I am not supposed to be posting here. My blog is moving platforms and this post will be lost in the transition. Oh well. There’s a good conversation taking place on line and I wanted to join in.
Today, Scott Greenfield shared his own blast from the past (or if you prefer, his salad days, a la Beefsteak Charlie’s). As Scott describes, even back in his day — which preceded today’s poor economy, rampant unemployment and the demise of biglaw — young lawyers didn’t graduate from law school and waltz their way into a $32,000 job (the then going rate) of their choosing. Instead, like Scott they worked hard and made the best of whatever opportunities came their way for the privilege of practicing law. My younger friends and colleagues, Brian Tannebaum and Mirriam Seddiq now carry on this noble tradition, with little tolerance for lawyers who complain about their lives not working out exactly as planned.
So when did lawyers take on this entitlement mentality? I searched, but couldn’t find precedent. Instead, what I did find, was this little chestnut of a book, Letters to A Young Lawyer by Arthur Merton Harris, circa 1912. (incidentally, the book is so old that the copyright expired and I was able to upload the entire tome to docstoc at the previous link – download it for a faster read). Back in that day, only three percent of law students wound up practicing law! From the book (at p. 47 text, 54 docstoc):
Not all the men who graduate with you will practice law. In fact, I venture to prophesy that ten years from now not more than three percent of your class will be found in active practice. Tom Wilkins told me some interesting things about his class. It appears that lawyers are to be found in almost every kind of activity. One of his classmates was a street car conductor, another was working for three dollars a day as a carpenter, three were bank clears, two had become book agents another was collecting telephone rentals for a public service corporation, and another was keeping in touch, rather remotely, with his profession by becoming a policemen. Less than three percent were actively practicing law. Some few had gone into law offices as clerks and were working for $25 a month and experience.
Of course, at the end of the day, pondering when law became a job rather than profession (as Brian suggests), a routine rather than a risk, doesn’t matter much to those now struggling, who feel they made a huge mistake. I felt the same way when I chose a low paying government job as my first position out of law school instead of taking a job at big law. And yet, as I worked my way out of a decision that I feared was irreparable, I learned a lot about myself in the process, and came to realize years later that life really does offer second chances, if you’re willing to lose both your pride and your vision of what you thought your life would be and put one foot in front of another, slowly first, until you eventually soar. You can read about all of that below — that’s the blast from my past, circa 1988, on the Mac that I bought with the money I earned as a summer associate.