Professor Victoria Vuletich teaches Professional Responsibility at Cooley Law School and is a r egular contributor to the Cooley blog.
This last month a stream of negativity has populated my computer screen. A law grad’s anonymous, blistering rant about how he was scammed by his law school and how law school is a horrible investment. Another from a lawyer who graduated from a top ten school who believes she is a member of a “lost generation” whose career is ruined because she didn’t get hired by a big firm and ended up opening a solo firm where she is having success. Lawyers who believe the market is flooded with too many lawyers. I could go on but won’t.
Though I greatly empathize with the economic situation many grads and lawyers find themselves in, having graduated in a down economy where the phrase: “It’s the economy stupid” meant something significant to many of us, I confess to being puzzled by such long term proclamations so soon in a career. I too dreamed of lots of money and a glamorous life right after graduation but quickly accepted the reality that it takes about six years for the earning power of the J.D. to kick in – in good times. I had a sense of optimism for 7-10-20 years down the road. I also had a belief that money isn’t the only thing that brings satisfaction. Flexibility, the ability to make choices and have control can contribute greatly to one’s satisfaction.
It brought to mind a book that came out in 2010: The Happy Lawyer: Making A Good Life In the Law, written by Nancy Levitt and Douglas Linder. Among their findings: only 27 percent of graduates from top tier schools report being extremely satisfied with their careers as opposed to 43 percent of graduates from fourth tier law schools. One of their assertions as to why graduates from fourth tier schools are happier is because there is not so large a gap between fourth tier grads expectations and reality, as opposed to the expectations of top tier grads.
Wednesday night I taught my first class of the term. One of my students is totally blind. Another is in a wheel chair. Both of these students are happy, engaged, and excited to be studying law. Their zest for life is evident. And this echoes many students and lawyers I have seen who have faced breathtaking challenges in their personal lives that would surely entitle them to a “pass” in the life satisfaction department, yet they are warm, open, happy, generous and optimistic people. I also see creative lawyers retooling their practices for the new marketplace and reaping the benefits of doing so.
2008 was a game changer for most industries. Law is no exception. The legal profession that existed before 2008 will never return. Ever. We can pine away, rant and rave and blame everyone and everything but it won’t change reality. We may not like much of the change (as I don’t, coming of age as a lawyer in the traditional days) but ignoring it or hating it will only hamper us in doing what we need to do to succeed. And more importantly, be satisfied.
One thing I know for sure, how we define our situations dictates our satisfaction leve. We can either choose to view ourselves as members of a lost generation whose careers will be forever hobbled or as people who are smart, resourceful and have the native ability to create our own unique way of working in a world that is now rife with possibilities that didn’t exist before. Or, in my case, I can view myself as a middle aged, tech challenged law professor who hasn’t drafted a contract in twenty years and whose industry is being reformed in significant ways with unknown, anxiety producing personal consequences, or as someone determined to dance with the forces that will no doubt significantly change her long held ideas of what it means to be a law professor and lawyer – and, indeed, herself as a working person in a historical time of profound change.
We are all on an adventure. I am choosing to be satisfied in the face of the unknown, the challenging and the uncertain. Won’t you please join me? I could sure use some good company!