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What to Consider When Deciding Whether to Pursue a Legal Practice

published April 17, 2023

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( 85 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
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Practicing law is a noble profession that requires the utmost integrity and expertise. It is an essential part of the legal system and there are many benefits to becoming a practicing lawyer. However, it can also be a daunting and sometimes overwhelming prospect. Therefore, it is important to consider all aspects of the profession before deciding to pursue it.

The first step to becoming a practicing lawyer is to obtain a degree from an accredited law school. People who wish to practice law must also pass the bar exam in their state or country. This exam tests individuals on their knowledge of the legal system and their ability to interpret and apply laws. People who pass the bar exam become certified to practice in the court system.

The role of the practicing lawyer is to provide legal advice to clients and represent them in court. Practicing lawyers help their clients understand their rights, guide them through their legal processes, and present their case in a favorable light to the court. They must also stay up to date on the law and current rulings to provide the best legal advice.

Practicing lawyers come with a lot of responsibilities and require a great deal of commitment and dedication. Lawyers must juggle multiple cases, which can be stressful at times. Furthermore, they must ensure they remain in compliance with the laws and ethical rules of the legal system. In addition to handling cases, lawyers must also attend meetings, conferences, and networking events to stay informed and connected with their peers.

In conclusion, practicing law can be a rewarding profession for those who are willing to invest the time and effort required to succeed. It is an essential element of the legal system and those who practice law must maintain the highest standards of integrity and dedication. However, it is important to understand the level of commitment and responsibility required before committing to such a demanding field.

Why become an attorney?

Choosing a career path is one of the most important decisions that a person's life can bring. The career path of a lawyer holds few surprises when compared to other professions. The decision to practice law involves a lot more than most people realize. An attorney will be required to posses a solid understanding of various legal topics and be dedicated for an extended period of time and often, the dedication goes beyond the traditional 40-hour work week. But, the career path of an attorney can be highly rewarding for those who are truly dedicated to the profession.

What does it take to practice law?

To practice law, an individual will need to go through a rigorous path of academic, professional and personal development. It requires completing undergraduate studies, law school and passing the bar exam. Additionally, an attorney will have to regularly keep up with new developments in the law, stay abreast of changing legal requirements and current approaches to legal cases. In addition to possessing legal knowledge, successful attorneys need to possess strong communication, problem solving, analytical and interpersonal skills to be able to effectively interact with their clients, colleagues and the court system.

The long-term rewards of a legal career

The legal field is often associated with large salaries, but a successful legal career involves much more than money. The law is an ever-changing field, and a successful attorney has to keep apprised of new developments in the field. The ability to understand and apply the law helps provide stability and a sense of satisfaction in a chaotic world. In addition to financial rewards, a legal career can provide a sense of professional respect and prestige, as well as the opportunity to help people in need.

The importance of making an informed decision

Deciding to become an attorney is a major decision and it is important to research the pros and cons of the profession before making a commitment. Practicing law can be extremely rewarding and satisfying, but it can also be incredibly challenging and stressful at times. It requires a high degree of dedication, discipline and a willingness to constantly be learning new things. An informed decision is essential.

The Benefits of Practicing Law

The benefits of a career in law range from the lucrative salary to the invaluable experience. Attorneys enjoy a high degree of job security and the potential for advancement that comes with increased knowledge and experience in the field of law. A successful career as an attorney can also lead to a greater sense of personal fulfillment as well as professional respect.

The practice of law is not for everyone. And yet most people who expend the blood, sweat, and anguish required to acquire a J.D. usually give practicing a try, at least for some measurable time. Why do some people enter the practice and then leave? In part it's because practicing law can be stressful. Others find they simply don't like the work. And still others find themselves caught in an environment of waxing billable-hour requirements and waning professionalism. The answer to the question of whether a person should or shouldn't practice law is as varied as lawyers themselves.
The difficult choice of practicing Law

In the late 70s, Ron Solyntjes was working on his J.D. His first legal job was clerking in a mid-sized law firm, assisting with litigation. Those six months gave him a taste for private practice, and he wasn't sure he was interested. By the time he finished his law degree and passed the bar, he was employed in an insurance company claims department. "I did one property damage trial," recalls Solyntjes. "The claims department was experimenting with bringing counsel in-house. And I won the case." During his early years as a lawyer, he also did pro bono work through Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services.

His clerking job, his legal work at the insurance company, and his pro bono work were enough exposure to the practice of law to convince him he didn't want to practice. "I didn't like private practice," he concluded. "Litigation was too stressful, and the paperwork was too boring. I couldn't find the middle ground."

But Solyntjes has never regretted getting his J.D., passing the bar, or becoming a lawyer. In large part he used his education and professional standing in subsequent employment endeavors. At the insurance company he segued into an administrative and marketing position. From there he moved to a company that specialized in office automation. One of their markets was the legal profession, and Solyntjes was hired as a legal marketing consultant. After four years with the office-automation company, he took a better position as a marketing consultant for a litigation-support-services company. There he segued into a sales position, and after just a couple of years he accounted for more than half of the company's total revenues. When the company was sold, he finally left, only to return two years later as General Manager, running the place. After three more years, the company was sold a second time, and now he spends his time building an investment real estate portfolio.

Ron Solyntjes' work history is illustrative of a common characteristic among lawyers who quit practicing law: in one way or another, they often use their educations and backgrounds to work in law-related fields.

In the early 1990s, Kelly James-Enger graduated from law school and passed the bar. Her first job was with a private Chicago-based firm. But not long after walking through the law office's front door, she had a deep-felt realization. "I knew I didn't want to practice law," she said. She simply didn't like the work.

It took her five and a half years to figure out how to "make the leap" and leave the practice. She saved up enough to support herself for at least six months and embarked on a career as a freelance writer.

"The first 18 months or so were tough," she recollects. But even before she quit practicing, she'd published a couple of health-related stories in national magazines. The success convinced her she could make it, and though it took awhile to approach the levels of compensation she enjoyed as a lawyer, she eventually had a thriving freelance writing career, increasingly augmented by speaking engagements related to her writing.

To date she's published a couple of novels, one how-to book about writing-"Ready, Set, Specialize"-and spun off her diet and exercise writing into a new business venture called "BodyWise," in which she "provides entertaining and motivating conference keynotes and other group presentations on health-related topics like body image, fitness, and nutrition."

Dissatisfaction with the Profession

While it's perhaps stating the obvious, one of the characteristics common among those who leave the practice of law is dissatisfaction. According to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, speaking about the state of the profession at the University of Oklahoma's Law School (2002), "It is hardly a secret that many lawyers today are dissatisfied with their professional lives."

In support of her assertion, Justice O'Connor cited several anecdotes, surveys, and studies. She mentioned a New York Times article that concluded, "Job dissatisfaction among lawyers is widespread, profound and growing worse." She said, "Research on lawyers' overall wellbeing is deeply troubling." Statistics supporting her conclusion included:
  • Lawyers are more than three times as likely as non-lawyers to suffer from depression.
  • Compared with non-lawyers, attorneys are significantly more likely to develop a drug dependency, get divorced, or contemplate suicide.
  • When compared to the national average, lawyers suffer stress-related diseases at higher rates. Some of those disorders include ulcers, coronary artery disease, and hypertension.
  • A Rand Institute study of California lawyers found that lawyers were "profoundly pessimistic about the state of the legal profession and its future," and only half would choose to become lawyers if they had it to do over.
  • Another study found that lawyers in movies were depicted as "miserable human beings, either unethical or incompetent at their jobs."
Justice O'Connor blames much of the preceding on the lack of professionalism in the practice of law. At the end of her remarks, she implored her audience: "teach the importance of fulfilling the responsibilities that come with membership in the profession-the importance of doing good while doing well."

Tom Ehlinger's twenty-plus years of periodic and varied legal practice is illustrative of the career struggle facing today's lawyers. After graduating from law school in 1979, Ehlinger first worked as an associate for a small law firm. After winning his first case, his employers told him there wasn't enough legal work, and they had to let him go. Soon thereafter he went to work for Burlington Northern (BN) as in-house corporate counsel doing Interstate Commerce Commission and contracts work. When BN moved its legal department from St. Paul to Fort Worth, TX, he decided he didn't want to move and went to work as a corporate lawyer for Control Data Corporation. Toward the latter part of his work with Control Data, he worked on the "garage sale" of the company's lesser assets. He watched many of his colleagues leave the company as the business downsized. Finally, "once the garage was empty, there was nothing to do. So we had a parting of the ways," Ehlinger explains.

"I took a few months off, just to recover," says Ehlinger, "because it had been a long, draining time there. And I re-evaluated what I wanted to do." He renewed his teaching certificate and took training in mediation. "I decided I wanted to try lawyering part-time and went with a firm for about six months."

Eventually another corporate counsel position opened up, and Ehlinger applied. For the last nine years he's been working as in-house counsel for a medical-devices company.

When asked if he likes being a lawyer and if he will continue working in the profession, Ehlinger is philosophic. "That's a hard question to answer," he says. "There are times when I say I can't do this anymore. Yes, as a lawyer, I often get rare opportunities to interact with people I wouldn't otherwise meet. That's rewarding to me. But it's not so much about being a lawyer as doing a particular thing. You need to find new sources of interest, things that energize you. It's more a matter of taking each day as it comes. But I'm always asking myself, 'is this what I'm meant to do?'"

Tom Ehlinger's career has involved more work in the profession than out. But his day-to-day struggle with practicing law is typical of the dilemma for contemporary attorneys. The decision to practice law depends on a variety of issues, some endemic to the profession, some personal. But in the final analysis, the answer to the question of should or shouldn't I be a lawyer has to be answered by you.

published April 17, 2023

( 85 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.