Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Just how hard is it to burst this bubble?

This afternoon, I read a book called "How Lawyers Lose Their Way," by University of Pittsburgh law professors Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado. The best way to describe it is as a literature review of why we should all kill ourselves now, before it's too late. I mean, the sheer amount of stuff that has been written about how terrible the practice of law is, how soul-crushing, how morally depraved, how unfulfilling, how destructive to the spirit, how horrible for mankind, how mentally unsatisfying, how truly evil it is -- how are we still here? How are law schools still in business? You read this book and you start to think that making cigarettes would be a better career choice. I mean, this is awful. I'm going to liberally quote now:

"Counselors report that miserable lawyers come to them in droves with almost identical complaints: I feel like a hamster in a cage. I am dejected and depressed. Life is not worth living." Start the car with the garage door closed? Check.

"Surveys show that about six in seven Americans report being at least moderately satisfied with their jobs... only 37 percent of lawyers." Get out the razor blades and roll up our sleeves? Check.

"Long hours and repetitive tasks... half said they worked at least every other weekend.... As one former practitioner put it, 'Ten percent of a lawyer's soul dies for every 100 billable hours in excess of 1500 per year.'" Lie down in the middle of the highway? Check.

"Chief Justice Rehnquist... said that the system of billable hours treats the associate 'very much as a manufacturer would treat a purchaser of 100 tons of scrap metal: If you use anything less than the 100 tons that you paid for, you simply are not running an efficient business.'" Send yourself down the conveyor belt into that scrap metal machine? Check.

"[R]epetitious, boring nature of the work... mindless discovery of minute facts... not very interesting... grunt work... stagnant... cookie-cutter... no contact with anyone connected with the case... pressure and high stakes... rewards compulsiveness and compulsive personalities...." Plastic bag over the head? Check.

"Asked what they dislike in their colleagues, more than half chose 'obnoxiousness' and almost as many 'conceit' or 'inflexibility.'" Shotgun loaded? Check.

"Unhappiness runs rampant, marital breakup is common, and psychological problems are almost twice as frequent... snap and snipe at each other... dirty tricks... exhausted and stressed out... 'I often don't sleep at all Sunday night'... scant time for anything else in the attorney's life... 'less time for my friends and family'... nervousness, inability to sleep, chest pains, migraine headaches, digestive disorders, and colitis... three times more likely to suffer a miscarriage... dry mouth... stressed and fatigued... depression, appetite loss, trembling hands, ulcers, hypertension, and coronary artery disease... facial twitches, graying hair, paunches, and trembling hands... alcohol abuse... one-third admitted to having driven under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the preceding year... substance abuse nearly thirty times higher than that of the population at large... justifiable paranoia... cold, distant parent who had a number of extramarital affairs... [among law students] 40 percent were seriously depressed... One state study found that 11 percent of lawyers had contemplated suicide at least once a month during the past year." Take the whole bottle of Sominex? Check.

The book also says that small firms are no better than big ones.

And, if you weren't depressed enough, there's a chapter on how doctors are miserable too. So don't even think about medical school.

Now, this book on its own and you'd call it crazy. But there's a whole literature. There's Thane Rosenbaum's brilliant "The Myth of Moral Justice." There's books and law review articles and magazine articles by (Lexis these for more; I'm stealing the list from the endnotes of this book I just quoted from): Walter Bennett (Reviving Ideals in the Legal Profession), Deborah Rhode (Reforming the Legal Profession), Mary Ann Glendon (Crisis in Legal Education), Anthony Kronman (The Lost Lawyer), Andrea Sachs (Many Lawyers are Taking A Hike), Shiela Nielsen, Deborah Arron, Patrick Schlitz, Paul Braverman, Michael Orey, Catherine Crier, Kathleen Hull, Adrienne Drell, Bridget Maloney, Lawrence S. Krieger, Susan Daicoff, David R. Culp, Dale Adams, and more.

So what's up? How is this still reality? Or is all this ridiculous and just making moutains of molehills? Do all careers suck? Is this what there is? Are all of my classmates just fated to a life of gloom?

Pathetic. Smart people are either being stupid or there's a flip side that isn't being written about. You tell me. Is this all just overblown, or are lawyers all idiots to head down these roads?