Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Way Worse Than Being A Dentist, is available on Amazon, as is his previous book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy (affiliate links).
You’re different. You disdain the crass blandishments of Biglaw. You have a soul. Let the giant firms seduce your naïve classmates with their shameless wheedling. You’re made of sterner stuff.
Your ultimate goal? Something better. A place where you might actually do good. Few lawyers receive that opportunity. Many, exposed to goodness, would burst into flames.
That’s why you’re taking the high road, escaping the pervasive cynicism and greed. You’ve got your sights set on a not-for-profit institution, dedicated to the promise of a better tomorrow.
Will it work? Can a lawyer escape pervasive cynicism and greed?
Let’s talk about the the not-for-profit track — its ups, downs, and in-betweens.
Right off the bat, we have to discuss salary. I know — you want to escape all that — the obsession with filthy lucre. But there’s a stark reality you must grasp before reporting for duty at a not-for-profit: You will earn bupkis.
Maybe that’s okay with you — like Hebrew National, you report to a higher authority. On the other hand, if — like most young lawyers — you’re sitting on a zillion dollars in bankruptcy-proof loans, an extended period of earning zilch could prove… inconvenient.
This aforesaid stark reality also explains one of the dirty little secrets of the not-for-profit world: It’s a magnet for rich kids. If Mom and Dad have already paid off the $200k you blew on an undergraduate degree and law school, then bought you the cutest little one-bedroom in Chelsea, and a brand new Prius… well, the logical next step is to save the world. It’ll be fun!
Not-for-profits are bursting at the seams with eager-beaver trust-afarians — and it doesn’t stop there. Sometimes Mom and Dad (and their friends) sit on the board. Sometimes the charismatic founder and executive director is a grinning, twenty-something, former college lacrosse star, just back from Burning Man. You can’t hold it against him if he wants to donate a snippet of grandaddy’s Styrofoam factory fortune to making the world a better place. But his white-boy dread locks and penchant for calling you “bro” in the hallway make you wince.