Harvey Dent was a lawyer who made his own luck. How did that work out for him?

I think one of the biggest differences between Republicans and Democrats (beside, apparently, gun ownership) is that Republicans tend to worry about making the world safe for successful people, while Democrats are a little more worried about making the lives of unsuccessful people not so crushingly terrible. I’m not talking about specific policies, so much as I’m talking about attitudes. In broad strokes, Republicans want people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and Democrats are worried about the people who don’t have any boots.

What I just said above isn’t a new idea, but I think that kind of dichotomy is playing out in responses to the legal job market, somewhat regardless of party affiliation. There is one group of people who are a little more concerned with how a young graduate can make it in these challenging times, and there is another group of people who are more worried about the masses of people who won’t “make it.” Unlike national politics, I don’t think there are obviously right and wrong perspectives on this, I just think that it’s more useful to focus on the structural problems that cause so many to fail, as opposed to the happy circumstances that lead a few to succeed.

It’s not going to surprise anybody that a prominent conservative commentator, Ted Frank, has a different perspective than I do….

Over on Point of Law, Frank wrote a piece today telling recent law grads to stop “whining,” and start going out there and making some opportunities for themselves. After listing some examples from his own personal experience, Frank says this:

Your career ideas don’t have to be my ideas. You went to law school for a reason; find a cause you love, and advocate for it, and, to the extent it’s not entirely crazy, the money will follow; even if it doesn’t, you’ll be happier….

But stop whining. The minute you become a member of the bar, you’re a member of a cartel that permits extraordinary rents. And with 21st-century technology, you don’t need a lot of help to make it out on your own.

Yeah, the problem is that “the reason” most people went to law school was “money.” The “cause” most people signed up for was “risk-averse earning potential.” Frank is essentially telling a group of mercenaries to find a cause they believe in and fight for free for a time, and then the money will come. And it’d be great advice except for that fact that most mercenaries didn’t get into the business for a cause, they’re in it for the cash.

Look, if the majority of young law graduates had the entrepreneurial spirit to start their own thing, they’d have gone to business school, not law school. And recent grads that do have that kind of spirit are out there doing pretty much what Frank suggests. They’re not sitting around waiting for advice, they’re out there making it happen.

And I applaud them.

But for everybody else, for the so-called “whiners,” plotting a course from “I’m a member of a cartel” to “I can charge extraordinary rents” isn’t as easy as it sounds. Not everybody has the skills to start their own business, and it’s not like law school spends a lot of time — or any time whatsoever — teaching and training people in the art of making money with a J.D. Heck, there are hard-working, incredibly intelligent partners at law firms who have no freaking clue how to market themselves or their legal expertise. We call them “service partners,” and they’d probably be working for the hourly rates of an SAT tutor if it weren’t for “rainmakers” with business savvy who know how best to turn talent into money.

Scraping clients together is hard, not everybody knows how to do it, and law schools aren’t teaching people.

It’s easy to give anecdotes about other people who have made it. Some people always make it, and some people are going to fail no matter what you do for them. But in the middle, where most people live, the difference between success and failure is not the difference between whining and doing. If you really want to unleash the power of a generation of recent lawyers, you have to do the things that inspire creativity and entrepreneurship, instead of the things that reduce the flexibility of young people and recent graduates.

You can live in Ted Frank’s world, where people “whine” and “complain” too much, and thus assume that individuals are the architects of their own failure. Or you can live in my world where there are structural and institutional problems which hold people back who desperately want to succeed. Neither viewpoint is mutually exclusive, but I feel like it’s more important to make sure that people aren’t hobbled before we start yelling at them to run faster.

Stop complaining about the legal job market [Point of Law]


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