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Career Change to Law?

Discussion in 'General Chat' started by countdemoney, Aug 19, 2006.

  1. countdemoney

    countdemoney Well-Known Member

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    I have been seriously considering going to law school. I'm mid-thirties, already have one masters degree, and always test well.

    I'm looking to get a sense of my chances at admission and general advice. I am looking to apply in the midwest (WI, MN or IL) or possibly California. Opinions on schools would be appreciated.

    I'm also a little concerned with school debt vs. future pay and if my age will have a negative impact in the hiring market. I'll take any other offers of wisdom too.

    Thanks.
     
  2. coatandthai

    coatandthai Well-Known Member

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    Having a prior career will not impede you in pursuing law or getting hired and it will be a benefit to you because you have some maturity and perspective. It is quite common for lawyers to have had a prior career. If you attend a state school as a resident, the tuition is not too bad. Consider that major firms pay $120k to start and it makes economic sense.

    If you have a technical degree, you will be in demand in intellectual property. If it is liberal arts it will help you with writing. Good luck.
     
  3. javyn

    javyn Well-Known Member

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    Yes, if you have an advanced technical degree, I wouldn't worry much about future pay. You should be well indemnified at a patent firm. Just get used to the idea of long hours....but the work is very satisfiying (at least, it is for me...but I'm just a paralegal).
     
  4. horton

    horton Well-Known Member

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    There is a wide spectrum in the pay scale and lifestyles. So a lot depends on what you want to do as a lawyer.

    If you are seeking the higher paying jobs in the larger firms, you'll need to consider the uncertainties with it -- i.e., partnership elevation etc.

    I would strongly urge trying to talk to as many lawyers as you can from whatever legal areas you are considering (e.g., hang your own shingle to large general practice firm etc.)

    Your prior work experience will not be a negative.
     
  5. javyn

    javyn Well-Known Member

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    let me tell you, family law is where it's at if you want to make the big bucks
     
  6. GreyFlannelMan

    GreyFlannelMan Well-Known Member

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    As horton points out, there is a wide array of law firms and pay. Keep in mind that the average lawyer makes about $60k per year. Of course, the starting salaries at BigLaw get all the ink.

    What do you want to achieve? Are you considering leaving your current profession out of boredom? What are the drivers at play behind your thinking?

    Your previous career will not work against you. Whether it helps will depend upon what you ultimately do.

    Weigh the lost earning potential in your current career with the cost of going to law school and starting over in a new career. Do you have a wife and kids? Think about how being an associate at BigLaw and the hours that come with that will affect them (if that's what you want to do).

    I would posit that your age could play a factor in whether you make partner in a BigLaw firm. You'll be an associate when others in your age bracket are making partner. But of course you could be a stellar associate and wow everyone!

    My advice is to think very carefully about this. Again, without knowing what you'd like to get out of it, it's difficult to give advice.

    Disclosure: I left a BigLaw firm earlier this year after almost 12 years. It was an interesting ride. Know some brilliant people, worked on some interesting cases. But ultimately, I tired of the grind and no longer practice law.

    Hope this helps somewhat....
     
  7. coatandthai

    coatandthai Well-Known Member

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    let me tell you, family law is where it's at if you want to make the big bucks

    Family law? Why? In California, they've made everything formulaeic so that there's not much for the lawyers to dispute. Plus, the clients are so emotional they are constantly griping to the lawyers about everything.
     
  8. countdemoney

    countdemoney Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the responses so far. I do plan to talk to a number of lawyers already starting this coming week.

    My degree is Liberal Arts, but I do have manufacturing experience and have even worked on several patent issues with our corporate attorney. He's also back in town this week and I have a call in to him.

    The pay scale variance is one thing I am curious about. I have heard stories of legal grads making as little as mid-40's in Chicago, but wasn't sure how common that was, or if it was an exaggeration to make a point. I've always known that I would need to finish high in my class to do well coming out.

    There are several law areas I'm curious about - patent, politics, criminal defense (seen too many movies romanticizing it) and customs/import/export.

    Really don't understand the work and lifestyle differences between them (if any). When should I know what I want to focus on? Before starting school, after 1st year?

    thanks again.
     
  9. javyn

    javyn Well-Known Member

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    I was being facetious [​IMG]
     
  10. horton

    horton Well-Known Member

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    Talk to lawyers who you respect or who are in careers/contexts that you think you're interested in. Ask them about the highs and lows and what daily work is like.

    If you test extremely well and can get into a top 20-25 school that will be a big factor in calibrating expectations for future opportunities. If you can get into an elite school all the better. If you can't get into a top school the prospects will change probably dramatically.

    Feel free to pm if you like and I can discuss further.

    Best of luck.
     
  11. countdemoney

    countdemoney Well-Known Member

    Messages:
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    Mar 31, 2005
    Location:
    USSA
    As horton points out, there is a wide array of law firms and pay. Keep in mind that the average lawyer makes about $60k per year. Of course, the starting salaries at BigLaw get all the ink.

    What do you want to achieve? Are you considering leaving your current profession out of boredom? What are the drivers at play behind your thinking?


    Boredom and lack of opportunity are causing the career rethink. Law mostly because everyone I know thinks that I would be a good lawyer. When I ran in a group with a number of then law students, we always got on well intellectually. Several told me then that I should consider the field. I'm very analytical in temperament and generally interested in legal questions. I also have good speaking and presentation skills.


    Your previous career will not work against you. Whether it helps will depend upon what you ultimately do.

    Weigh the lost earning potential in your current career with the cost of going to law school and starting over in a new career. Do you have a wife and kids? Think about how being an associate at BigLaw and the hours that come with that will affect them (if that's what you want to do).

    I would posit that your age could play a factor in whether you make partner in a BigLaw firm. You'll be an associate when others in your age bracket are making partner. But of course you could be a stellar associate and wow everyone!

    My advice is to think very carefully about this. Again, without knowing what you'd like to get out of it, it's difficult to give advice.

    Disclosure: I left a BigLaw firm earlier this year after almost 12 years. It was an interesting ride. Know some brilliant people, worked on some interesting cases. But ultimately, I tired of the grind and no longer practice law.

    Hope this helps somewhat....


    It does help, thank you.
     
  12. coatandthai

    coatandthai Well-Known Member

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    Some lawyers love their career, some hate it. There are many firms that are "old school" with closed minds and people who take themselves very seriously. That would make me miserable but it obviously suits some. These firms do things like insurance defense work or ERISA or real estate. The male partners refer to themselves as "Mr." The women wear serious suits and ruffled white shirts and pearls. Diplomas are framed on the office wall, apparently to remove any doubt about whether the occupant graduated or not. This type of lawyer leads a life of memos to the file, confirming letters, timesheets and conference calls. They must suck up to the managing partner, kiss the client's @ss, and take out their frustrations on associates. You might want to avoid these places as if infected by the plague.
     
  13. otterhound

    otterhound Well-Known Member

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    Make sure you aren't changing careers just because you think the grass is greener on the other side. Lawyers have very high rates of career dissatisfaction. There a lots of lawyers, chasing not enough work. The guys making the big bucks work ridiculously long hours. It ain't glamourous like in the movies.

    Unlike, say a CPA or a dentist, you can't count on repeat business from your clients because they often go years without needing legal help. So you are always in client acquisition mode (unless you work for the government or in-house at a corporation).

    It ain't all it's cracked up to be. Think hard before you switch.
     
  14. bachbeet

    bachbeet Well-Known Member

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    I'm in Bankruptcy and went to law school when I was 40 competing w/ intelligent kids around 25. Hardest academic experience in my life. And, I loved it.

    Very difficult to get a job, though. Finally got consistent work. In BK, I've worked with the world's largest creditor, the IRS, for a BK judge, for Ch 7 trustees, and for other creditors. I now work for debtors and I find it more rewarding helping them in their times of financial woes (and many have other issues that got them there, such as divorce). And, even though the new law is ridiculous, there is more than one way to "skin the cat" that Congress gave us. [​IMG]
     
  15. alflauren

    alflauren Well-Known Member

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    Los Angeles, CA
    Well, since you mentioned Wisconsin (ahem...), I'll note that if you attend law school in my state, you don't have to take the bar upon graduation. [​IMG] If you have any questions about U of Wisconsin, just PM me. I finished there in May, 2004.

    Some lawyers love their career, some hate it. There are many firms that are "old school" with closed minds and people who take themselves very seriously. That would make me miserable but it obviously suits some. These firms do things like insurance defense work or ERISA or real estate. The male partners refer to themselves as "Mr." The women wear serious suits and ruffled white shirts and pearls. Diplomas are framed on the office wall, apparently to remove any doubt about whether the occupant graduated or not. This type of lawyer leads a life of memos to the file, confirming letters, timesheets and conference calls. They must suck up to the managing partner, kiss the client's @ss, and take out their frustrations on associates. You might want to avoid these places as if infected by the plague.

    Hey, do I know you? [​IMG] That sounds like my day. (And, yes, I'm a dissatisfied lawyer, which is why I'll be going back to school...again...next year. Hopefully.)
     
  16. Mr. Checks

    Mr. Checks Well-Known Member

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    For budgeting purposes, you should not plan on making $120,000 a year unless you get into one of the top schools. And not even then.

    Criminal defense attys often start as asst prosecutors, you're talking $35,000-$45,000/yr in the Midwest ( I have no idea about California). On the law firm side, I would say the average starting salary in an average Midwestern city (not Chicago) would be $45-55,000 at a 10-20 atty firm. This week's Lawyers Weekly lists 8 openings, all require 3 years experience (one pays the grand sum of $40,000 to start!).

    In my experience, my age WAS held against me (I was 32) by the top firms. They wanted 25 year-olds without kids. Two recruiters were blunt to the point of stupidity in that regard.

    If I were interviewing you, I'd probe deeply into why you changed careers, what your expectations are, whether you are fully committed to live the associate lifestyle. Few 35-year-olds are. I think that partners would rather manage a bunch of 20-somethings whom they can push around than someone who has been in the workforce for a decade.

    No offense, but your liberal arts background is typical, and there's lots of competition there. In my experience no one will care that you have a masters unless it's in a specialty like nursing, engineering, etc., and then it matters a lot.

    I would do it all over again, but I am the only one in my group of law school friends who would do so.

    Edit: your post made me think of something interesting. At roughly the 10-year point after passing the bar, here's what my group of law school friends earn (some are very accurate, some are educated guesses):

    NLRB lawyer: about 90,000
    Senior associate/litigation defense (slip and fall): 65,000
    Asst State Atty Gen: $70,000
    Deputy court clerk: about 60,000
    Asst prof: $50,000
    Wills and trusts junior partner: about $85,000
    Wills and trust associate: about $60,000
    Business formation junior partner: 85-90,000
    Claims adjuster: maybe 80,000? (he was an adjuster for years before law school and never could get a job at a firm)
    Unsuccessful solo practitioner: $50,000
    Congressional aide: maybe $40,000
    General litigator defense: 55-65,000
    Worked at a 3-person plaintiff's firm, then went into a school administration M.Ed. program.
    Worked at a big firm for a year, then went to journalism school.
    2 of them flunked the bar, and don't practice.
    Maybe 3-4 are full partners at bigger firms, earning over $150,000/year.

    Med Mal defense partner on fast track: 90,000-110,000
    Junior partner/litigation defense (construction): 85-95,000
    Successful solo practitioner, business law: over 200,000

    The last three have worked over 70/hours a week for ten years. They do not see their spouses. They have "parenting time" where daddy takes them to the health club once or twice a month. They work, and work, and work. They also have developed a niche and a client base. I have long since given up trying to be their friends, because they don't do anything except work, talk about work, and vacation in the Carribbean.

    Obviously, I didn't go to Harvard, but I think the above results are typical of what you'd find from an average law school in the Midwest. No one is starving, many have great lifestyles, some do fascinating work, some do boring, mind-numbing work. Some love what they do, others love the money. Tough to generalize.
     
  17. rdawson808

    rdawson808 Well-Known Member

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    This has been a very interesting thread. And it reminded me that back in 1999 I spoke with the man who was then the chair of the admissions committee at NYU Law. He told me outright that my additional education (PhD in Econ) would be a strike AGAINST me in the application process.

    He had a very good reason for this--he said that in his (and the committee's) experience people with advanced degrees end up either at the top of their class or the bottom. At the top because they've learned very well how to learn in general. At the bottom because they learned very well how to learn in a very specific way that is not suitable to law school.

    Further, he said the advanced degree would not help me overcome a mediocre undergraduate gpa (approx 3.0 on a 4-pt scale) from a school that they wouldn't consider "top tier". All those year's later and my slack-ass attitude hits me in the face.

    For what it's worth, I guess...


    bob
     

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