Friday, August 20, 2004

I received an e-mail a few days ago, from a law student, asking me how I ended up here: "I'm curious about how you made the decision to work for your firm. Did you always know you wanted to work for a firm? Why your firm in particular?"

I ended up here the same way most people end up where they are: I just did. I went to law school because my dad was a lawyer, and it seemed like the thing I was always supposed to do. Now, and it's only in the last few years that I've really noticed this, young people feel entitled to a job that means something more than just a way to earn a living. My dad never talked about "job satisfaction." He's satisfied now that he's retired. But he liked his work. He didn't complain. I never thought to ask whether being a lawyer was the thing I was "supposed to do." I knew I could do it, I had seen that my dad worked hard but provided for the family and didn't seem terribly miserable at all. And so I decided this wouldn't be a terrible career to have.

But the questions I get today - in the rare moments of candor from young associates or from students I'm interviewing - are so much more pointed. As if just because you're a good student you have a right to have a perfect life with no sacrifices to be made. No job is perfect. And there are things you should have in your life besides your job. You don't need to rely on your job to be the only measure of who you are. I'm a lawyer, and I work hard. The money is good. It lets me provide for my family. I would not be happy working hard at something that did not let me provide for my family. I don't know that I expect my job to fulfill me emotionally, or whether that's a fair expectation. I don't know too many people who have found that, and most of them are probably either more talented than I am, or more willing to endure hardship than I am. And even if something seems exciting from the outside, on the inside it might be terrible.

People look at my career and they're envious. They want to be where I am. They don't see all of the details. And maybe with all of the details they'd still want to be where I am. But the grass often seems greener on the other side.

Too many young people are overemphasizing the importance of their job in defining who they are as a person. It doesn't bother me to have a job that is not the best job anyone could ever possibly have as long as I am not too miserable, which, most days, I'm not, and it's not interfering with other things I enjoy doing, like playing golf. Which it isn't. So maybe this is the best job ever. Because I don't have to worry about money, I have security, and although I work hard, people everywhere work hard. I don't understand the outrage some people have.

But I've gotten sidetracked from the original question. Why did I end up here? Because they offered me a job here. I figured I would work for a law firm because that's the life I knew. I knew firms paid well and provided a career. With a career path. So I made a decision. I've made a lot of friends here. It's not a bad place to be. I get frustrated sometimes, but so does everyone. Stupid things happen here, but they happen everywhere. I have it pretty good.

I don't mind when people ask me questions with a hidden agenda. My e-mailer probably wanted me to say I came here and it was a mistake. I won't say that. You're not entitled to a perfect life. You're not entitled to anything. You're fortunate to be talented enough that law firms want you to work for them. These are high-paying, prestigious jobs that lots of people would kill for. Be thankful. Don't be cynical. Life is harder than you think. People make choices. There are worse choices you can make.

You are where you are because of daddy. He got you into law school, he got you that summer position, he got you your first job after graduation and you made partner because daddy steered business your way. You know all the right people because daddy sent you to the right schools, the right summer camp, and joined the right country club. Typical rich kid white bread frat boy; makes good and credits it all to his own hard work. If it wasn't for daddy you would be flipping hamburgers with me.
8:52 -- What are you talking about? That's not what the post says. Probably half of all law students have parents who are lawyers. Tons of people become lawyers at big firms without their parents needing to help them get the job. That wasn't his point.

You are 100% correct. You almost said it as good as Buddha. Lower your expectations and you will find happiness.

I think the reason why you hear so much whining is because law schools tend to attract unhappy, unbalanced individuals, especially at the best schools (except for the brilliant trust fund babies and a few others). People who attend the best schools have usually had their noses in the books since a very young and have little understanding of how to achieve happiness. Many define themselves by their careers since they previously did so through academic achievement. More success only leads to greater competition. Some of these really bright individuals are not as succesful at the practice as they hoped which leads to dissatisfaction and the constant search for greener pastures.
I think AL makes some good points. There are choices we all have to make, and it doesn't sound like he's unhappy with where he is, which is a great place to be in life.

But I also don't think he ever made any choices, at least it doesn't sound like it from that post. He was presented with a career path (based on his father) but never really explored any other options. Hey, if you're happy with the martini made from "Dark Eyes Vodka" because that was the brand your father drank, and it always gets you drunk, no problem. That's fine and dandy. But personally, I think there's something to be said for sipping some other brands. Maybe in the end, you'll come back to Dark Eyes, maybe you won't. I just think it's sad never to have explored all there is, especially in these days of unprecidented choice.
While it's not for me to say, that sounds like a penultimate summing up post AL. You've done a great job making your point, perhaps you should go out on that high note of telling people that work isn't supposed to be a "spiritual" experience and to be thankful that they have the opportunity to get some material success rather than whining about how hard it is.
"Dark Eyes" vodka?
I am 51 years old and sometimes wonder how I got where I am and why? I am not an attorney - I am a software developer and make more money than I ever thought I would. But I am bored with it all. I feel like you do, I am thankful to have a good income so I can enjoy the things I want to do. My kids are grown (one on his own, one in college), I've sold the big house in the country and purchased a small, old (early 1900's), funky house and am having a blast decorating it with art deco stuff. My job is secondary. I love to visit my kids and seeing my long-term guy (I've been divorced for 8 years) and living alone. I love reading books late at night and watching the A&E and MTV (why - this is odd even to myself) channels. I am developing a spirituality because I am facing my own mortality - I have finally accepted those words, "...passes all understanding...", take it on faith baby and enjoy the rest of your life.

AL, life's an accident and that is the best part.
It is possible to have excellent "job satisfaction", i.e., be spiritually fulfilled, at work. But work in the legal field is not typically accompanied by the financial security and other benefits provided by Big Law. More likely, these law students have not engaged in the level of self-examination necessary to determine whether a career in Big Law is part of their satisfaction picture. One spends a huge amount of their lifetime working. Why should those hours not be satisfying as well as financially rewarding? Many law students are not honest with themselves: they choose financial security as the key component and hope to find intellectual and spiritual satisfaction there, but it is impossible to know whether you will like this field or your firm in the long run. Their ideas of satisfaction evolve over time as they leave the academic environment anyway. Fortunately, Big Law training provides enough exit opportunities for the unfulfilled to move on; in some cases, the financial security will go with them. While the work environment is an element, you can't tell from a summer, an interview or research whether you will fit in comfortably. It depends on too many variables, not all of which are in the young lawyer's control. But there is nothing wrong with seeking an environment that provides satisfaction not measured in comp or benefits. There is nothing wrong with trying to find a firm that lets you continue to have those moments of intellectual enjoyment that are divorced from considerations of billing and rainmaking. We all need these touchstones; some people find them in an afternoon on the golf course, others in reading and thinking and conversing on topics related to work. These moments are genuinely invigorating because their benefit cannot be quantified. How one determines whether a firm genuinely accomodates these moments is hard to say. I think if you can't witness these exchanges, then you ask questions in a one-on-one situation - probably of associates, not partners. I suppose one asks the questions asked of AL to try to understand what makes a successful partner "fit" at a particular firm. The answer is unique to every situation, but if you put a few together, maybe you get some usable anecdotal info, which will probably vary by generation and practice area. It wouldn't help me much, unless the answers were all the same, in which case, I might run screaming from the room.
I hear all the time that "young people" feel "entitled". Young women feel entitled to be treated as equals, which pisses off the older women who made all the sacrifices. Wasn't that the whole point of the sacrifices they made? Here's my point: Each generation deals with new issues. AL's generation dealt with the issues like new technology that has allowed work to permeate our lives 24/7, dual working families with latch-key kids and 50% divorce rates. AL's generation made it possible for us to get these fabulous legal jobs making tons of money right out of the gate. They did some of the footwork and now our generation is building on it. Great! Good for them and thanks for giving the the rest of us a leg up in the world. Now we want to take these "great" jobs and make them feel great. We spend 75% of our lives working -- shouldn't it be fulfilling? Shouldn't we be able to say more than "I wasn't too miserable"? Part of AL's problem is that he only looks at life from the narrow perspective of day-to-day reality, where he is a big firm partner, middle-aged wealthy man whose job is first priority and family is second and everything else is mostly irrelevant. But the fact is we are human beings first, with emotional, spiritual, physical and psychological needs. Our life style is not "natural" to humans. The generation that went before us should encourage our efforts to make life better -- that's how social evolution works. Quit complaining about how we feel "entitled." I think (obviously without knowing it) AL is just jealous that we have our priorities in better order than he does.
To the above poster - will you marry me?
AL, as I grew up I knew my father worked hard and long hours but I never heard him complain even once about his job. To me this is hard to reconcile since complaining about one's job seems to be in high fashion these days. Every day when I go into work I know that I will be subject to somebody's complaints. Whoever or whatever raised people's expectations so high should be found and punished. That person or thing is responsible for literally millions of people having to suffer the bitching and moaning of their coworkers!
AL, are you really proud of the fact that you drifted into a career that you had little interest in? Don't talk about the younger generation being entitled - I think the more important thing is that we are taking responsibility for our own choices and our own lives, rather than drift along with the flow of society as you did.

If you are happy enough with your job, fair enough, and good luck to you. But pretty much all the posts here tend to complain about how sucky your job is, and it seems like the main pleasures you receive are from using your power to make others feel bad. Sure, I know that this is fictional etc, so perhaps 90% of your life is happy and you're only sharing 10% (exaggerated for comic effect) with us because that's the point of the blog. But don't get preachy about the "young 'uns" wanting more when all you've shown us is the dark side of Big Law.
Re: Anonymous @ 8:38pm -

He never said that law was a field that disinterests him. He merely said he believed it was "the thing [he] was always supposed to do." My parents certainly wanted me to go in to Medicine, Law, or Engineering, but I was interested in all of them anyways, so choosing any two of the above wasn't a big issue for me (thankfully).
When you're young, the absence of pleasure is pain. When you're old, the absence of pain is pleasure.
Cis - get a life. Please.
Re: Anonymous @ 7:03am -

It is very much true that younger people are rarely 'content.' They get bored easily, they're fidgity, and they're often looking for something to do (even though it's usually not productive work that they seek). While there are definitely negative aspects of this characteristic, there's also the positives: many people are motivated and driven to advance themselves while younger because being content simply isn't satisfactory. When you start making a decent income, it's easy to get stuck in the mud, and you become satisfied with being content. Is that any better?

Re: Anonymous @ 7:03am -

Why do I get the feeling that you're one of those self-loathing 20-some year olds who has trouble understanding syllogistic logic, but still thinks they're absolutely brilliant? Stop whining.
"Syllogistic logic." I havn't heard that term since high-school. Funny when stupid people try to sound smart, but miss the mark.

At least I know the proper use of the word "there's." Good grief.

Whining? I was replying to Cis and her/his usual gratuitous self-lauding. Naming medicine, law, and engineering, then telling us all she/he did two of them is utterly hilarious...and pathetic. Sounds like something an insecure young person would do.

Take a look at these posts. It is you people who are the whiners.
> Syllogistic logic." I havn't heard that term since
> high-school

You probably never understood it back then, either. Don't worry; you're not the first person whom the public education system has failed.

>Whining? I was replying to Cis and her/his usual
>gratuitous self-lauding. Naming medicine, law, and
>engineering, then telling us all she/he did two of
>them is utterly hilarious...and pathetic. Sounds like
>something an insecure young person would do.

Sounds like someone has an inferiority complex.
That's quite an assumption. Law will be my only professional degree, but holding two of those three is not all that unusual. My brother-in-law and his sone were both engineers first, then lawyers. On my law school visit to UNC I met a 1st year student who had been an orthopedic surgeon for 15 years - and the former dean of UT told me they had seen quite an influx of MDs recently.
I could care less what degrees Cis has. It's the public notification of the degrees that I'm talking about. My first graduate degree was a PhD in microbiology. I'm now a lawyer. So What? Do I need to advertise this? Does it make any difference whatsoever? No.

Cis is a moron.
lawyers sure are a high strung bunch.
Good point, AL.
>My first graduate degree was a PhD in microbiology.

>Do I need to advertise this?

Apparently so.
Two thoughts.

1. If all of these threads are taken together, that is, the ones on job satisfaction, this would seem to be the expression of how we who do this job, and really don't like it, rationalize it. That doesn't make the rationalization wrong, but it is a rationalization.

2. Reading the constant stream of abuse that appears by folks who are trolling here, I have to wonder why AL, or anyone else, would bother with a blog. Distance allows people to be uncivil, and some can't seem to help but want to attempt to be as abusive as possible. I'm not sure why AL bothers with this, given the response, but I generally enjoy the blog anyway.
I don't think we (young people -- I think I still qualify) feel entitled to a fulfilling job, or that we all need to define ourselves by what we do. A poster above made a great point that each generation builds on the successes of the generation before. Our parents have shown us that we, both men and women, can have good jobs and provide for our families while still being involved in activities outside of work. Now we want to go one step farther and see if we can find jobs that not only put food on the table while allowing us to have a life outside of work, but also provide some non-financial satisfaction. Maybe we won't find that perfect job and our hopes are unrealistic. But we'll never know unless we try.

In a few decades, we'll find out the results of our experiment -- will most of us end up settling for a job that provides either satisfaction or financial security, but not both? Or will enough of us succeed in finding jobs that make us happy and make us money that our kids will take it for granted and find something else to worry about?
My classmates and I were saying the same thing back in the '70s.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?