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You seem to self-reflect more than most folks our age--and I think it will make you a happier person in the long run. Most happy people I know tend to be that way because (a) they love the work they do; (b) the don't mind the work they do, and it allows them to find happiness elsewhere; or (c) they hate the work they do, and they quit doing it.


I think you and Jeremy have managed to articulate something that has been nagging at me for some time. It's something that I'll be thinking about for a while. Thanks.

Neo Tokyo Times

While expect that you would buck the suggestion that you’ve “figured it all out,” perhaps you ought to consider writing a book about having “figured it all out.”

My proposed title is In Defense of Happiness, a primer for hesitant ambitions.

Of course, I also expect that you would refrain from any such endeavor, for fear of being accused (by yourself) that you were just trying to validate your life decisions and style.

Anyhow, I’d buy the book.


For some people, like me, it's all very simple: I love my job. And I mean every word of that: I LOVE it, I feel passionate and excited about coming to work each day, and I say this after 4 years of doing this so far.

And I don't hide the fact that I'm a lawyer. I'm quite proud of it, and most of my non-lawyer friends (when they're not making fun of me) are proud of me too. Lawyer jokes and popular surveys aside, I think most people secretly admire lawyers. Most parents, even the ones who mock our profession, would be thrilled to know that their children will grow up to go to law school. And on prime time television each night, you rarely see programs mocking and ridiculing lawyers. You see programs reflecting societal fascination with what we do and the issues we grapple with in our jobs. (Law & Order, The Practice, Century City, Judging Amy, the list goes on). And it's not just a myth that we have exciting jobs. One week, I interviewed, in my office, a couple of very nice police officers who were involved in a high profile pursuit of a dangerous felon who ended up killing an innocent by-stander. I also had to read up on constitutional Free Speech jurisprudence as applied to communications over the Internet. What did YOU do last week, Mr. Non-Lawyer?

I realize it's a love-hate relationship when it comes to society's view of us, but I understand where the "hate" part of it comes from and I just accept it as a part of life. This is a noble profession. Be proud!

John P.

As UCL implies, I think part of the problem is that most lawyers do a *terrible* job of explaining to themselves or anyone else why what we do is important and valuable.


As a lawyer who did not intend to practice by the time he finished law school, I'll through a thought or two in on this one... I think the “I hope you do something better than being a lawyer” comes from a variety of sources; from my viewpoint, it boils down to the fact that I have seen too many of my friends loose themselves in the job of law, not the practice of law. I watched too many of my idealistic, passionate and creative friends evolve, in relatively short order, into these entities who genuinely measured themselves by their work, success, status, etc. I am not, let me be clear, saying that this is necessarily a bad (or good) thing…just that it was a radical shift in “who” they were before “the Firm.”

There are lawyers who maintain balance, perspective and whatever definition of happiness applies…I know a fair number of them. However, as a profession, I think “we” have more people for whom “law” is simply a business and their roll is simply a job, and a hard, long houred one at that. Other professions have “suffered” from this at various times and in various ways. My father is an old school physician, makes house calls, has never in his life taken a patient to court for payment (we have, over the years, received dozens of lobsters, major tree work and various other “bartered” forms of payment) and genuinely would practice medicine for free if he could…he simply loves what he does (though medical history research would probably override the actual practice nowadays). I know a fair number of doctors just like him. I also know a fair number for whom it is just a business…they are the ones that pride themselves in how many “units” they can see during a single office day, etc. The old “practice of medicine” crowd does not hold the “business of medicine” crowd in especially high regard. It is not that one is right and one is wrong…they are, however, very different.

I think the public’s IDEAL of a lawyer is the Clarence Darrow/Morris Dees passionate advocate and who could/does not like that. However, the IDEA of a lawyer is more closely based on the ones the “know” who are, more often than not, overworked, stressed, tense worker bee types striving/struggling to achieve a goal of “success” that isn’t well understood.

My father told me, many years ago, that he did not care what I did with my life…as long as I enjoyed it and was good at it. I will not tell you what I suggested at the time. I have, now that I am old enough to reflect upon it, pretty much followed that advice. I have dabbled in law (during school and immediately after), worked in relatively interesting industries for a bit while learning a great deal. Started and sold a company or two, again in interesting and rapidly changing environments…and selling out when it was no longer “enjoyable.” I have, admittedly, resorted to consulting for a number of years (which is, effectively, practicing a form of business law) as I explored/looked for the next major “engagement.” I am currently developing that, basically turning my obsession for books into a business (an antiquarian bookshop, Lux Mentis). I will be very surprised if I do anything other than books for the rest of my life (a bit of writing does not, of course, count *g*).

In then end, I think a person should do what allows them to wake in the morning and be glad at the prospect of another day. Then again, as E. B. White said, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”


"I think part of the problem is that most lawyers do a *terrible* job of explaining to themselves or anyone else why what we do is important and valuable."

Yeah, that's what I meant to say. ;)

Carolyn Elefant

I think that in law school when people talking about someone being too cool to be a lawyer, they are likely thinking about people who will wind up at law firms, working their way through the ranks in a day to day job, not really working on exciting research projects, just reviewing documents and writing memos on narrow points of law. I'd venture to guess that most students at Harvard (or elsewhere) are not viewing exciting law jobs (like working for the Hague which is what my friend, a Harvard Law grad did for several years) or doing prosecution or criminal defense or being a lawyer for a start up. In other words, I don't think the criticism of lawyers is necessarily the profession itself but rather the anticipated mundanity of a punch-a-clock, bill by the hour work day that most likely, most students' parents had.


Institutional self-loathing. Great phrase. It's funny - I'm a 2L in law school and my fiance will be taking the LSAT this June despite all of my protests and the protests of my law school friends. Why do we all tell her not to do law school? Is it because 1st year is so hellish or because we see so many attorneys who view the job as just that -- and one based on hourly billables. With ijk and UCL as proof - if more lawyers enjoyed their job and were more passionate about it, we wouldn't be so love/hate about the profession.

Maybe so many law students eventually turn into the lawyers who, as ijk said, see the law as just a business because so many of them went to law school with no real goal in mind. So many people matriculate because they have nothing better to do or nothing they're more interested in. (Or because their parents wanted them too -- the bad effect of people respecting lawyers and parents wanting their kids to be lawyers.) This is especially the case with the student body currently attending law school (i.e. many of my classmates) who turned to law school when the economy went sour. I doubt that many of them can find purpose in a profession that was their last resort. I chose to go to law school (straight from college, by the way) because I was a computer-dork and started learning about IP in college and knew that's what I wanted to do for at least some of my life. I love the IP classes I have taken and I am really looking forward to getting some real life experience this summer at a firm. I hope (and expect) that I will love being a lawyer for at least some time since I was attracted to an intellectually stimulating and, to me, fascinating field of law.

In sum, the tools that go to law school just to go to law school probably become tool-lawyers who are lawyers just to be lawyers (since that's what you do when you finish law school). I'm not sure how long I'll be and enjoy being an IP atty, but I really hope that I grow the bal...I mean, courage to venture outside of the firm world either into business ventures (i think ijk mentioned start-ups) or academia or something.


just noticed that ijk has MUCH experience in IP. maybe that's why he's such a happy lawyer!! Best of luck with the venture(s). Any advice for a future IP wannabe?


joe, I'm happy because, for better or worse, I am doing what I want to do (read my soon to be released book, Applied Hedonism: Life is Just Too Short), which is *not* to practice law (I am not even licensed here in Maine, to ensure that I do not inadvertently backslide). It is a struggle, just as it would be were I practicing...but it is a different kind of struggle and one that I, personally, feel is worth it. Advice...you really don't want advice from me, trust me...that said, just go forward with your eyes open and your brain on, make choices in what your professional life will be rather than allow yourself to be drawn, unwitting, into an abyss. That, more than anything else, is what will grant you a life where you wake excited for the day or one where you wake each morn looking forward to the weekend/next holiday.
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
-George Bernard Shaw


just read this and i think it is lovely and so apt. of course, the reason i say that is because i often have the same kind of thoughts: how do people's lives suddenly boil down to being a sheepherder in brazil or a nail technician in boise? i think it is amazing you mentioned distraction the way you did- for so many people, success is about FOCUS and DISCIPLINE and GETTING IT ALL RIGHT. i've often wondered, is it possible to be successful and distracted? i'm also kind of bowled over by the idea that a lawyer would have any feelings or thoughts at all besides terrible, ladder climbing aspirations. maybe i'd better read your friend's post on lawyerly self-loathing- i seem to be practicing up for graduation. anyway, thanks.


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I think Harvard is one of the best universities around the world, and Law school prepares excellent lawyers. I think if a person is studying for be a lawyer is because this person has made the best decision and see him or her in future fighting leagl things.


It is true sometimes people don't know what means to be a doctor or a lawyer psychologist and I guess that is because they believe that everybody do the same things, I think that when you chose a career it's because you want to make a difference and not just to be part of a group.

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