- Massaging bodies and massaging the law don’t in any way compare.
- And yet, being a massage therapist ranks higher as a profession than a lawyer.
- Even so, the practice of law still holds its allure, and here’s why:
In 2014, U.S. News and World Report surprised the legal community when they announced that the practice of law as a profession ranked worse than being a nail technician. Considering the money, time, and energy it takes to become a lawyer, it was intriguing to realize that a nail technician with a substantially shorter amount of education – not to mention an education that is far less elite and challenging, nonetheless had a better gig. That year, the publication ranked “Lawyer” as the 51st best job in the country, and buffing nails (#49) or popping pimples (#29) beat out filing briefs for a top-tier spot. While this abysmal showing for lawyers should have been a wake-up call for the industry, the job of attorney continues to drop on the Best Jobs scale.
Three years later, U.S. News reported that the law profession plummeted to the 61st best job in the country, a ten spot drop from 2014. On their 2017 Best Jobs list, healthcare and technology positions dominated the top tier. Those jobs are well-paying and rewarding, and the low unemployment rate can make any bright-eyed student consider going into those fields instead of racking their brain taking the LSAT.
On the 2017 Best Jobs list, nail technician was no longer listed as a better job than that of an attorney, but interestingly enough, a massage therapist was listed. While massage therapists have the benefit of delighting their customers by making them feel good, how did a job with a median income of $38,040 beat out the job of being a lawyer? Well, maybe because the old adage is true. Money isn’t everything.
When creating its list, U.S. News said that it examined a variety of factors, not just money, to determine what made a job a Best Job. Salary was one component, but so was challenging work without too much stress, room for advancement, and work-life balance. Being a lawyer is a profession that is known to pay well and has much room for advancement. But when it comes to stress and work-life balance, of which there historically has been little within the practice of law, the lack of those two work facets may be the reason why the legal profession continues to drop in desirability.
So what does this mean for lawyers and aspiring attorneys? Should people still apply to law school? Or should people consider careers other than law? While choosing a career is a personal decision, let’s examine the pros and cons of being a lawyer. While healthcare, technology, and massage therapist may be better ranked, being a lawyer still has alluring qualities.
4 Reasons Why Law Is Still a Good Career Choice:
1. The job market for lawyers is growing.
When deciding on a career, people mostly want to know—what’s the job market like? For lawyers, the legal job market appears to be doing well, but this statistic has been put into question.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for law practitioners is growing at a rate of 6% from 2014 to 2024. In that period of time, there will be about 42,800 more attorney jobs available. While this increase sounds promising, it should be noted that law schools graduate over 30,000 people each year, and many of those graduates do not immediately find full-time work that requires a J.D. degree.
However, a study from the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) has deemed the job market for law school graduates to be relatively healthy. For instance, the class of 2015’s employment rate was 86.7%. This number was less than the employment rate of 2007’s class, but since 2014, the rate has been relatively steady. There are less entry-level lawyer jobs available than before but also less law school graduates looking for work. Additionally, while law schools may graduate thousands, not all of them pass the bar in July, which affects their job placement just as much as the market.
Law school graduates from elite universities such as Yale or Harvard continue to not experience problems getting work, and experienced attorneys with niche practices are also doing well. Harrison Barnes of BCG Attorney Search, one of the nation’s leading legal recruitment firms, said that attorneys who specialize in “hot” practice areas such as bankruptcy and healthcare continue to find work. In BCG Attorney Search’s annual State of the American Legal Market report, Barnes noted that he saw a record-number of interviews and placements in 2016 for lawyers with niche practices.
“It is entirely possible that 2017 may be one of the better legal markets on record—comparable with the previous boom years of 1999 and 2005-2006: We saw more interviews and placements in the last three months of the year than we have in the last three months of any year since 2006,” Barnes wrote. “[The legal market] is being led by “niche” practice areas to a great extent.”
2. The average median lawyer salary for a lawyer is $118,160 a year.
When it comes to lawyer salaries, we hear stories of people with astronomical wealth and of those less fortunate working for almost $25/hr. However, according to U.S. News, the median yearly income for lawyers is $118,160 a year, with the highest-earning lawyers earning more than $187,200 annually and the lowest-earning making around $55,000. So although there may be horror stories of lawyers working for low pay, the majority are actually making a very comfortable living.
Salaries for lawyers depend on several factors; the size of their law firm, their location, and whether or not they have equity. The type of practice matters too. According to The Balance, the following is the most compensated legal jobs:
- Trial lawyer: median annual salary for all lawyers was $133,470 in 2014
- Intellectual property lawyer: median pay is nearly $143,000 as of 2016, lawyers on the high end can earn almost $270,000 a year
- Tax attorney: median pay is nearly $99,000 as of 2016, lawyers on the high end can earn almost $189,000 a year
- Employment and labor lawyer: median pay for an employment lawyer is about $82,000 as of 2016, with some attorneys earning as much as $90,000 a year or more
- Real estate attorney: the median is $79,000 and these lawyers can earn as much as $149,000 a year
- Chief Legal Officers/General Counsel: CLOs at major companies can earn up to seven figures
The Balance added that other legal jobs such as judges, law school professors, and members of Congress are also high-paying. For instance, as of 2016, a judge can earn a median salary of $156,250, with a range from $153,265 to $174,860. Law school professors and members of Congress also regularly take home six-figures.
But while the overall money is great in law, it should be noted that high lawyer salaries also come with a lot of billable hours worked. This heavy workload leads to stress, unhappiness, and in some cases, depression, anxiety, and alcoholism; which could be one reason that U.S. News keeps dropping the practice of law farther down the Best Jobs list.
3. The profession of law is a good profession for introverts and extroverts.
Popular belief has us thinking that most lawyers are extroverts who cross-exam criminals at trial or give flamboyant closing statements to save their clients. But in actuality, being a lawyer is a good job for introverts as well because it values their ability to read, write, and think.
According to Wisnik Career Enterprises in New York City, 60% of attorneys are actually introverts.
“It’s not something you’d intuitively think, particularly when you think of litigators,” Wisnik told ABA Journal. “But it makes sense. Many lawyers spend a lot of time by themselves—reading, writing, thinking—compared to other jobs where the majority of the work is interacting. Introverts make good lawyers, especially for clients who want a thoughtful answer.”
An introvert is someone who gains their energy by being alone, while extroverts gain their energy by surrounding themselves with other people. In American society, extroverts tend to be more valued because of their social skills and ability to put themselves out there. For instance, they can lead crowds or enjoy public speaking because they love the energy of others.
But in the legal world, introverts can succeed because interacting with others is not the only path to success. Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking told ABA Journal that introverts can exhibit power in the legal profession without changing who they were. She said that she noticed that many of her fellow lawyers were not commanding attention and chatty. Instead, they exercised power by being measured and deliberate.
Job satisfaction is greatly dependent on the work being compatible with your personality, and law’s heavy use of analytical thinking is a great fit for introverts. But that isn’t to say that extroverts also don’t love the legal field and succeed in it. Danielle Benderly of Perkins Coie told ABA Journal that attracting business is still a major component of working at a law firm, and extroverts tend to do well with clients.
“Look at the business of practicing law: how we attract clients, the whole profile of the rainmaker,” Benderly said. “There’s an emphasis on public speaking and being out in the community and being a representative of your organization. It’s the same with the impression you make on your colleagues in the office.”
4. Being a lawyer is not a profession that can be replaced by technology.
With the growing advancements in technology, certain jobs are being destroyed. For instance, the smiling checkout faces we once saw at Target are now in the process of replacement by self-checkout kiosks, travel agents are nearly nonexistent, and cab drivers are seeing their fares ride off in Toyota Priuses moonlighting as Ubers. But are lawyer jobs at risk of being automated?
For years, law firms have looked for ways to help their bottom lines, and some have used software that conducts research and cites sources. What once took days for a team of assistants and associates can now be done in minutes at a fraction of the cost.
But besides artificial intelligence, websites such as LegalZoom have allowed consumers to complete simple legal paperwork such as wills on their own. This has also cut out the need for a lawyer and has given consumers affordable access that wasn’t there before.
With these changes, one would think that the job of an attorney is in danger of becoming obsolete, but in actuality, technology has only made the legal world more efficient.
“No industry, including the legal industry, is immune from technological advances that may make certain jobs obsolete. But the need for lawyers is not going away,” Tammi Rice, vice president, Kaplan Bar Review told LawCrossing. “Just as health and wellness websites and virtual doctor visits cannot replace in-person checkups, legal guidance often requires the type of judgment, interpretation and ethical lens that AI (Artificial Intelligence) cannot provide.
Lawyers act as counselors, advocates, and your greatest champions throughout any legal process. Though it’s possible to see how AI might replace some of the work done by junior associates today, we see technology as a boon to the legal industry, not necessarily the adversary of those who work in it. It’s why we encourage law schools students to take experiential learning opportunities, differentiate themselves by learning more than legal theories, and make themselves as valuable as possible.”
Technology is allowing access to legal resources that were not previously available, but lawyers will have their jobs protected because it is still a requirement to be licensed in order to practice law. So although artificial intelligence may do routine work, at the end of the day, a lawyer is still needed to litigate and navigate most transactions.
James Yoon, a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, told New York Times that he has noticed downsizing in recent years but that clients continue to be willing to pay for quality legal service.
“For the time being, experience like mine is something people are willing to pay for,” Yoon said. “What clients don’t want to pay for is any routine work.”
Like any profession, being a lawyer has good and bad aspects, but no matter what ranking it is on the U.S. News and World Report’s Best Jobs list, legal jobs are still well-paying professions that have an active and healthy market.
“After several years of stagnant salaries and a challenging job market for lawyers, particularly newly licensed ones, key metrics show an improving employment landscape,” Rice told LawCrossing. “Consider the positive trend lines we are seeing in Big Law, for example. Over the past year, top law firms have significantly boosted starting salaries for new associates. Additionally, after years of plummeting job placement rates, particularly among the less competitive law schools, things are starting to level off.”
Like Barnes, Rice maintains that certain niches of practice could expand such as healthcare because of changing policies. She also adds that new technologies could lead to expanding fields such as e-discovery.
Have you ever asked yourself if being a lawyer is the right job for you? If so, know that long-hours and stress come with the territory, but so does good pay, stability and meaningful work for almost all personality types. While nail technicians or massage therapists may make headlines for being rated above the legal profession as better professions, it’s safe to say that the rank of a lawyer isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon but up.
See the following articles for more information:
- How To Brand Yourself For Your Next Job Search
- Lawyers Are Turning To Entrepreneurship For New Opportunities
- Law Firm Marketing Efforts On The Rise