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Slaying Preconceived Myths Of Practicing Law:

published March 01, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left

( 5 votes, average: 3.4 out of 5)

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A career as an attorney is one of the most coveted and sought-after vocations especially in the US. Without doubt there are many rewards that one reaps in the professions, but there are many drawbacks as well. It would be worth the while for wannabe lawyers to understand the drawbacks and debunk such prevalent myths that it is an extremely high paying, glamorous vocation and that lawyers enjoy celebrity status. Knowing both the pros and cons will help them to make an informed decision, before they commit themselves to a challenging, time-intensive and costly journey, that en-route could give them cause for disillusionment and regret.

Slaying Preconceived Myths Of Practicing Law:

Glut of Lawyers on the Market:

We are the first to admit that there are a lot of attorneys in practice and a lot of soon-to-be attorneys currently enrolled in law school. So many, in fact, that in some states there has been a push for a state-imposed limit on the number of students admitted to those states' law schools. Such efforts have not been successful as of late, but the sentiment of many that "we have too many lawyers," is being clearly expressed.

The increase in legal practitioners is evident not only in the large urban centers but in the small towns as well. Regardless of an urban or rural environment, the more attorneys there are, the tougher it becomes to make a living since the sheer number of clients available becomes diluted. It could be argued that this situation encourages the acceptance of cases with questionable merit that clog our court system. It could also be argued that with more attorneys, more clients are afforded representation and, therefore, their day in court.

Without question, the large number of individuals in the legal profession should cause some concern when considering becoming an attorney. We have all heard the phrase, "there is always room at the top," and this would be true for a student who graduates from a prominent law school at the top of his or her class. But not all students can graduate at, or even near, the top of their law school class.

So, what are your chances for employment if you are not skimmed from law school by the big law firms'? Like athletes, you could be selected in subsequent drafts beyond the first round. Why not improve your chances by taking certain action? Serve a clerkship with a firm that interests you: get your foot in the door before hiring time. Also, do not be timid about using your connections. Relatives and acquaintances can do you a world of good with just one positive word in the right ear. Lastly, if you are brave, you always have the option to go it alone as a solo practitioner, which creates an opportunity to be your own boss.

However, the large number of lawyers should not unduly dissuade you from entering the profession. It should, however, cause you to more closely evaluate where you want to go and how you plan to get there.

Legislation to Limit Litigation:

Owing of the increase in lawsuits being brought by individuals and the subsequent court congestion that it causes, there have been rumors of possible legislation being instituted to limit litigation. Such legislation would significantly lessen court avail-ability to litigants, and as a result, would eliminate many attorney positions. However, the actual placement of a limit on litigation would likely run afoul of constitutional due process protection, and as such, it is not probable that this form of legislation would be passed or ultimately enforced. Less stringent legislation, such as limitations on total amounts recoverable, has proven to be more workable and less of a burden on client recovery.

Possible Malpractice Claims:

In every profession, there is the risk of being sued for failing to follow professional standards of conduct. Those who have malpractice actions instituted against them in the legal profession have generally violated some very obvious guidelines, such as the prohibition on pooling of client funds with the attorney's private funds. If you are reasonably careful, the likelihood of a successful malpractice action is quite low, and even this low risk can be compensated for with malpractice insurance. Premiums for malpractice insurance are simply considered a cost of doing business.

Effect on Relationships:

Upon entering the legal profession, your professional relationships will flourish. While your personal relationships will often suffer. The successful practice of law takes significant amounts of time. In fact, what you sell as an attorney is your time, which rapidly becomes a limited commodity that must be doled out in assigned segments. If you do not want your personal relationships to weaken, you will have to budget more time to them and accept a lesser income potential.

Sometimes it's not just the practice of law that takes up so much of your time: it's also the time you spend thinking about the practice of law. Will you be able to leave work at work and spend time with loved ones free from the stresses of the work place or will you carry the work place in your thoughts? There is a lot of stress associated with being a member of the legal profession and it is this stress, combined with less available free time that causes trouble with some personal relationships.


In any career where there is a lot of stress and responsibility, there is a potential for burnout. In the legal profession, burnout occurs either when you cannot cope with the expectations of your profession or when you become disillusioned with the legal system. There is little that one can do after reaching burnout, outside of an extended leave, restructuring of the work environment, or finding other work.

The real secret is to prevent burnout in the first place. You will need to set aside time for yourself and others and learn to enjoy your time off. This is quite difficult in the legal profession since the profession seems tailored to a workaholic personality. Perhaps additional assistance can be gained by practicing in multiple legal fields; this allows variety in day-to-day activities, although at the cost of the additional time necessary to remain current in these other fields.

Continuing Education and Costs:

Once you have surmounted the incredible costs of achieving a legal education, you have the pleasure of paying for a bar examination preparatory course, which is strongly recommended and paying for the application to take a state's bar examination, as well as continuing to pay for additional state-mandated continuing education classes. Of course, taking the bar examination is not an option if you wish to practice what you have learned in law school, so we consider these fixed costs. Hopefully, you will practice in a state long enough to earn reciprocity in any additional state in which you are going to practice. Reciprocity simply means that one state recognizes another state's attorneys as competent so that an additional bar examination is not required. This reciprocity is ordinarily a matter of significant time spent practicing in another state.

With respect to continuing education courses, they do serve the function of keeping practitioners current in the law, but they involve significant time and money commitments as well. Perhaps you might get your firm to pay for the credits needed, which is often the case, but you still must attend evening or weekend accredited courses.

Some costs are continuous as there are annual licensing fees that each state requires you to pay in order to practice within that state. Multiple states equal multiple fees. In addition to annual state licensing fees, there are the dues one pays for professional membership in groups such as the American Bar Association as well as local professional organizations. In general, the longer you practice, or the more sections of an association you join, the more fees you pay.


It really depends on who you talk to. Sometimes we attorneys are praised for offering assistance in times of need and other times we seem to be held in very low esteem. We appear to be in the latter stage currently. Next to used-car salespersons, attorneys have had a rough go lately. We are getting a lot of bad press and are very tired of the ever-popular lawyer jokes we hear on an almost daily basis. Many lawyers resent the stereotype of an evil money-oriented individual who has no value to society. Right or wrong, if you cannot stand some criticism for a perceived image problem, then becoming a lawyer will greatly frustrate you.

Maybe part of the image problem is self-imposed. Many clients do not want a kindly, understanding individual to guide them through difficulties; they want a junk yard dog to render serious damage to the opposition. These clients do not want cooperation; they want aggression. If we attorneys bow to this pressure, we give the client what they want at the cost of our own reputation. However, we are officers of the court and we can be efficient, professional, and often gain more for our client by cooperating with others. We can adhere to high standards and avoid the impression of being little more than a hired gun.

Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

More about Harrison

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