Question & Answer
September 18, 2012
What are the benefits . . . of being a lawyer?
The first time I received this question was back in the 1990s and then again in 2004 and just recently, most likely because of the difficulties in the job market, I received it once again.
I wonder if an attorney recruiter is the most objective person to answer this question! We certainly think there is no nobler profession than that of an attorney. But, as I was about to write pages and pages of all the wonderful benefits that come to those with law degrees, I remembered a column that I published a number of years ago. Since this is the month when so many people have recently graduated from law school and are starting or are trying to start - their legal careers, I thought it might be a good time to reprint a portion of that column to remind all of you exactly why you should be so very proud of what you do.
A law degree is extremely versatile. If you were to take a long, hard look at the credentials of the CEOs of companies, you might be very surprised to see how many of these captains of industry have a law degree, whether or not they ever intended to practice law.
Of course, an MBA is also extremely valuable. Perhaps the conclusion to be drawn here is that a graduate degree is always a good thing whether it is a law degree, an MBA, a medical degree, etc. However, earning a law degree does help to discipline your mind and teach you to look at things in an analytical light. There are so many other good reasons to earn a law degree you certainly cannot go wrong by earning your J.D. However, if you do not intend to practice law, just be aware of how difficult those three years of law school are going to be and how expensive it is going to be to earn that degree.
If you are a leader and possess the skills necessary to make you powerful and savvy and if you are in the right place at the right time then yes, a law degree may very well help to lead you into a powerful and lucrative position outside of the law firm world. But then again, if you are a leader possessing those necessary skills to make you powerful and savvy and if you do happen to find yourself in the right place at the right time, your success in the world outside of the law might happen with or without that law degree.
A number of years ago October, 1993 to be exact - an attorney wrote an article for The American Lawyer entitled Misery. The author of this article was very unhappy with his profession as an attorney and was incredibly disillusioned and dissatisfied, much in the same way as you have described the attorneys practicing at your law firm. This author made it very clear that he would not want his son or daughter to suffer this same fate and would hope that his children would not become attorneys.
In the January/February 1994 issue of the American Lawyer a response to this article appeared in the Letters to the Editor section. Stanley Komaroff, the then-Chair of Proskauer Rose Goetz & Mendelsohn (now known as Proskauer Rose LLP) in New York, wrote the letter. I was so moved by Mr. Komaroffs response to the Misery article and I never forgot how he described his passion and love for the practice of law.
When I received your question, I picked up the phone and called Mr. Komaroff. He graciously offered to share that article with me and I now share it with you. I hope you will read it and then read it again. Perhaps you will realize that, even though the practice of law is not for everyone, the benefits of being a lawyer are innumerable for those who find a true love in the law. Read on -- this is a wonderful holiday gift courtesy of Mr. Komaroff for those attorneys or attorneys-to-be who are questioning their choice of profession.
The Pros Outweigh the Cons
By Stanley Komaroff,
Chair, Proskauer Rose Goetz & Mendelsohn
By this letter I happily accept the invitation to respond to your Headnotes article entitled Misery, which appeared in the October 1993 issue. I write this in many capacities as a member of a large New York firm, the same firm I clerked at between my second and third years of law school, and joined following law school graduation in 1958; as a lawyer with 35 years filled for the most part with gratification and more than fair financial reward; as the father of a young litigator in a large firm; and as a friend and colleague of dozens and dozens of proud and happy lawyers in large and small firms all across the country.
The enthusiasm I bring to the practice has not diminished. Each year remains more stimulating and intellectually challenging than the preceding one. Each clients problems present new issues, the need for a variety of increasing skills, and the constant requirement to grow, improve, and learn. No, I am not miserable. No, I do not want to change jobs, teach law school, run a book store in Vermont, or, except for a few weeks here and there, bask in the sun in Palm Beach or on the ski slopes of Vail.
I am far from alone in my love for the profession. One of my partners thrives on the constant intellectual stimulation, the excitement of litigation, the fun and satisfaction of winning, the feeling that Ive made a difference and the camaraderie of practicing in a large law firm with people I consider my friends and with clients with whom I have long-term relationships.
Another, who, contrary to Wesley Williams, would be very happy if his son or daughter became a lawyer, said, While I would caution them about the long hours and, at times, tedious work, I think the high points clearly outweigh the drawbacks. I love the chess match between myself, on behalf of my client, and the opposing side. Give my competitive nature, the trial process suits my personality well.
Others used words like exciting, invigorating, challenging, interesting, and rewarding.
Indisputably, practicing top-quality, cutting-edge law, satisfying knowledgeable, sophisticated, and demanding clients, keeping up with complex changes, being a good partner, contributing some pro bono time, conferring with colleagues, teaching associates or younger partners, and, yes, filling out reports and time sheets, billing and collecting, all require sacrifices and long hours, and often involve intense pressure, immense energy, and unselfish commitment. The demand for better service seems ever increasing. The technological innovations of word processing, faxing, video conferencing, electronic transfers, etc., often make response times frightening and nerve-wracking. Competing and succeeding as a lawyer today seems to require greater legal competence and more business acumen than ever before.
Still, these changes do not go to the core of what we do. They do not eliminate or outweigh the essential attractions of the profession.
Instead, I believe that a part of the problem is caused by a failure to recognize that the financial rewards of the profession have increased substantially over the last 25 years a partner at one of the most profitable New York firms told me that last year the lowest paid partner in his firm received more money than the highest paid partner in that firm received ten or so years ago. There is a price to pay for this success.
Moreover, I believe that a good part of the dissatisfaction is caused by a nostalgic look backward rather than a mature look forward. Nostalgia has no place in analyzing the profession. As former New York City mayor Edward Koch once was reported to have said to a voter longing for yesterday: We cannot make it like it was! We cannot make it like it was, and it probably was not that much better. I do believe that in the legal profession there are good news days ahead.
The challenge is to creative and visionary. The challenge is to adapt. The challenge is to do things differently and better. We should not be fearful of the opportunity to reshape the profession. We need to reform ourselves to provide better value to the client while at the same time preserving a balanced and harmonious lifestyle for ourselves. A balance is possible.
Perhaps I have been more fortunate than most. I continue to look forward to coming to work each day with the same zeal as when I first started to practice. I have been lucky in my choice of profession, my choice of firm, and my choice of specialty. Over the years, my friends have become my clients and my clients and partners have become my friends. I have enjoyed respect and appreciation and probably even admiration here and there, and at the same time achieved financial security beyond my expectations.
After all these years, when a client telephones on a Sunday night with a seemingly insoluble problem, an unreasonable deadline, a disagreeable adversary, and an acute need for help, the juices continue to flow.
So, there it is…a nice reminder that the practice of law can be a stimulating and intellectually rewarding profession as well as a lovely gift from Mr. Komaroff to all those who are celebrating the start of the Jewish New Year, those who are just beginning their legal careers and to those of you who perhaps just needed a reminder as to why you go to the office each day. Best wishes!
President, Ann Israel & Associates, Inc.