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Should I Be A Lawyer?

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Thinking of going into law?  On today’s blog– something a little different and solely for the youngsters –I’m going to tell you if being a lawyer is right for you.  Give me a few minutes and let Uncle Jeremy give you the 411. If you are over thirty and have no interest in lawyers, go away!  This is between me and the youngbloods.

I am about to tell you something that could literally save you a lifetime of frustration. 

My qualifications?  I’m young enough to know what Tic-Tok is, but old and wise enough not to try the dance moves.  Young enough to have heard of Billie Eilish but old enough to know that 70s rock was the best music mankind ever made. And, I wear a blazer – so you must listen to me.

I’ve been a lawyer for 18 years – It’s a 2nd career for me in case you’re wondering – no, law has not aged me this quickly – I didn’t go to law school until I was 30.   But in 18 years as a lawyer,  I’ve worked for cities, for businesses, I’ve worked for insurance companies, I’ve worked at big firms and now I am a law firm partner.  I’ve handled criminal cases, bankruptcies, appeared in immigration court, civil trials, etc.  I’ve done almost all and I’m about to tell you if YOU should become a lawyer.

First, let’s talk briefly about money.  If you go to law school like I did and most students do, you will leave law school with at least $150,000 in student loans.  Plan on making student loan payments of between $1,500 – $2,500 per month – until you die an early death from stress at 40 years old.  Just kidding.  But you will be paying those student loans for a long time – I’m paying mine over 30 years.  That’s about $20,000 – $30,000 in student loan payments a year.  But EVEN taking that into account, you will statistically make more money than if you were, say a teacher your entire life.  So, moneywise it’s likely a good choice – but not THAT great a choice just based on the money.  If money is your main concern, become an anesthesiologist (those guys make big bucks – and all they do is put people to sleep! Something I do on Youtube for free).

After money, the 2nd consideration is, “Will you be able to become a lawyer.” 

Not everyone graduates law school and not everyone that graduates will pass the Bar – at least not right away.  A friend of mine took 9 years until he passed the Bar and could practice and he was a smart guy!.  He worked as a paralegal for 9 years before he got his Bar card and it was horrible for him. 

Another friend of mine from law school just didn’t make it through 2nd year – he just couldn’t get his mind around the tests.  I would say if you are not a decent test taker, or perhaps it’s better to say – if you are a bad test taker –  I would stay away from law school. 

It’s just too risky to saddle yourself with all that time commitment and debt – and then have your whole life put on pause because you can’t pass a stupid test.  I mean, not passing the Bar is a disaster and it happens to about 10% of law school graduates.  Make sure that you will not be in that 10%.

So, (1) Make sure it’s not ALL about the money; (2) Make sure you are not a bad test taker.  And then, the next thing to think about, “Will you enjoy practicing law?”  If you finish law school and pass the Bar, 75% of you will end up, like myself, in private practice.  The truth is that in-house jobs at companies and government legal jobs tend to be hard to come by – most lawyers work at a traditional “law firm” and you will likely be there also.  And most of the jobs at law firms are in small to medium law firms representing individuals and small to medium sized businesses.

The modern practice of law at a law firm is stressful for one main reason (and no, it’s not that you have to deal with other lawyers).  It comes down to one thing: It’s stressful because the business and practice of law is a battle of time and money, money and time. 

In a very real sense, even if you work on contingency cases, your time IS your money.  Or to say it more precisely, your value to yourself or to your law firm is your time.  You only have 10 hours in the workday and you will need to work 14 hours to make the partners at your law firm happy (or to make your bank account happy if you own the law firm).  So, the tension, the pull, is that you want to and many times are expected to work 14 hour days. 

Even now, I am the owner of my own law firm, but I could easily spend 14 hours at work every day and also work some weekend hours as well and still not do everything perfectly.

So the first thing I would tell you is that you will only enjoy the practice of law if you are good at time management.  If not, you will either end up doing a crappy job for your clients or will work so much you’ll burn out.  Do not become a lawyer if you can’t get stuff done in a time efficient manner.  You will either not enjoy it or you will be poor.  And being poor sucks – trust me, I tried it.

Okay, that was the harsh part  – do not become a lawyer if …  . Now, the positive and maybe something you haven’t read online before.

What is the most important character trait you must have in order to enjoy being a lawyer? 

This might surprise you…

If you are going to enjoy being a lawyer you must have … Empathy.  One thousand percent it’s empathy.  To enjoy being a lawyer you MUST be able to understand the feelings of others and in a sense put yourself in their shoes.  And, I would add, to be a GREAT lawyer you must be able to genuinely understand the feelings of others.

Because you don’t get to choose your clients – they choose you.  I have, and you will, represent horrible people.  I have, and you will, also represent saints.  But however your client is, your  job is to take their side – to see things their way and to present their side of things in the best way possible.  And that is only possible, and only enjoyable, if you can honestly see things from their point of view – no matter how right or how wrong that point of view is.  And empathy is the key to that.

Nowadays, I do mostly personal injury work – and it is generally easy to empathize with my clients even though some few are not the nicest people.  But can you imagine representing a murderer?  A child rapist?  Or even worse – a Republican? (just kidding) I have represented all of the above – even Republicans – and I would do it again if called on, and it wouldn’t ruin my day because as bad as he or she might be I could still empathize for them.

And something that is also important, and what comes with empathy, is the desire to help people – even if you don’t agree with them 100%.  If you want to enjoy being a lawyer – you have to want to help people.  That’s another thing that most people don’t think of when they think “lawyer” but a lawyer who innately wants to help people will not only be better, but will be happier.

I can honestly say that every day, every single day at work I have helped someone and that is the greatest work-joy you can find.  Please, only become a lawyer IF you want to help people.  Otherwise I can guarantee you misery at work and failure.

So, please please remember, you will only enjoy being a lawyer if you have the ability to empathize and enjoy helping people.  It might sound too general or simple but it is 1000% correct. Trust me.

Otherwise, remember: become an anesthesiologist.  Or Youtube/Instagram star – whichever.

Good luck and see you, in Court.

Jeremy Hogan
Jeremy Hogan
Attorney Jeremy Hogan is a partner at Hogan & Hogan.