As regular readers of this column know, my son, Jeremy, took a pass on law school: “I really love you, Dad. But basically you help big companies that did it get off the hook.”

Now, if I mention to physician-friends that my son’s in medical school, those friends often react the same way: “God love him; I hope he enjoys it. But I’d never go to medical school these days. Between the insurance companies, the hospital administrators, and the government, there’s no longer any joy in practicing medicine. It’s hard to treat your patients, and it’s hard to make a living. I suspect that things will only get worse over time. I loved being a doctor, but I sure wouldn’t want to be coming out of medical school today.”

I guess that means that today’s college graduates should think hard before deciding to go to medical school. Cross medicine off the list of desirable career choices.

And everyone in the legal profession knows the story about law . . .

I personally will vouch for the fact that one can enjoy a career in the law. There’s endless variety, smart colleagues, great intellectual challenge, and (at least for litigators) the regular thrill of victory and agony of defeat. The working conditions are a whole lot better than, say, jumping over the side of a Higgins boat at Omaha Beach. As with any job, there’s a reason why they call it “work,” but a person can live a happy and satisfying professional life in the law.

On the other hand, it seems as though everyone is bemoaning the fate of law school graduates these days. Many people graduate from law school buried in debt; there’s an oversupply of young lawyers, so jobs are scarce; many of those lucky enough to land jobs find their work unsatisfying.

It sure doesn’t feel as though that’s likely to change soon. At least ten law schools are cutting the sizes of their incoming classes. It’s hard to imagine that schools would be acting so dramatically if they figured the demand for lawyers would be skyrocketing in a few years. Moreover, law firms face increasing competition (from both technological advances and third party vendors) for routine legal work that once powered the growth of firms.

Does that mean that we must cross law off the list of desirable career choices for recent college graduates?

Law. Medicine. I guess that leaves business.

The thing that actually prompted me to write this column was a conversation I had in the gym this morning with a money manager at a Chicago investment firm: “You’d be nuts to become a money manager these days. An ability to analyze and pick individual stocks used to be worth something. But the world economy has changed. Now the macro economic trends drive everything. If the Fed acts one way, every market (and stock) in the world is up. If something happens in Europe, every market is down. There’s no room left for people like me who used to be able to find attractive stocks and buy them. Everything moves in unison. And everything moves as a result of political choices, not for business reasons, so my ability to analyze businesses isn’t worth anything. People are (intelligently) moving their money into index funds, because stock-picking has become obsolete.”

He went on, ranting about short investment horizons, over-regulation, compressed compensation, and a bunch of other things, prompting me to get off the treadmill early.

Maybe this guy was just having a bad day, or maybe he’s not much of an analyst, or maybe seven-minute miles was too fast a pace to have set. But suppose he’s right? Must we cross business off the list of attractive career options, too?

I hope that this is all short-term self-delusion: “Things are terrible now. Things were better then. Woe is us.” People have felt that way since the beginning of time. Or maybe I’m mistakenly drawing general conclusions from conversations with my contemporaries — people in their fifties who have grown weary and jaded over time. Maybe younger people are more enthusiastic; maybe, as the global economy recovers and some entrepreneur stumbles onto the next new thing, waves of optimism will again sweep across the country (and the world).

I sure hope so. Because it seems okay if one career choice dies: We can do without telegraph operators, and phonograph repairmen, and manufacturers of buggy whips. But it’s quite disheartening when people are complaining that all career choices have seemingly died simultaneously.

With any luck at all, that’s just general malaise. It will pass. That passing won’t be much comfort for recent law school graduates still wallowing in debt and several years behind in their chosen careers. But at least the passing will lift the veil of discomfort that seems to be infecting us all these days.


Mark Herrmann is the Chief Counsel – Litigation and Global Chief Compliance Officer at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law (affiliate link) and Inside Straight: Advice About Lawyering, In-House And Out, That Only The Internet Could Provide. You can reach him by email at [email protected]. at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law (affiliate link) and Inside Straight: Advice About Lawyering, In-House And Out, That Only The Internet Could Provide. You can reach him by email at [email protected].


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