For decades – even maybe a century – some professions have persistently been perceived as respectable by society. Doctors, lawyers, accountants: even today, these job titles are associated with safe and stable career paths.
The reality is, while these roles do come with a positive perception from the public, individuals occupying them must cope with a great amount of stress and, most of all, change. As technology and society adapt and evolve through time, these jobs also had to follow suit: a lawyer in the 20th century clearly does not deal with the same issues – or socio-political context – as one from 2020.
In case you don’t know what a solicitor (AKA lawyer), a simple definition is: ‘one whose profession is to conduct lawsuits for clients or to advise as to legal rights and obligations in other matters.’
Let’s zoom in on what it means to a be solicitor in the early 21st century, and what it might look like going forward. If you ever wondered if being a solicitor is a good career, continue reading to get your answer.
Wages and Hours
Pay is still quite lucrative for many lawyers, but the take-home pay really depends on how hard one is willing to work for it, how well you they doing and who they know.
Earnings can be anywhere from $65.8K to $167,110K (base salary) as a newly qualified lawyer in New York. According to a survey by Legal Cheek of 2,500 trainees and junior associates at nearly 100 law firms, some corporate firms average more than 12-hour work days, and these surveyed hours are at their lowest in years.
For individuals who highly value a work-life balance, it will be important to carefully weigh up the pros and cons when choosing a firm. Many view their first few years in private practice as a route to a less time-consuming in-house role. A means to and end.
Lawyers have been held up as valued members of the community since the law was invented – this has not changed in the 21st century. What has changed, however, is the trust level associated to this profession.
In a recent survey conducted by IPSOS Mori, it appears lawyers aren’t perceived as trustworthy: perhaps a consequence of the societal and technology changes we’ve seen in the past decades. We must note, though, that today’s figures are definitely an improvement on previous years.
As discussed in aprevious article, the mental hinterland for lawyers is quite bleak. According to a2019 surveyof 3800 legal professionals by ALM Intelligence:
17.9% had contemplated suicide during their career (double the general population).
32.7% had increased their usage of drugs and alcohol.
10.1% ‘feel’ they have an alcohol problem.
31.2% were depressed.
64% were anxious.
67% said their personal relationships have suffered as a result of being a lawyer.
When asked “Do you think the profession has had a negative effect on your mental health over time?” 74% said yes.
It can be difficult to dig down into why these problems arise; overwork and perfectionism are strong culprits. For budding lawyers it’s important to take care of the little things, like getting enough sleep, exercise and eating well. You won’t be doing you or your boss any favours by ignoring these things.
For employers, it’s important to engage your lawyers with your core strategy so that they aren’t, and don’t feel, siloed. It’s also important to encourage a healthy balance and ensure that your lawyers are sleeping at night; if they’re not, try and find out why.
The robots are taking over, to a degree.
Some perusal and research tasks are being ceded to AI. The real effects of these trends are starting to be felt now, with ‘leaner’ firms with alternative business models popping up everywhere.
The shift to automation means a shift in power towards equity partners. Think of a law firm like a factory and the lawyers as factory workers. The factory workers get replaced with machines, output increases and the factory workers are laid off. The few entry level factory jobs become more competitive and the older factory workers have to find something else to do, or not.
Do you want to do some good?
Many lawyers become lawyers to do some good, and sometimes you really can.
Some outsiders may not understand it but joining your local public defenders or public prosecutors can have some feel-good vibes to it, along with joining a legal aid centre.
Some of the best-known figures in recent history have gone down similar paths, for example Barack Obama was a civil rights lawyer along with the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Of course, you won’t get paid nearly as much as your private practice brethren and sistren and you might have to work really tough hours too. But there is certainly good to be done on many fronts and sometimes you can earn an honest dollar in the process.
Tevia Kretzmer is a compliance and legal consultant at Rutherford, the executive compliance, financial crime, legal and cyber security recruitment specialists.
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