Hey, kids, have I got a deal for you!
Step right up to learn more about the hottest career in America!
You will spend three years in graduate school reading millions of pages of text, ruining your eyesight, and then pass a rigorous multiday exam to get your license. Then you will have to spend several years in a grueling apprenticeship working 80 hours or more each week.
But don’t worry, it gets better.
You will then have the privilege of working 24/7, with no time for vacation or family, for people who see you as a necessary evil at best (and just evil at worst), who will blame you for everything that goes wrong in their lives and who will nickel-and-dime you on your fees every chance they get because they think what you do for a living should be available as a free service on the internet.
You will not be popular with either your clients or fellow professionals. You will have intense competition not only from millions of other professionals in your field but from web-based solutions and outsourcing firms in India and Bangladesh that offer to do what you do for a fraction of the cost (even though they haven’t gone through the rigorous training you have and often do a poor job).
You will be forced to negotiate your fees constantly and will have to insist on being paid up front or else risk not being paid at all for the work you do after it has been done. And if a client does cheat you out of your fee, you can’t talk about it online (or anywhere else) because you have to preserve your client’s confidentiality even if they refuse to pay for your services.
You will make a decent living, enough to send your kids to decent colleges and pay your mortgage, but you will not be rich enough to qualify for “one percenter” status. You are much more likely than other professionals to develop alcohol and drug abuse problems.
You will be subject to hundreds of extremely technical rules of ethics and behavior. Violate even one of these rules and you can lose your license.
There is no scientific basis for the work you do: Much of the advice you will give your client will fall within gray areas, requiring a fair amount of judgment and guesswork and a superior knowledge of human nature.
If you make even a small mistake doing your job, or your client isn’t 100% satisfied with the job you did, your client can sue you for malpractice. If a client sues you and wins, you will probably lose your home because you are not legally allowed to form a corporation or limited liability company to limit your liability. You will have to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year for malpractice insurance, and there is no assurance you will be covered if the you-know-what hits the fan.
Even when you do your job perfectly, you will never get credit for it, and your clients will reward you by telling jokes about your profession at cocktail parties.
In exchange, you will have the privilege of working in one of the most prestigious careers in America.
Yes, boys and girls, you can be … a lawyer!
People have an image of lawyers making tons of money for doing nothing and overcharging clients for shuffling papers and talking on the phone. But, for the vast majority of lawyers in the United States, nothing could be further from the truth.
To put an attorney’s income in perspective, a surgeon with 20 years of experience earns exponentially more than a lawyer with the same number of years, and they both pale in comparison to any of the New York Yankees.
According to a recent U.S. Department of Labor report, the median annual income of all wage-and-salaried attorneys nationally was roughly $127,990 a year; the top 10% of lawyers made about $100,000 more a year than that. Better than working at McDonalds, to be sure, but far from what you need to live in Manhattan, Greenwich or Beverly Hills.
The mediocre attorney who graduates with mediocre grades from a mediocre school will get a mediocre job with a mediocre firm and can expect to make mediocre money. Rarely will they get more than one-third of their billing rate, which seldom is over $100 an hour.
The amount of money an attorney can expect to make depends entirely on location, location, location. Any attorney in New York, regardless of school and grades, is apt to make more money than a small-town lawyer in Iowa, while a counselor with a large firm on Wall Street will make more than a one-man practice in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
So why do it? Because by becoming a lawyer you are hedging your downside risk: Lawyers seldom become rich, but they also seldom starve. Even a small-town solo practitioner with a one-room office above the local funeral home can count on a high-five-figure income.
You also don’t have to cut up dead bodies, deal with blood or other bodily fluids, or have clients die mid-operation.
Cliff Ennico ([email protected]) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series “Money Hunt.” This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. COPYRIGHT 2022 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO
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