As Amir promised, here’s the first part of my post on why I believe the career/kids tradeoff may be even more daunting for prospective lawyers than for aspiring physicians.
It just so happens that our mutual physician friend, Kilo Mike, has an older sister who’s an attorney with three girls of her own. We’ll call her Bravo Whiskey. I’ll be referring to her throughout my post.
At first glance, it would appear that law requires fewer tradeoffs than medicine.
- Law school is three years after the bachelor’s, compared to four for med school.
- While lawyers have to pass a bar exam (with a couple of rare exceptions I won’t go into here), they are generally not required to have any additional training before being admitted. (Although most states require annual continuing education for attorneys, it’s a condition for keeping a license, not for initial admission.) Physicians, on the other hand, typically have anywhere from three to seven or more years of residency after the MD.
To give these numbers a human face, I’ll compare Bravo and Kilo. Bravo was 22 when she started law school, while Kilo was 23 when she started med school. When Kilo reached age 30, she still had a little more than a year of residency left. When Bravo hit 30, she’d already been licensed to practice law for more than four years.
However, as the cliche goes, the devil is in the details.
Press reports on job prospects for new lawyers have, at least until very recently, generally focused on the high starting salaries for big-firm lawyers in large legal markets. Starting salaries for these attorneys are now up to 160K in some cities. What these reports don’t tell you is this:
- Starting salaries north of 100K, with rare exceptions, are found only in large firms in VERY large markets,
- Most firms that pay such salaries have very high billable hour requirements for their associates. It’s typical for a large firm to demand 2,000 billable hours a year from its associates, and 2,100 or 2,200 is not unheard of.
- Using 2,000 to simplify calculations, that works out to 40 hours a week for 50 weeks, allowing two weeks off. That doesn’t sound too bad, BUT…
- …as an associate, you’ll have required meetings, seminars, and assignments that can’t be billed to a client. Also, it’s quite common for managing partners to make cuts in the hours that their associates report, for a variety of reasons.
- Because of all this, it’s a rule of thumb that an associate has to work at least an hour and a half in order to generate one hour of billable time. Sometimes it can be closer to two hours.
- In turn, this means that a typical big-law associate can expect to work at least a 60-hour week…
- …until the partnership decision is made, or until she decides she wants to get out of the rat race, whichever comes first. These days, firms generally make partnership decisions after seven years, if the associate stays that long.
- Making partner may be the holy grail for a lawyer, but it’s not the end of long hours… not by a long shot. As a partner, you’ll generally have to oversee at least some associates, do your share of rainmaking (bringing in new business), and perform other management duties. You can easily find yourself just as busy as you were when you were an associate.
What all of this means:
If you’re a young woman thinking you’ll establish yourself in a legal career and then have plenty of time to have kids, think again. If you’re 22 when you enter law school, you’re looking at being around 32 before you can make partner… and even then, you probably won’t be able to ratchet down, since your responsibilities on the job will have entered another universe. And there’s no guarantee you can even have kids then. As Amir mentioned in an earlier post, Kilo had her one biological child at 30, and then her fertility went.
And that’s IF you can get a big-law job. If you think the story I just painted for you is bleak, wait until you see Part 2. I’ll tell you what’s going on in the world outside of Big Law. You’ll also find out how Bravo managed to have time for three kids while practicing law.
(Note from Amir: Due to technical/server issues, prior comments on this post have been lost, and I had to re-post it.)