This post is part one of a three-part series of guest posts by Larry Law Law, an adviser and tutor to law students who want to get top grades in law school. Larry has worked and interviewed for a wide variety of attorney jobs since graduating from NYU Law School in 2003. After watching my video on whether to go to law school, Larry asked to write more on helping you find the right legal job for you. Welcome, Larry! I hate rom-coms.
(They usually suck as romances and comedies.)
Even still, rom-com tropes can save your life.
Rom-com tropes can help you avoid what may be a terrible job for you, and help you discover one that may be perfect.
But, stepping back a second, why am I talking about romance at all?
Blame Nathan. His video on whether to go to law school (and how to choose a career) made me think. In short, the idea is that you should choose a job (1) that you love (what I’ll call “love”), (2) that pays you (“money”), (3) that you’re good at (“mastery”).
That’s it, the career trifecta. Triad. Threesome. You get it.
So, if you find a job at the Venn diagram intersection of love, money and mastery, it’s a green light: do that.
But what if you don’t find that trifecta?
Nathan covers that, too. Not all of us magically find that perfect job. Sometimes our options involve areas in the Venn diagram where just two circles overlap.
● The “love + money” job: You love it and get paid, but you’re not good yet. There is hope, here because probably, you can get good at the job.
● The “love + mastery” job: You love it and are good at it, but there’s no money. A bit less hope of pursuing this as a career. Maybe if you have money already you can do this job. Or you do this kind of work part-time, as the pro bono part of your practice.
● The “money + mastery” job: You get paid and are good your job, but you don’t love it. Not much hope, here: Nathan, rightly I think, says it is very, very hard to make yourself love something that you don’t.
No easy answers here, but this framework helps clarify your thinking. (You still have to rumble with all this, as Brene Brown would put it.)
So that’s all I want to do -- add more frameworks to make easier your hard job of thinking about your future career.
Many rom-coms involve love triangles, two people vying for the heart of our hero/heroine. One is the wrong choice and one is the right choice. And this is done in stupid, exaggerated fashion.
But these two ideas – one a pitfall, the other an opportunity -- can help you think through the “love” part of Nathan’s legal job equation: The Crush and the Hottie-in-Disguise.
● With The Crush, rom-coms teach us that you beware the job you are so desperate to have: The object of your affection can be your downfall.
● With the Hottie-in-Disguise, rom-coms teach us that love sneaks up on you, and to be open to looking for jobs that may seem boring at first but might be perfect for you.
* * *
Before turning to rom coms and legal jobs, you might be asking, who the hell am I? Why listen to me?
I am Larry Law Law. I teach 0Ls and 1Ls how to Kick the Crap Out Of Law School (that is the real name of my course on teaching students to excel in law school). I blog on law school and legal careers, for myself and at Above the Law and elsewhere.
More relevant to you, I spent 13 years in various legal jobs, falling in and out of career love. I was a district court law clerk, international human rights adviser, court of appeals law clerk, Biglaw litigation associate, and boutique associate. Now I’m a government lawyer (you’ll have to guess where).
During these 13 years, I also I interviewed (unsuccessfully) to be a law professor, plaintiff-side lawyer, World Bank attorney, in-house lawyer for an energy company, in-house lawyer to a tech company, an enforcement lawyer at FINRA (the securities self-regulatory organization), and a legal writer for Practical Law Company.
I’ve been around. And my law school friends run the gamut from insane success (political-level appointees, partners in Biglaw) to barely employed doing document review.
So please, hear me now: I was curious enough to try lots of jobs, and I’ve seen a lot of careers progress. I don’t know everything, but I’ve seen a lot.
So back to rom-coms.
* * *
The Crush normally appears at the beginning of a movie. The Crush is an apparently perfect, pants-meltingly hot stranger. The main character can’t resist The Crush.
Hans in Frozen is a recent, prominent example. (Older references? Christian Bale in American Psycho, the not-Steve-Martin-guy in Roxanne, and probably everyone in the totally confusing and stupid Love, Actually.)
Of course, in the end, The Crush always turns out to be a selfish cad (Hans), psychopathic killer (Christian Bale), sex addict (David Duchovny, actually, apparently), gold digger (Hans again), a Raiders fan . . . you get the idea.
If you knew this in advance, you might have kept The Crush out of your life.
But you didn’t know The Crush was selfish/murderous/horny/greedy/smelly (I am a Raiders fan).
Maybe there were some warning signs.
But you didn’t see them because The Crush was so damned sexy, blood pooled semi-permanently elsewhere in your body, depriving your brain of oxygen.
Your wits left you the moment you needed them the most.
We get, in the romantic context, the idea of The Crush. It has happened to most of us. We idealized someone. We fell in love with the idea of someone, and got hurt by the reality of that someone.
So this happens with jobs as well.
We do this with jobs as well. I did it, and I watch law students do this, too.
When I ask students I work with what they want to do after law school, it is almost always one of three things:
Corporate/transactional law with various levels of specificity - “I wanna go to Wall Street” to “I want to do private equity law and then become the private equity investor myself!”
Litigation, also with various levels of specificity: “I want to be a trial lawyer” to “I want to be an appellate litigator who never dirties his hands with actual trials” (good luck with that).
Public interest law, usually involving international human rights (“I want to be/be with Amal Clooney”) or domestic civil rights.
But I often ask students, do you know what a corporate lawyer/litigator/public interest lawyer actually does day to day? Have you ever spoken to such a lawyer? Know what they actually do day to day?
The answer is usually no.
No I haven’t talked to a corporate lawyer. (But I read all about this amazing firm in Vault or Above the Law.)
No, I don’t know what a litigator actually does. (But I’ve seen “trial work” on TV.)
No, I don’t know what a human rights lawyer does. (But I read that People write-up of Amal Clooney before the European Court of Human Rights.)
(FYI, I remember Amal from law school, and chatted with her at a group lunch years ago. She’s the real deal.).
I can almost hear the catch-phrases floating around in the heads of these students: Front-page deals. Landmark cases and social change, like Brown v. Board and Prop. 9. High-stakes, bet-the-company litigation. Fame and immortality. Travel to exotic. Power and influence. Total world domination. (The last couple are very SPECTRE, no?)
Sounds great, right?
And different though they are from each other, these three job categories (they aren’t even jobs) have in common that they impress non-lawyers, casual friends or family when we tell them What We Want To Be When We Grow Up.
And this is where danger lies.
As Paul Graham (patron saint of entrepreneurs) put it, “Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you'd like to like.”
This to me is the key.
These students don’t actually know what a corporate lawyer, litigator or public interest lawyer actually do.
So what are they doing?
They (as I did many times) fell in love with the idea of a job, not the the actual job (warts and all) itself.
Indeed, the lack of actual knowledge about these jobs enables students to love the idea of corporate law, litigation or public interest work.
It is very hard to see, sometimes, if you love with the idea of a job instead of loving the job itself.
But if you don’t actually know anything about the job, how can you truthfully say you love the job?
You must be in love with the idea of the job only.
(Just as it is hard to see when you are in love with the idea of a person instead of that person with all of his or her flaws.)
Face it: You may be in love with the idea of a job.
You have a Dream Job Crush.
This is okay. Most of us do this. And maybe it can still work out.
But first, don’t fool yourself (and you are, as Richard Feymann tells us, the easiest person to fool).
And you will fool yourself, telling others that you did tons of research on Above the Law, Vault, etc., and telling me they don’t pull punches, tell the truth, blah blah blah.
Here is a single clarifying question that you should be able to answer if you really know a job:
What are three things you hate about your Dream Job, or three reasons why you might grow to hate your Dream Job?
Sorry, every job has problems. A job is work, not an unending orgasm in a tub of chocolate.
Find out what the problems with your Dream Job are, and figure out if you can live with them.
And, to be fair, this is not easy work. And I’ll give you some tips on this below.
It’s nice to feel like you are in love.
But blind love is a huge problem.
I tell you this as someone who was a little bit destroyed by my blind love of Biglaw.
Some days, honestly, I loved the job. It made me feel important. I loved how older attorneys were awed when I told them where I worked. I loved my colleagues (they are friends to this day), and some days I loved the work (they were generous with pro bono).
I loved Biglaw. It did not love me back. I had to leave -- I wasn’t suited to the work. I couldn’t take the constant travel, the long hours, immense pressures, and most of all the intense and crippling humiliation of being screamed at and belittled by the very partner I idolized (the same partner who once mocked my hyperventilating on the phone--itself a response to his screaming).
I had some great moments (a pro bono award, some other cool things), and a lot of terrible ones.
The terrible moments were enough to push me away.
Next time, in Part 2 of 3, I go into the consequences of taking the legal job version of The Crush, and a different way to think about what might be “true love” when it comes to a legal career.
Image credit: estyzesty via freeimages