Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Young Lawyers: What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? (And Can You Repay the Loans?)

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

I have, in the past, expressed some disdain toward the victimology advocated in some quarters over the plight of very highly paid young Big Law lawyers.  The only thing yet that has given me pause to reconsider the fervency of that belief is the troubling and puzzling issue why one would incur up to $100,000 in student loan debt without at least some shot at one of those pricey jobs that would provide the basis for repaying the loan.  Nevertheless, my sense is that the Golden (or at least Silver or Bronze) Handcuffs might well be as effective as the debt in tying one to an unsatisfying career in Big Law, but that's merely reflecting my own experience.  The bigger concern is what happens to people who don't get those kinds of jobs, but incur that kind of debt.

Notwithstanding the economic pressures from whatever source, I think we have to acknowledge, however, some personal accountability for what we want to be when we grow up.  On that score, the February 2008 edition of the ABA Journal, freshly delivered to the mailboxes here in Suite 250, has an Halpern interesting pair of juxtaposed articles.  One is an excerpt from Making Waves and Riding the Currents, the memoir of Charles Halpern (left), who left the relative security of Arnold & Porter in the 60s to found the Center for Law and Social Policy, and later became the first dean of the CUNY School of Law.  The excerpt describes his decision to leave Arnold & Porter and its lifestyle (although, notably, the question of being saddled with debtSusman does not come up).  The other is a description of a week in the life of Stephen Susman (right), the founder partner of Houston's Susman, Godfrey, and a big-time Big Law lawyer (albeit an entrepreneurial one), replete with early morning personal training and dog walking in Central Park, breakfasts with George Soros, benefits, fancy lunches and dinners at posh NYC restaurants, conference calls, and prep sessions for pending hearings in which he will be up against David Boies.

Do these stories reflect the polar extremes of what we want to be when we grow up?  Is the idea of personal autonomy and accountability - that either career is achievable - a myth that collapses in the face of the present economic reality facing most of today's law students?

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