Ed. note: Lat here. This post is by lawyer turned novelist Allison Leotta, whom I previously profiled. I recently read Leotta’s newest book, Discretion, which I highly recommend. Not only is it a gripping thriller, but it’s legally realistic too, reflecting Leotta’s experience as a federal prosecutor and her research into the escort business.
As a former sex-crimes prosecutor who just wrote a novel about the escort business, I keep getting the same question from my Biglaw buddies: “I already feel like a high-end prostitute. Shouldn’t I get paid like one?”
It’s an old saw that lawyers are already prostitutes. Face it, we care deeply for our clients because we’re paid to care about them. If we’re good, we start by convincing ourselves that the side of the legal dispute we more or less randomly ended up on happens to be the right side. You think a hooker’s job is that different? Forget it. The infamous D.C. Madam — an inspiration for my latest book, Discretion (affiliate link) — was a woman who dropped out of law school and opened an escort agency.
You’re good-looking, you like people, you know how to bill by the hour — you could totally do this. But is being a high-class escort really a better job than the one you’ve got now? The answer will be familiar to every memo-writing associate: It depends. Before you go trading in those Christian Louboutins for five-inch-stilettos, check out these side-to-side comparisons of the trades….
Hourly Rate — Advantage, Escort
Maybe you’ve already got the Biglaw $160K starting salary; you’ve joined a wine club, bought some custom suits, and leased your BMW 5 series. You’ve made it, right?
But what are you billing — 2500 hours a year? 3000 in New York? Even at a 2000-hour-a-year “lifestyle” firm, you’re getting paid $80 an hour.
Just like lawyers, prostitutes come in a spectrum of prices. The best escorts can make around $625 an hour: $5,000 a night (split halfsies with her madam), which ends up being about four hours of “work.” Plus tips. Tax free. And the client buys the wine for you.
So let’s assume you’re going to be good at this. At least in terms of dollars per hour, you’ll make more money as an escort. And you’ll have your days mostly free — plenty of time to go to the gym, lunch with your friends, or read Discretion.
Gender Balance — Advantage, Lawyer
I’m referring to “her” for a reason. Sorry, boys, this career path is probably not for you. Sure, there are some male escorts – there’s that guy on Hung, and his one buddy. But if you’re a dude, you’ve got a pretty slim chance of landing this job. Go ahead, sue an escort agency under Title VII. You’re a good lawyer, see how far you get with that.
On the other hand, escort agencies often employ a “tester” — a guy who tries out and reviews potential escorts. I’ve got a tester as a character in Discretion; you can make up your own joke about a job with “benefits.”
Sex — Draw
There’s no contest here: lawyers have much less sex, despite what you see on the Law & Order franchise. But the sex is better. You probably love the person you’re currently having sex with. Or, at least, you feel some meager level of attraction to him or her. He’s not a fat sweaty old guy who has to pay you to whip him, for example. Of if he is, you’re totally into that.
Paths to Advancement — Advantage, Lawyer
Both jobs are going to have good days and bad days. As an escort, a “bad day at work” could be the day you contract a disease, have a “date” with the alleged Craigslist Killer, or get arrested. Still, you’re not likely to serve much time. New York’s “Millionaire Madam” just got off with a slap-on-the-wrist four-month sentence — which can’t be much worse than another case with a million electronic documents to review.
And there’s the short shelf life for top-tier escorts: about six years, from age 20 to 25, until she has to accept a much lower rate or find something else to do. This is about the same timeframe as today’s “path to [non-equity] partner.” There’s no partner track at all for escorts, however; in fact, their compensation goes down the more “experience” they have. If you’re a high-end escort, you’re got two real options: marry a wealthy client, or end up a burned-out drug addict. You’ve mostly got the same two options at a big law firm: get hired as assistant general counsel by a wealthy client, or end up a burned-out lawyer-turned-crime novelist. But a proportion of law firm associates will land secure jobs as law firm partners. If you’re looking for a job to last into your golden years — or even into your thirty-something years — being a lawyer is clearly the better path.
Dispute Resolution –- Advantage, Lawyer
Here, being a lawyer is the hands-down winner. If you hate your firm, you can hang up your own shingle. If you get into a dispute with your employer, you end up in court or arbitration. If your claim is really crazy, the worst that can happen is you end up being lampooned on Above the Law. By contrast, a hooker who tries to leave her pimp and go it alone risks being beaten, raped, or killed. There’s no way to enforce non-complete agreements in the sex trade, so the most popular form of “alternative dispute resolution” is violence.
Don’t be. In the end, lawyering is safer, it’s legal, and you’ll be happier as even the most miserable law-firm associate. Sure, some escorts eventually leave the sex trade and get a real job — the ladies who worked for the D.C. Madam ended up as a secretary at a law firm, a lieutenant commander in the Navy, and a therapist with an Ivy League Ph.D., among other things. But not everybody’s lucky. The D.C. Madam herself ended up convicted of racketeering and committed suicide.
So stick with your day job. Lawyers might not be able to charge as much as escorts, but lawyering triumphs in one of the most important categories: Making Your Mom Proud.
Discretion: A Novel [Amazon (affiliate link)]
Allison Leotta served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., where she specialized in prosecuting sex crimes. She’s a Harvard Law grad and now a full-time novelist. David Baldacci called Discretion a “first-rate thriller.”