Lawyers: Would You Encourage Your Children to Become Lawyers?

My son is graduating college this spring, and he will then start work at a law firm in New York as a paralegal, to give him an opportunity to see law in action and decide whether he wants to apply to law school. My wife and I have been aggressively neutral as far as trying to shape our children’s career choices. We’ve been careful not to push them into law, but we’re not discouraging it either.

Should Aspiring Lawyers Take Career Advice from Older Lawyers?

In talking to other parents over the years, some are neutral like me, but a significant number who are themselves lawyers say they strongly discourage their children from entering the law. I can’t think of anyone I know at the other extreme, who affirmatively try to push their children into a legal career, which is a contrast to the more intrusive parental approach of many years ago. (Though I should point out that when I was growing up, my trial lawyer father and novelist mother took a neutral and supportive role as I now have.)

Could the more discouraging approach that current parents take be a result of a career in law becoming, somehow, less desirable than it was back in the day? For a contemporary guide to what to expect from a legal career, take this recent list of 17 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Lawyer, from Cosmopolitan magazine. What struck me on looking through it is that almost everything here could have been written years ago (in paper Cosmo, I guess). Number 11, saying that technology means that you’ll have to be on duty outside of normal business hours, wouldn’t have appeared in an older, pre-smartphone career guide, but during those supposedly good old days, if you were busy on a matter, you’d just need to stay late in the office. Number 15 references large amounts of student loan debt, which is more of a factor than it was years ago, to be sure.

But overall, the essence of what it is to be a lawyer, and the pros and cons of doing so, haven’t changed over the years. It can certainly be stressful and often boring, but all jobs can be boring (hey, I’m sure it’s not fun if you’re a rock star doing your 57th take at a recording session). It’s generally a well-compensated job – the Cosmo guide quotes a lawyer saying that most lawyers earn a “solid middle-class income,” which really stretches the definition of “middle-class,” since the average salary of an attorney in the U.S. is more than triple the average salary of a general worker (about $162,000 vs. $51,000). And jokes about ambulance chasing aside, it’s a high-status, respected profession. So, if you have the right skills (detail-oriented, willing and able to read and comprehend dense text, good writer and/or oral advocate) and the right personality (even-keeled in tense situations), and you want to do it, by all means go for it.