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Why Do So Many Young Lawyers Hate Their Jobs?

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. | Last updated on

Why do so many young lawyers hate their jobs? Dissatisfied youths can be seen in a wide variety of legal fields (corporate, personal injury, insurance) and every firm size (BigLaw, small firm). Is there something wrong with Millennials' expectations?

Probably, and aspiring attorneys might need to adjust their expectations to new legal realities. But it might also be the legal profession, not unhappy lawyers, that needs to change as well.

Is the Billable Hour to Blame?

Canadian lawyer Allison Speigel surveyed the world of disaffected young lawyers in the Globe and Mail recently. In a word, she points the finger at the billable hour.

Instead of focusing on the intellectual challenge of grappling with legal uncertainty or the satisfaction of solving a client's problem, too much emphasis, she argues, is placed on the billable hour. This artifact of BigLaw culture puts too much weight on time spent rather than on quality of time.

The billable hour is a popular scapegoat to be sure, but Speigel's article seems a little top heavy with BigLaw concerns. In the comments section, some skeptical readers even pointed out that Speigel is fortunate to be working at her father's law firm and that her mother is a judge. That is to say, her experience is not representative of most young attorneys'.

But despite Speigel's special circumstances, even solos and small firm young attorneys find their jobs dissatisfying. Why is that?

Inflated Expectations, Deflated Economy

A good many lawyers went into law school for the wrong reasons -- and you know exactly what they are. "I'm not good at math, so law school seems like a good idea" is perennial favorite. Another one with particular currency in recent times is "I can't get a job in this economy, so I guess I'll go to law school."

Other reasons are a little less generational. For decades, becoming a lawyer was seen as (and pushed by popular media as) the ticket to the front-seat in life filled with late-night socializing, courtroom drama, exotic locations and, of course, lots of money.

What people failed (and still fail) to realize is that 99 percent of lawyers aren't the main protagonists in television shows. Most lawyers' work is mundane, boring and should be regarded as training. This is probably the way for most engineers, doctors, and accountants too.

Equalization in Supply and Demand Coming

Unfortunately, Millennials really did get it bad because of the much talked about "oversupply" of lawyers. But, boy does that trend seem to be fixing itself. Law school applications are plummeting and schools are watching their brightest prospects turn to degrees in computer programming, rather than careers in law.

Young lawyers are so unhappy for the very same reason so many young doctors, business people, and other professionals hate their jobs: their dreams of being the one percent's one percent haven't come to fruition. Lots of people are in the very same boat. Just talk to the middle-aged guy flipping burgers.

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