The Middle Way — the shining path of mid-size law firms

Above the Law and The People’s Therapist recently compared working as a young lawyer in a BigLaw firm to eating a bucket of cockroaches.middle-path

I’ve never worked for a big law firm, but I have eaten cockroaches. (Ft. Benning, Ga., 1969.) Taking the comparison as apt and applying my own experience, I can say that the cardinal attribute of working for a big law firm must be the thrashing of the little legs on your tongue.

The People’s Therapist grants that some may like this:

They like the money, and the status that comes with working around the clock for billionaires. A certain type of dorky, detail-driven, competitive personality thrives in the corridors (and tiny, colorless offices) of biglaw.

However, for most of us, working in biglaw appears to resemble eating cockroaches …. Why would we then eat a bucket of cockroaches? … The money.

Enter George Mason professor Michael Krauss, writing for Forbes. He warns that money is no reason to go to law school. That model is broken

Law school tuition is higher than ever, yet incomes are stagnant and perhaps dropping. Law school loans, guaranteed by Uncle Sam and not dischargeable by bankruptcy, help you pay for tuition, but every increase in the generosity of federal largesses is yet another incentive for universities to capture rents by increasing tuition further.

But most law students will not catch the “brass ring” of high paying jobs at big law firms.

And those that do catch the ring will be in for a life that is “usually exhausting and often boring, if not soul-destroying.”

Professor Krauss says, if your objective with law school is to make a lot of money, you probably won’t, and if you do, then you will destroy your very soul (while dining on cockroaches). The right reasons to go to law school, he says, are if your interests are either (i) the pursuit of Justice, or (ii) helping people who need and can’t afford legal help, or (iii) “soberly attempting to understand and solve the incredibly difficult, and incredibly interesting intellectual problems that underlie so many of today’s legal disputes.”

Those are good reasons to go to law school. But the economic model may be no better, even if the work is. If your objectives are to do justice or to serve the disadvantaged, you need to know that the pay will not be good. Legislatures are reducing government funding for legal aid programs even as the demand grows. The primary response of the organized Bar is to seek new sources of funding (donations, surcharges on various dues and fees, enhanced pro bono programs). But friends, the gap will never be closed this way. It just won’t.

BUT WAIT!!

Soberly attempting to understand and solve the incredibly difficult, and incredibly interesting intellectual problems that underlie so many of today’s legal disputes.

That’s a great reason to go to law school — and that is what mid-size firms do every day. And the scale of the work is such that young lawyers engage directly in the problem solving – not just the detail-driving. And, however precariously, the economic model for mid-size law firms still works.

I feel a little guilty about this when I hear about the soul-destroying and the cockroach-munching – and I feel especially guilty when I hear about the unmet legal needs of good people in an increasingly complex society – and the dedicated, debt-burdened lawyers who work to help those people.

And, I acknowledge that the supply of jobs for new graduates in mid-size firms is limited. It’s very hard to get in.

There’s no time here or room for proofs that the model is still working, or to detail the risks of the mid-size model (there are many) – I offer only the bald conclusion: the quality of professional life endures and the economic model still works for mid-size firms where the values are right and strategic choices are careful.

“The Middle Way.”

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