I had always imagined law to be stimulating, interesting, challenging etc. Why the negativity?

.. asks a reader of http://www.legalweek.com;  “I know a lot of people will say, ‘It will depend on what area of law you go into or what type of firm you work for.’ If so, what are the areas of law or types of firm I should avoid? And if it really is that painful – why?”

answer from one lawyer: “This is such a wide question it’s almost impossible to know where to start. Firstly, the legal profession is so diverse that careers in different bits of it can barely be discussed as a single option. Are you thinking of working in a City practice, a high street criminal defence outfit, the public sector, an in-house role, dealing with private clients? You can work out for yourself which of these are the most lucrative, the most challenging in terms of work-life balance, easiest to get into, and which chime most with your personal interests. So do the research and think about it.

Secondly, ignore media portrayals of life in the legal profession and borrow a few textbooks on the type of law that interests you most to learn a bit about it. A lot of legal work is repetitive and process-driven and while interesting things to work on do come along, a lot of it isn’t. Paula Radcliffe is an excellent runner because she combines talent with lots and lots of practice and graft, law is the same. If you want to be an outstanding lawyer you will need to meet the intellectual challenge but also be able to buckle down and do the work as well. You will not be advising on large M&A deals without learning the ropes in data rooms and seminars first or sitting in meetings for hours taking notes. You won’t be defending in murder trials without dealing with Monday morning cell clearouts and bail hearings for a few years. However obvious that seems, the law seems to attract a lot of people who swagger into day 1 of a Training Contract assuming that they are somehow special and will immediately be recognised as that.

Thirdly, consider what your alternatives are. If you were considering giving up an offer of a playing contract with a Premiership football team or a career as a rock star to go into law I’d stop and reconsider. Compare what you would be doing on a daily basis if you worked elsewhere with an informed guess at what a legal career might involve instead.

Lastly, take advice with a pinch of salt. Most lawyers will be quite negative and disillusioned about law, taking the advantages for granted and being only too aware of the downsides. It never surprises me how lawyers will moan about the daily grind to other lawyers but would never dream of changing careers. Yet those same people will often walk into family or social gatherings and happily milk the respect and status afforded to them by others who consider them successful. People like to moan about their jobs just as they do with the weather, taxes, the cost of petrol or anything else that fills a conversational void. I dabbled in IT consultancy and politics before becoming a lawyer; it’s not for everyone but I have made a good living, good friends and enjoy coming in to work most days.

Young Fogey -09 May 2011 | 09:09 on http://www.legalweek.com

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