. One guy told me that I was "ugly" which truth be told I thought was unnecessary. At no point did they treat me as anything other than somebody they could unleash their frustrations on. One client (a rounder who knew way more about criminal law than me) told me straight to my face that I was stupid fuck (he was kind of right as I kept on repeating in court that he was on parole when he was really on probation) -- but hey I was still learning right?

In 2001, having graduated from law school I made $18,000 a year and I was on call 24/7. I realized that there was no easy was to make money other than getting through the first few years and learning all I could – you know work hard and get experience. If making money was what it was all about I would have left law after my first week of articling. But of course money wasn’t what it was all about.

Anonymous said...

People who had what it takes to make money in real estate, insurance or the trades would have made a fortune if they had a law license.

People who can't make money with a law license, are dreaming that they would've been rich as ordinary salesmen or tradesmen.

Jordan said...

Brian, I would appreciate it if you stopped writing useless crap.

I want you to tell me how to build the practice of my dreams by utilizing powerful social media tools liked Twitter and Linkedin while practicing from a Starbucks.

Reality sounds... hard.

Anonymous said...

So the other day the toilet backed up in the kids' bathroom. I plunged myself, to no avail. I called the plumber, who arrived 30 minutes after I called. I waited in the dining room as he entered the kids' bathroom, from which he emerged 13 minutes later. "All set", he said , as he handed me a bill for $450. "Wow," I remarked. "That's more than I charge per hour as a lawyer. "It is more than I used to charge when I practiced , as well," He replied.

NB - Brian - I don't appreciate your potty mouth in this post.

Manuel M. said...


I'm a lawyer from Spain, and I can truly assure that here we have the exact same situation...40/50€ for answer a question for 1/2 hour, and the guy who fix ur frigde got 150 for 10 minutes !!!!

Good blog, BTW. I truly apreciate someone who puts things clear.

Dan said...

Locksmithing - now there is a lucrative business. This guy comes over, after I locked myself out of my house like a bonehead. 5 minutes, $50, and a whole lot of shame later I was in my house.

I never thought that the law was going to be super lucrative, but I was hoping to do a little better than my contemporaries with nondescript undergraduate degrees. Instead, the judge takes his glasses off and rubs his eyes when he has to rule on a messy motion, and I'm paid peanuts in a provincial backwater.

Clients are another matter - the bigger the felony sheet, the more they think they are a better lawyer than you. Despite their superior legal prowess, they still manage to make incriminating statements to the police and Ma and Pa on visitation day.

Last, and maybe not least, there is the disdain the prosecutor has for not only your clients, but for you personally. They are flabbergasted as to why your client doesn't just "plead guilty" when their best offer represents perhaps 10% less time than they would get after a jury verdict and sentencing. They love to tell you that they "could try this case in their sleep."

The difficulty is that we don't treat ourselves well enough as lawyers. We try to skimp on office support, which frankly, we can't afford because our clients routinely stiff us on our already discounted fees. Many of us practice out of fear of a disciplinary complaints, which is a terribly way to be a lawyer.

So, to make a long story short - consider being a locksmith, or a surveyor, or any other building trade. You will be paid more, you will worry less on the weekends, and with that extra money you might be able to pursue that philosophy degree on evenings and weekends that you always wanted.

P.S. Humorous blog - thanks for the badly needed laughs.

D Trevino said...

Great blog. The law is a frustrating field, and I love the study of the law. The main reward is actually seeing that someone has been helped. The difficulty is that everyone is so angry during the experience that they do not appreciate what lawyers do for them. Clients figure they can tell their story to the judge and because it is a good, honest story the judge will rule in their favor. Why would they need an attorney?

Anonymous said...

What do you want ? Lawyers do not contribute to the economy. They are overhead to any business. They dont make money for any business they only cost money. Unfortunately lots of people are not honest anymore so eventually we need one.
They generate their own system by inventing a language nobody - other than lawyers - understands.
Any plumber is more worth than a lawyer, since he gives me something of value (hopefully ... if he is a good one). If he is honest I close the deal with a handshake ... no need for a lawyer there either.
I personally never (and I am 43 now) engaged a lawyer in my life ... but I may need one in the future since people seem to be less honest.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the earlier post, making money in law is like anything else. You need to have some skills. It's just a degree, what you do with it is what matters. My buddy went to a terrible school and first year out had 65 cases he had referred to other attorneys. Needless to say he was a skilled businessman. My point is you need to stop focusing on the negative. You can make money at anything. Be creative, positive and aggressive, the rest will work itself out. I'm tired of reading all this negativity from a bunch of losers who would not make it regardless of what they did. Get a life and get to work.