Escape from the Law

Many of you enjoyed Matt Emerson’s last piece for Patheos, where he looked at Education and the Dubious “Frontier” into which we’re launching ill-prepared students. As a lawyer who chucked it to become a teacher in a Catholic school (where the pay is meager, I am sure) he writes here about how almost no one seems to go into law anymore out of a sense of vocation or calling, and that often leads to being overburdened financially, beset materially and distanced from their faith:

While I am aware of no statistics on this point, Catholics appear no more likely than others to attend law school because they believe it is their vocation to practice law. Neither I nor most of my Catholic friends who joined me at Notre Dame Law School did so. In fact, I went to law school because I was not sure what my vocation was. The practice of law appealed to me, but so did philosophy and the priesthood. I chose law school because I felt that no matter what I was ultimately meant to do, it wouldn’t be a bad option. It was a way to buy time, to experiment, to do something worthwhile without yet making an irreversible commitment.

But that can be an expensive, stressful, and ultimately wasteful way to discern a vocation. If one graduates with significant law school debt (at most private schools, often six figures), one has very few options to change careers until that debt is paid, unless one is willing to live very simply. While law firms generally offer high salaries, many young associates are soon unhappy with the practice of law. In fact, two of my friends from law school, both in gigantic firms in major cities earning well over $100,000 per year, are already looking for an “exit plan.” As one of them told me, “This is not sustainable.” But they cannot leave, because like many other young lawyers they have married, have bought a house, or have assumed other financial liabilities that require a six-figure, or near six-figure, income.

Even worse, some associates seduce themselves into a harmful cycle: they are miserable with the practice of law so they buy increasingly expensive items to compensate for their misery; but because they buy expensive items, they have to remain lawyers to afford them. “If I’m going to be miserable, I might as well drive a Lexus,” so goes the thinking.

It’s a long piece but worth taking the time to read. And perhaps to send around to people you know who are considering stepping onto that hamster wheel.

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