Love is Hate, War is Peace, Boring Law Jobs Are Sexy (and Vice Versa): Falling to Earth and Daniel Pink

sand-heart-1404218This post is part two 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. Note: In Part 1 of this 3 part series, Larry Law Law argues that understanding rom-coms may save your life as a law student. Specifically, rom-coms almost always involve someone who falls in love with The Crush (a sexy stranger who turns out to be a psychopath, cheat, or Raiders fan), and many law students are unfortunately in love with jobs that are the legal career versions of The Crush.

In this post, part 2 of 3 in this series, Larry Law Law explores the consequences of working a law job that is the career version of The Crush, and how to find “true love” in a career.


Last time, in Part 1 of this 3 part series, I said that you -- yes, YOU, the would-be law student -- might have what I call a Dream Job Crush.

This is: You might have fallen head-over-heels in love with an apparently sexy job that, in reality, you know nothing about.

This time, I’m here to talk to you about two things: (1) why your Dream Job Crush may be a problem and (2) how to find “true love” in your work (according to Daniel Pink).

* * *

Falling from Cloud 9

So what if you start a legal Dream Job and end up not liking it?

Well, the gap between the idea and reality of a Dream Job is a huge fall to earth.

And there are real, serious, not-f***ng-around consequences to this fall.

Many lawyers are unhappy.

Not all of them are unhappy because they over-idealized a job.

But many are.

I would argue that law is one of the most widely misunderstood professions that people generally think they know well (because they’ve seen a million lawyers on TV or in the movies).

And based on mistaken ideas about law, people go to law school, arrive at a job -- even a Dream Job -- and find that reality is very, very different and, in many cases, not fun.

You really have to grapple with these statistics about attorney job happiness (or un-happiness, as it were):

(In the mean time, why so many law students become disappointed and depressed lawyers is well covered by my old therapist, Will Meyerhofer (a former Biglaw attorney himself who does a lot of cognitive therapy for law students and lawyers).

But I think the huge gap between dreaming expectations and harsh reality explain these statistics for many young lawyers.

You might read these numbers and think, they must be talking about someone else.

But please, consider: those unhappy lawyers are not someone else.

They could be you. These numbers could be about you.

So what do you do? How do you find work that you truly love?

* * *

Love, Work and Daniel Pink

A couple years ago, Daniel Pink published Drive, on what motivates people at work (a super fast illustrated summary here).

In short, he offers another triad, one that can complement Nathan’s. To be motivated, employees need autonomy, mastery and purpose.

  • Autonomy is being given the power to work on things when you want to or how you want to.
  • Mastery – as he defines it -- is being given sufficiently challenging work - not too easy such that we are bored, but not so hard that we are overwhelmed.
  • Purpose is connecting your work to a cause that is larger than just yourself.

Viewed with this new way of viewing motivation -- let’s call this love -- we can see the problem with certain “sexy” law jobs. They lack one or more of these “Pink” factors:

Transactional/corporate law. Not much autonomy: I mean, partners have no control over their lives. Their billionaire or banker clients bark “jump,” and partners not only ask “how high,” but run to strap on a jetpack and do this. For associates, it’s worse. You jump to the tune of clients and partners.

Mastery can be tough. With fast-moving complicated transactions, it is hard to give associates work that is not too difficult under the time pressure or too boring (“Go put these docs in manila file folders in the due diligence room”).

As for purpose, you have to find meaning through clients. Maybe if your work facilitates their important work (say, Tesla or SpaceX), great. But if your work only makes your clients more money, you might get bored or sad working for clients on Wall Street, Big Oil, and company that abandoned their old motto “Don’t Be Evil.”

Litigation. Biglaw litigation generally means having the same clients as in Biglaw transactional/corporate work. But purpose can be worse: in litigation, usually, something bad happened, and you defend a client that, say, poisoned 3,000 people, or committed fraud by rigging 500,000 cars to evade emissions. Maybe, as I did, you do pro bono to feel better about your job -- but the rest of the time, you still have to help the poisoner or fraudsters.

Not much autonomy, because you become a slave to the case deadlines, unreasonable partner-created deadlines, and the work created by your opponent you must respond to.

You may get mastery here – in litigation you can get as much responsibility as you can handle, but they won’t train you (there is no safety net or feedback if you screw up. Someone else fixes your mess and you get a bad review later). Or you get unlucky and get crappy work at the beginning and are not given anything interesting for years.

Human Rights or Civil RightsPurpose is why you want to work in public interest: your organization is saving the world!   You may feel different after your 10th human rights briefs results in no change (the people of Venezuela are no better off for all my advocacy). For me, “I’m saving the world!” became “Others pat me on the back for saving the world, but really I’m not.”

There may be autonomy in how you work, but not in what you work on. You may have issues you care about, but once you join an organization, you work on the issues the founder cares about. (And public interest firms are usually dictatorships -- democracy is a great thing to advocate for other countries, but not an organizing principle for human groups).

Mastery may be tough if your office -- like all of the human rights places I worked -- is allergic to being organized. (And, going back to Nathan’s triad for a sec, money can be a problem.)

So there is that.

All this begs the question, what law jobs -- very specifically -- might actually involve “true” love?

Next time, in Part 3 of 3, I discuss Hottie-In-Disguise Jobs and True Love.

Larry Law Law teaches law students to kick the crap out of law school and writes about law school, legal careers and legal creativity. Visit him here or write him here.

Image credit: estyzesty via freeimages