In the very late 1990s, I realized that the senior partner in my law firm in Los Angeles would retire in rather short order. Accordingly, I began reading and internet research into just what it was I would do next. This was a process conducted over a couple of years, which worked very well for me, and which ultimately got me and an old friend setting up our own law firm. We've been at it a couple of years now, proven we're a viable business, and I never look back on my decisions. All my research and work on this project directly helped me with all this. I also acquired through immense reading a fair bit of facility on career stuff in general, which is a help to me. I believe that if I ever burn out on law, I'd go get a master's in career counseling, and take that up for a living.
As an attorney, the message boards and job search engines that interested me were, not surprisingly, those concerning law. I found that those boards were filled with kids trying to decide whether to go to law school, or in law school trying to figure out how to get a job.
Law's a funny business, because the range of results is so extreme. In an up economy, a top 10 percent grad of Harvard or Michigan or U Virginia will have an entry level salary in the 125,000 to 150,000 dollar range, while an entry level from Texas Wesleyan school of law will start in the 45,000 range. Both grades and school rank have a direct correlation to entry level salary, to an extent not present in almost any other profession.
At the same time, most of the jobs which pay really high figures are not necessarily ideal jobs, as the larger firms which offer them tend to have firm cultures that are a bit more stressful and rigid than some other jobs. They're fine firms, don't get me wrong--top lawyers, great cases. But they're not for everybody. They certainly never were for me. Many of us work for smaller firms or companies, doing less glamorous but very worthwhile things. On the other hand, a palpable minority of law grads never practice law. This is true of most professions, but the few in law who can't get hired tend to be understandably disaffected, having spent three years of hard work, and then not getting a job. This is relatively rare, and it sometimes is indicative of something besides the job market, and its commmon in a number of other professions, but it exists in law as well.
What I found as I cruised these message boards was that so much misinformation is out there. Internet message careers boards tend to have a high concentration of people who don't know anything but what they read in books (which they tend to then use to pontificate as "experts", notwithstanding being undergrads) or people who, as happens in law, never really latched on to that first career, and now make it a personal mission to denigrate the profession as unworkable.
Now I'm perhaps a poster boy for the notion that one does not have to go to a "top school" or work for a "top firm" to have a fun law practice. One does, instead, have to accept that law is a very demanding profession, that one will have to work one's way up, and that one should either go to a top school or keep student debt as low as possible, as one will spend years "working one's way up". In a few extreme instances, one may even have to go into practice for oneself if the job market is not cooperative. I see law as one of those fields which is not easy but it relatively do-able.
It's MUCH easier to work as a lawyer than as a liberal arts academic or as an artist. It's just a challenge. But you know what? Most careers are a challenge, in one way or another.
Soon I found myself becoming a poster at these law job message boards. At the law and law school message boards at vault.com, I would frequently jump in and tell folks how to break into law for those not gifted enough to go to Harvard or for those whose grads in law school included far too many "Cs". As time went on, I became one of those odd internet phenomenons, a message board "regular". Kids would e mail me for advice on law schools or law careers. Heck, the little vault law e mail newsletter used to quote me and say nice things like "everyone's favorite pontificator".
Then, one day, I signed on the vault board and a slew of rather unfortunate ad hominem attacks had been placed about me on the vault law board. I am a person who argues for a living, so I rather enjoy strident, opinionated people. But these attacks went way beyond the points I was making, and instead did those sort of sophomoric sexual orientation and national origin type of attacks that overgrown children often do. I always think that monitored boards should monitor such off topic vulgar things off (why else is it called a "monitored board"?), so for the first time in my life, I mentioned to the vault.com folks that I was disappointed to see vulgarity standing in what was supposed to be a place with law discussions. The vault folks promptly responded, the problem went away, and by coincidence, they were in the process of eliminating anonymous posting, which helped considerably.
The process was a bit aggravating at the time. The interesting thing was that for all my cautionary tales about really wanting to be a lawyer, the fact was that I encouraged people who could not get into a top 10 law school should nonetheless go to law school. My own view is that it's not an "easy" life, but it can be a worthwhile one, in which one helps people and lives in a tract home with a postage stamp yard in the suburbs.
The folks who criticized me, though, were concerned that I should say "go to a 'top 14' law school or don't waste your time". This viewpoint is not unusual in these days when student debt is such an issue. I never mind dealing with this viewpoint in reasonable debate. But the use of slurs as a substitute for debate irritates me.
Even after vault.com eliminated fully anonymous posting, the problem of ad hominem "trolling" by making ad hominem attacks resumed. (I use 'trolls' to mean folks who say outrageous things to provoke response in virtual settings for some personal satisfaction they derive in making people irritated). One fellow adopted a persona as if he were a graduate of a top school at at top firm (my own guess is that he is neither, and it is all an elaborate satire). One of his hallmarks is to personally attack me as being too optimistic about law. This is fine, but it's the little irritations that go along with it that make is distasteful. He'll state my positions differently than I state them, and he will refer to me as "gargamel" rather than Gurdonark (I believe that Gargamel is a video game or anime character, an infant with many arms, but I am not an aficionado). It's all small-potato stuff, butit irritates me, just a little.
In this vein, I'm a little bugged with myself. I enjoy helping people with career things, and allowing one or two folks with agendae interfere with doing something helpful I enjoy is sad. What does it matter what some virtual stranger posts on a board? What does it matter in particular that the virtual stranger posts bad stuff on a board when its whole point is just to provoke a response? This,though, coupled with my irritation at vault.com at trying to charge a membership fee which is required in order to allow me or anyone else to access my own posts over 60 days old (life is too short to have my message board posts commoditized), has caused me to halt, for a moment, posting on the vault.com boards.
I don't have some grand conclusion here, other than to say that it's intriguing to me how much I "put into" my feelings on wanting to help kids with law stuff, and also how I'm dismayed to find that a stranger or two can post something mean and it actually bother me. It's not like people are never mean to me--heck, I'm a trial lawyer, who has to argue with folks for a living.
Instead, it's something about commitment to the virtual experience, and dismay when people don't share this same commitment to making virtual spaces noble, useful places.
I feel exactly the same way about graffiti taggers who paint signs and trees.