Corporate attorney and Law Firm Suites’ founder, Stephen Furnari, responds to Laurence R. Valle’s letter to the Wall Street Journal editor entitled, Some Reasons Not to Be a Lawyer.
The essence of Mr. Valle’s letter is this: it’s hard work (and expensive) to go to law school, pass a bar exam and then do the work, and that the long hours and resulting familial strain was once rewarded, in part, with the reverence and respect of the community at large. Mr. Valle is, understandably, disheartened by the jokes and caricatures that, to him, render our profession and his life’s work a joke.
Mr. Valle recently retired from the mid-sized, regional law firm Conroy, Simberg, Ganon, Krevans & Abel, P.A., where he continues to hold the title of Of Counsel.
As a content, self-employed attorney who never cared much for other people’s opinions about what I do for a living, I thought I would offer a reply to Mr. Valle’s letter that went beyond the obvious “if you want to be a lawyer for prestige, then you’re doing it for the wrong reason”.
Here are my top four reasons to be a lawyer:
1. We use our brains to solve problems and get paid handsomely to do it. That’s pretty cool.
But beyond the money, it was the first time in my life that I got paid to use my brains, and not my brawn.
Just a few months earlier, and for not nearly as much money, I had been lugging hundreds of 50lb. restaurant trays, each one piled high with plates of prime rib, up two flights of stairs from a 120 degree kitchen to a catering hall ballroom.
Now, I was getting paid to work in the relative luxury of a clean, air conditioned law office, to research interesting areas of the law, and come up with arguments to best advocate for clients. It was a shift in my professional life that I’ll never forget, and one that I’ll always be grateful for.
Sure, as attorneys we work hard. I’ve spent my fair share of overnights in conference rooms trying to get IPOs closed. But our work is not exactly swinging a hammer or digging a ditch in the hot Florida sun.
At the end of the day, we get paid a lot of money to do intellectually stimulating work. Every case is a new puzzle to solve, and that’s a pretty cool way to earn a living.
2. Our profession’s monopoly on a multi-billion dollar industry creates relative job security.
From an admitted attorney’s perspective, it’s a good thing that the barrier to enter the profession is high. Those of us with the credentials to enter a courtroom and sit before the “bar” have a monopoly on a multi-billion dollar industry. Sure, our profession is competitive. Sure, there are a lot of attorneys. But what profession isn’t competitive, or crowded?
Whole swaths of American industry have been shipped overseas or their workforces have been replaced by robots. We’ve seen some of this in the legal profession, but not to the same extent as other professionals.
At the end of the day, if you’ve got your bar card, a bad suit and an ability to communicate in a courtroom by some means, then you’ve got relative job security.
In today’s rapidly changing world of commerce, there’s something to be said for that.
3. Our training affords us limitless professional opportunities.
As lawyers we are trained to rapidly learn new knowledge sets and apply them to different situations in order to produce favorable outcomes. It’s how we learn to craft legal arguments in areas of law in which we’ve had no prior experience.
The thing is, this skillset applies exceptionally well to any other professional endeavor, making lawyers very employable in a number of different professions or practice areas.
The bottom line is, if an attorney is dissatisfied with their practice area (or with being a lawyer in general), the opportunities to make a change are limitless. Given our training, the only thing preventing an attorney from doing so is their own fear – not their ability.
4. We have the privilege of helping other people, often in their most vulnerable time of need, and that’s rewarding.
Sometimes when you are in the thick of the battle, duking it out with contemptuous adversaries in litigation, or have spent too long working for faceless corporate clients, an attorney can lose sight of what our profession is really about: helping others.
Not that long ago, after a decade of corporate practice, I began to lose sight of this myself. It’s easy to do.
If you’re in this boat, my recommendation is to go to your local pro bono legal services clinic and volunteer to take on a case representing someone who is less fortunate than you; even if it means adding another 15 hours to the 3,000 you’re going to work this year anyway.
Chances are, the spiritual benefit you’ll get by helping someone who really needs it will outweigh the financial gain you’ll get from all the other legal work.
It will be a humble reminder of how rewarding our profession can be at it’s best, at least it was for me.
We attorneys are intellectually, and for the most part, financially, privileged people. We are also a generous profession. And we do good things for our community. Despite the critics, I am comfortable with being a lawyer, I am happy with my professional choices, and I wish the same for my colleagues.
And remember, the comedians may joke, but when the get themselves into trouble, it will be our phone numbers that they’ll nervously call for help. When they do, we’ll be there for them.
On behalf of the 100+ happily self-employed attorneys in the NYC shared office space at Law Firm Suites, we thank Mr. Valle for his service our Nation, and for his years of service to our profession.
We wish him happiness and health in his well-earned retirement.