Why Practice Law?
John A. Masterson Welborn Sullivan Meck & Tooley P.C. Casper, Wyoming
If you take an old lawyer joke and apply the results of the Wyoming State Bar's last Quality of Life Survey, it would go like this:
What do you call 100 lawyers in a room? • 57 people who, if they could maintain their financial situation, would leave the practice of law;
• 53 people who don't believe the financial benefit of being a lawyer justifies the personal impact of a legal practice;
• 61 people who believe that the amount of work-related stress in their lives is unhealthy for them.
This edition of your Bar magazine is dedicated to bringing you tales of people who graduated from law school but for various reasons, elected not to pursue a career practicing law. Everyone has a different tale of why he made the decisions he did—not only to go to law school in the first place but also to graduate and not practice.
But why would otherwise intelligent people1 put themselves through three brutal years of class, study and testing and then decide to skip doing what you worked so hard to achieve? Law school is difficult, isn't it? Not only because of the reading, studying and testing, but how about the financial cost? The toll it takes on us, let alone our families and relationships, as we're taught to "think like a lawyer," is painful. Why stop before you've reached the "big payoff?" On the other hand, if you find it's not for you, why not leave?
Anecdotal tales say that at least part of the reason is that the actual office practice of law—transaction, litigation or any combination—is far more than analyzing precedent and engaging in deeply intellectual discussions with members of the judiciary. It's more about marrying your practice: getting and keeping clients, getting paid, paying your bills, counseling clients, recording enough billable hours and, for many in Wyoming, trying to keep an office afloat. Then when we do get our chance to practice law there's the stress of litigation or of transactional negotiations: conflicts with clients and...