February 26, 2021 • By Dennis Beaver
If you are in college and about to apply to law school, or have been out in the working world, tired of your job, and considering a legal career, today’s story could help save you from a bad decision, “As there is so much about the law that people just don’t know,” says Los Angeles-based attorney Nicole Kuklok-Waldman.
In addition to practicing law — with a concentration on land use — she helps lawyers, who are unhappy with what they are doing, get out of law and into other fields, “By utilizing what their legal education, skills and experience has given them. In reality, even when attorneys realize that law isn’t for them, they are still lucky for having that legal education.”
She has established an 8 week, “Lucky Lawyer Course” that helps lawyers “looking to transition from law to something else which focuses on mind set: the internal work required to figure out what you want and how to get it.”
During our interview, I was impressed by her understanding of the personality issues and aspects of the legal profession often not seen by so many who apply to law school, and which ultimately lead to great disappointment.
She outlined a number of the realities of law practice, “That television shows and movies do not reveal,” as well as questions you need to ask yourself before applying to law school.
Dinner with the family at 6 p.m.? You must be kidding.
“Unless you work in a governmental agency, don’t expect to be home for dinner with the family very often,” she points out, and explains the reality of how lawyers earn their money.
“You get paid for working billable hours. Administrative time, staff meetings, marketing – none of that is billable time. Most firms require you to bill 2,000 hours a year. That’s 8 billable hours a day, 50 weeks a year. But in reality, to achieve 8 billable hours, lawyers have to put in at least 10 hours a day, often working weekends, major holidays, even Christmas. Also, there is generally no overtime pay.”
Additionally, as I have heard from attorneys and clients over the years, this 2,000 billable hours requirement invites ‘bill padding,’ where far more time is charged than the attorney actually put in.
“If you are an ethical person, this will make you mad at yourself, because it is theft, stealing from your client,” Kuklok-Waldman underscores.
Are You Practicing Law to Please your Parents or Just to Become Rich?
“In families where mom or dad is an attorney — wanting their kids to take over the firm — or when your parents insist that you become a lawyer, the pressure to attend law school can be enormous. But if it isn’t really what you see yourself doing, then you could be walking into a toxic fog.
“The same pressures are often found in families where generations have been physicians.
“If your sole motivation in becoming lawyer is to be rich, realize that the average lawyer’s income is around $84,000 a year. Some make a lot more. But most do not. Also, you might leave law school with student debt well over $300,000.”
Beware of Golden Handcuffs
One of the ways law firms retain employees–who often admit to feeling trapped–is by providing enough financial security so they become unwilling or unable to leave and open their own practice. I have seen so many well-paid, miserable lawyers wearing shiny, golden handcuffs.
‘The perfect recipe for a lawyer to become depressed and a substance abuser is when their expenses are too high to allow career options–such as moving to another firm–or a career change. They want to go somewhere else, to do something else, but can’t afford to leave their present position,” she observes, adding, “and helps to explain the high rate of divorce among lawyers.”
How Happy Will You Be in Sacrificing Your Moral Standards?
Lawyers have the ability to do very good, and, some very bad things when representing clients. “When forced to sacrifice your ethical and moral standards to keep your job and support your family can lead to horrible guilt feelings. This is especially true for insurance defense lawyers who often become conflicted, knowing a claim has merit and should be paid, but are ordered to fight it nevertheless. This immorality haunts so many lawyers.”
Law is not Friendly
Kuklok-Waldman makes it clear that, “If you do not have tolerance for negative personal interaction or criticism, then law is certainly not for you! If you are not comfortable with someone attacking your reputation, intelligence or competence, you will constantly be uncomfortable because that often goes with the territory.”
Concluding our conversation, she offers this advice:
“The education is wonderful, and lends itself to a wide variety of other careers.”
We will explore those career changes in a future story.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.