ABA Journal


U.S. Supreme Court

Sotomayor: Lawyering is a gift, and unhappy lawyers should ‘go back to square one’

Jan 23, 2013, 02:32 pm CST



By MTC on 2013 01 23, 2:59 pm CST

That's right, just go back to sqaure one and be an artist or teacher or doctor or.... I'm sure those loan companies will be fine not getting paid for a while. For all we say that being an attorney is not indentured servitude when the topic of mandatory pro-bono comes up, in reality most attorneys do not have the option to stop as they are way underwater in student loans. Where is TARP for student loans? We could make it a percentage of the value of the degree... And the income-based repayment is not an option as things stand now because the forgiven part would be taxed as income as discharged debt.

Very true, MTC, life must be nice in a bubble!

By Loans, Schmoans on 2013 01 23, 4:01 pm CST

Who paid for her law school tuition? How much student debt did she have when she graduated? What then was the ratio of lawyers to laypersons in the USA, and what is it today?

By AndytheLawyer on 2013 01 23, 5:03 pm CST

@2 I read her advice to mean "go back to square one of lawyering, reexamine your pathways and motivations, try to renew the enthusiasm you once had, and pick a new outlet for your skills if necessary."
Even if she did mean "86 lawyering and become a circus performer," so what? When you take out loans, you're accepting the risk that you may not do what the loans are paying for forever. Life is too short to trick yourself into thinking you don't have exits, and continue doing something that drains your spirit. We all make choices that have consequences, and most of life involves a trade-off of some kind. Sounds like you would rather have people wah-wah their way through a shitty existence than have them take control of the choices that determine their happiness. Not to mention...the forgiven part of a loan wouldn't be taxed as income until the 25 year period ended, so there should be time for many people to take advantage of that. And if they are so close to the forgiveness period that the tax consequences would be immediate, they shouldn't be too concerned about the state of their student loan debt to begin with.

By SkepticsEye on 2013 01 23, 5:19 pm CST

Good lord. Unhappy lawyers - particularly new ones - can't just go back to square one. That implies that they are at square two or square ten or some other Square Positive Integer. They aren't. They are at Square - $150,000 to square $300,000. Square one is AHEAD of them, and probably forever out of reach.

See also: UW-Madison Law School grad turned UW janitor allegedly tries to rob credit union to pay his $250,000 in student loans,

By Unemployed Northeastern on 2013 01 23, 5:34 pm CST

I'm a lawyer who loves being a lawyer, with almost 25 years experience, but who can't find a job. I've sent out literally hundreds of resumes, with little response. I'd go back to square 1 but I'm 'overqualified and too good' at what I do. I try to go to my lateral square 10 but there are so many of us, especially middle aged women, that no one's interested. I'm very disappointed in Justice Sotomayor's comments. They smack of ivory tower ignorance of what's going on in the real world. I would say that those who are fortunate to have a job lawyering should quit complaining, find something to like about it and be grateful they are gainfully employed and don't have to worry every second of every day about how to pay the rent or feed their kids. That being said, if they hate it that much, they should leave the profession to those of us who would be thrilled to work again.

By Leslie Cole on 2013 01 23, 6:20 pm CST

Thank you Justice Sotomayor! Can’t wait to read your book, you are such an inspiration!

Don’t blame the profession for your student loans. You should have gone to a less expensive law school, or gone part-time and worked, the pay-as-you-go model.

Have experience and can’t get a job? Hang a shingle, solo or with colleagues.

We should thank Justice Sotomayor for sharing her wisdom.

By Thank you Justice Sotomayor! on 2013 01 23, 6:45 pm CST

I'm sure that if I made the salary that Justice Sotomayor did and eventually became a Supreme Court Justice, that I would like being a lawyer too!

And lawyering isn't a 'gift.' Last time I checked, a gift was something someone gave you and that was for free. Instead, I had to pay about $150,000 for this wonderful gift (not to mention another $150,000 for opportunity costs), for which I have gone into debt, plus do a couple of unpaid internships, all of which have netted me no job and massive debt. If those at the pinnacle hope for lawyers to view lawyering as a gift, maybe they shouldn't charge so much for it?

By An Expensive Gift for Sure on 2013 01 23, 7:02 pm CST


Let's take this back to Justice Sotomayor. She went to Princeton for undergrad, which costs about $55,000 per year these days. Then to Yale Law School, which costs about $80,000 per year. So, that's an education with a current sticker price of $460,000, excluding year-to-year tuition increases and tens of thousands of dollars of interest accumulated while acquiring that education, not to mention many tens of thousands of additional dollars thrown after graduation at the principalizing interest.

But of course, if she had *only* attended, say, Rutgers for undergrad and UCONN for law school, she would have paid a lot less money. There is also not a chance in hell that she would be sitting on the USSC, and she may or may have ended up in the lamentable position of Leslie Cole on comment six. But let's not allow reality to intrude, right?

By Unemployed Northeastern on 2013 01 23, 7:05 pm CST

Very interesting comments. Yes, my position is 'lamentable.' However, I am most unfortunately not alone and I am more than eager to work as a lawyer. As for the remark about hanging my shingle solo or with a partner, I've done that. Question: have you done it lately? Do you know how much it costs to do so out of Mayberry and how to feed a family in the meantime? BTW, I (gasp!) have attempted to do other work while I pounded every inch of pavement. I'm not really complaining here, just noting that there seem to be alot of people not hit by the crunch who love to give unhelpful advice. If you want to be helpful, then check it out yourself first, try to hang your own shingle or partner with someone so you can walk a couple of inches in my shoes and, do you know of someone who needs a sharp, talented, enthusiastic, experienced attorney?

By Leslie Cole on 2013 01 23, 7:29 pm CST

What a wise Latina!

By Marc on 2013 01 23, 7:37 pm CST

She is so far out of touch, she is sitting on Mars, she has no idea what it's like for these young lawyers (and older ones too) and $150,000-200,000 in non-dischargeble debt hanging over their heads. Just trying to make things sound good, and she is a propaganda spouter!!!!

By Charlie on 2013 01 23, 7:57 pm CST

There are only 9 seats at the top, which leaves a lot of room for disappointment. Instead of complaining that you are not as happy as Justice Sotomayor, be thankful you are one of the million or so lawyers in America, and not like the rest of us trying to scratch out a living, some with little or no education, no money, no marketable skills, disabled with physical and mental impairments, no family, etc.

There is currently a pro se petition for writ of certiorari on the Supreme Court docket that needs representation, No. 12-7747, about the need for better regulation of the legal profession.

That might be a break for some lawyer, and a chance to interact with Justice Sotomayor too.

By petitioner on 2013 01 23, 8:50 pm CST

In all honesty, I would say a vast majority of us in the legal field could care less what her view is on any subject unless it pertains to a case we are working on. SC Justices are no better than any other lawyer.

By tim17 on 2013 01 23, 9:16 pm CST


"e thankful you are one of the million or so lawyers in America, and not like the rest of us trying to scratch out a living, some with little or no education, no money, no marketable skills, disabled with physical and mental impairments, no family, etc."

I didn't know, petitioner, that lawyers were immune from suffering from the things that you describe. Given that as a lawyer, I am currently unemployed and at my last job, I made $13,000 a year, I am a little surprised that you somehow think that as a lawyer, I must not know what it is like trying to scratch out a living with no money, no marketable skills, no family, etc. My response to YOU:

YOU be thankful that you are not one of the million or so lawyers in America, who must try to scratch out a living (just like you have to) with a worthless education that will no longer get you hired, no money (just like you), no marketable skills that someone will hire you for (just like half of America), no family, etc., but being charged $150,000 in non-dischargeable student loans for this wonderful 'pleasure.'

In short, petitioner, lawyers share the same struggles that YOU have, but we have the added burden of $150,000 of debt for an education that resulted in us having less opportunities than before law school. Since law school, I have seen no improvement in my financial situation and am just struggling to live on $600 a month unemployment checks, just like any other unemployed chump.

I will say this again. If the elites of this 'profession' wish for lawyers to be more grateful for the wonderful 'opportunities' they have been 'given,' then they should actually give us a chance to have those wonderful opportunities. Entering the profession today is no gift - it is a guarantee of debt, a low-paying retail job (if one's lucky to be employed), and nothing more. Someone working in retail to make ends meet with $150,000 in non-dischargeable student loan debt that has to be paid back shouldn't be any more grateful for the wonderful gift they have than the Wal-Mart employee working alongside them for the same wage. Not everyone, Justice Sotomayor, has had the privileges you have experienced and for which you are advocating gratitude. It would help if the world would begin to see that.

By An Expensive Gift for Sure on 2013 01 23, 9:30 pm CST

The amount of negativity and unhappiness I see among lawyers is incredibly annoying. I don't have to be seeing things from the same vantage point to be able to agree with Sotomayor. I agree with her. My parents were broke, and are still broke. I came from nothing, and I have lots of loans and a job that doesn't pay much, but I enjoy it. My career is more challenging and comes with greater responsibility and more interesting problems to solve than it did when I was making a living solely off my bachelor's degree. I feel lucky to be where I'm at, and i am happy. I see a lot of people that got into the legal profession for god knows what reason, but they seemed to come from privilege and it seems to take a LOT to make them happy. A whole hell of a lot. It's sad.

I also went to a fourth tier school and worked full time at a law firm the entire time. All my first tier cohorts cautioned me that I would not get a decent job, and they'd get a glimmer in their eye talking about their destined future positions at big law. Now I am employed in a legal job i enjoy and they're either not in legal work, doing contract work, searching for jobs, etc., and complaining about their giant student loans that far exceed mine since they went full time. There are so many ungrateful brats looking for a quick buck in law, many seeming to seek it out as a sure-fire way them to perpetuate the lifestyles their well to do parents afforded them as children. This article is a bunch of those people bitterly deriding someone for being * gasp * POSITIVE. lame...

By Ann on 2013 01 23, 9:49 pm CST

“ . . . being a lawyer is one of the best jobs in the whole wide world.”

Holy smokes. What mature, moderately well educated adult actually talks ever like that? My seven year talks about this thing or that being the best "in the whole wide world."

The O Magazine article consists of a series of glib observations and well worn clichés. Definitely written for the Low Information Citizen.

By Yankee on 2013 01 23, 10:02 pm CST

re#15: Your experience is the exception, for which I am sorry.

Lawyers in America make an average salary of $130,490.

Ordinary Americans make an average salary of $30,000-$40,000, although many earn much less.

Contrary to the poplar myth, all men and women are not created equal, and most Americans were not born with the intelligence to graduate law school (or any other grad school)

Above the Law claims Lawyers Rank Near the Top for Best-Paid Careers in America

"According to the Bottom Line blog of MSNBC, lawyers were number five on the list with an average salary of $130,490, coming in behind petroleum engineers (average salary of $138,980), chief executive officers (average salary of $176,550), orthodontists and dentists (average salary ranging from $161,750 to $204,670), and doctors and surgeons (average salary ranging from $168,650 to $234,950). Here’s the full list:"

I hope things pick up for you.

By petitioner on 2013 01 23, 10:06 pm CST

Bill Maher take note -- It's not just conservatives who live in information bubbles.

By AndytheLawyer on 2013 01 23, 10:52 pm CST

Petitioner, the average salary is heavily skewed by a small minority of attorneys earning six figures in Biglaw. Most attorneys I know make between $40k-$50k a year. Some of them do much better than that after they have been in their career for a while.

The profession isn't all bad. If you take the crushing debt out of the equation it is a pretty sweet gig. Full disclosure: I don't have crushing debt. So maybe I am not qualified to impart wisdom on this subject.

By Island Attorney on 2013 01 23, 10:54 pm CST

Aw, she shouldn't be afraid to have a little fun. Even Scalia wears a silly hat from time to time.

By B. McLeod on 2013 01 24, 12:16 am CST


Just so you know, that $130,000 figure you quote is for people who actually find work as attorneys and, as Island Attorney says, gets skewed by a few higher earning attorneys. Given that NALP currently reports that only 55% of all current legal grads are lucky enough to find work as attorneys, that figure doesn’t apply to the 45% of us unable to find employment as attorneys.

What happens to the other 45% not covered by the figure you quote? You will be surprised by this, but my situation is far from unique – in fact, it is quite common amongst my fellow graduates. Of the grads I know, only 30% found paid work as attorneys. 20% ended up volunteering or interning for free. The remaining 50% often worked in low-paid, retail, type jobs, although I am sure there is probably one or two successful ones in the bunch. One grad I knew could be found working at Home Depot after passing the bar. Another worked as a security guard. Another worked in the school’s computer lab for $8.50 an hour. Another worked at the front desk for less than $10 an hour. Another worked as an attorney but only earned about $600 a month because the attorney he worked for said that as a new graduate, his work wasn’t worth much more. I only point all this out because for the average attorney (especially new ones) our lives are far from the life of prestige and power that Justice Sotomayor lives. It’s a nice illusion, but an untrue one for most of us.

Thank-you for your wishes that things get better personally for me.

By An Expensive Gift for Sure on 2013 01 24, 12:18 am CST

I wouldn't be too hard against her advice. I'm an ABA Member in good standing. I too am fed up with the locals yokels who've sought to over the years allow their buds into the exclusive club they made up and have discredited everyone else. My law mentor with 53 years of practice and 76 jury trials told me he would not pick law as a career today. I pro bono all of it. On the outs with the ins entails I be very patient with every action because I'm going to get jerked from the clerks office all of the way to fed hearings. It's not fun for me, but the poor cannot afford a lawyer on the inside so we say every move and push ahead is a minor victory in every application. It's the only reward these days.

By Tim Siekawitch on 2013 01 24, 8:06 am CST

22: You raise important issues that deserve more attention than this forum can provide.

The practice of law, as a monopoly in restraint of trade, has a number of structural problems, which apparently affects not only the consumers of legal and court services as argued in my petition, but those practitioners who are outsiders.

The ABA McKay Report recommended eliminating local discipline components which favor insiders and "foster cronyism as well as prejudice against unpopular respondents".

Goldfarb v. Virginia State Bar, 421 U.S. 773 (1975) held lawyers engage in "trade or commerce" and hence ended the legal profession's exemption from antitrust laws.

There are a number of ways to address the issues raised here, The Commerce Clause, Sherman and Clayton Antitrust Acts, Section 5, Federal Trade Commission Act, the Hobbs Act, and RICO.

Supreme Cout Rule 37 provides for amicus briefs.

Now is the time to improve the profession. If not now, when?

By petitioner on 2013 01 24, 1:42 pm CST

Who appointed Sotomayor for a permanent seat as "life coach"? It seems, In her mind, she's the most important (and wise) person she's ever met. Those with true wisdom usually do not have to tell others how wise they are.

Fawning @ 7 must be one of her law clerks. Thanks for the fact check of UN @ 9 and the reality check of Yankee @ 17. McLeod @ 21, the only folks I know who don't go out are those with whom no one wants to go.

Sotomayor's public comments, indeed her very interview with Oprah, who we know is going through a round of interviewing frauds (e.g., Armstrong), again demonstrate Sotomayor continues to be the most narcicistic Justice in modern history. Oops, it's just my inabilty to see any wisdom whatsoever in her publicly-started views. If she went out in the real world where she might have to face it: she's not as "special" and wise as she seems to think.

By Realist on 2013 01 24, 4:15 pm CST

The quote apparently is "being involved in the profession" is a gift, not merely being a lawyer.

Maybe "gift" was the wrong word -- I think she meant, gift int he sense of extraordinary privilege and opportunity.

I do often feel that way over the years -- setting aside money issues, where there have been some bad and good years.

It often feels like an extraordinary privilege and opportunity to be able to be involved int he profession. I mean, i like making a living -- but separate and apart form that, I really do feel that it is special to get to do what i do.

not that i'm so special, just, well, it's a really cool line of work..

By defensive lawyer on 2013 01 25, 12:51 am CST

ok, now, maybe this is going to sound sappy and worse than the Supreme Court Justice, but I feel like I was destined to be a lawyer and that this is my purpose on earth. It's not just the money. My first job out of school in the mid-90's paid 28k a year. and they weren't all that much better than that...but after a decade things started to get better financially, and even if they ahdn't gotten much better, I'd still rate job satisfaction as about a 9 plus. overall life satsifaction--that is, feeling like I am doing what i should be doing. Very close to a 10.

but, I agree with earlier posters. if I had never been able to work, i wouldn't have an job satsifaction, and probabyl would be bummed out about the 95,000 i borrowed back int he early 90's....

By defensive lawyer on 2013 01 25, 1:06 am CST

Being a lawyer was great until the Supreme Court got stuffed with ultra-liberals like DeSotomyer. An interview with Oprah tells the whole story. She's a fruitcake.

By DeSotomyer on 2013 01 25, 10:02 am CST

Sounds like the justice should go back to square one and this time around don't skip the course in common sense.

By Gunner Smith on 2013 01 25, 11:32 am CST

Career "advice" from a United States Supreme Court justice, offered during a self-promotional book tour interview with Oprah? Hyping the wonders of the profession to comedian Jon Stewart? I am searching for the point where sincerity meets hyperbole.

By Abogado del Campo on 2013 01 25, 12:38 pm CST

yet another piece of elite fed govt scum helping thwart democracy for americans. Why can't we just get rid of the federal govt, especially these unelected, coddled supreme court kings and queens and handle everything but the military at the state level?

By broke ex-lawyer on 2013 01 25, 1:07 pm CST

I'd love to know how much financial support she got during college and law school because she was born a wise LATINA WOMAN.

$300,000 of education for $50,000 would make me grateful too.

By Not Bill on 2013 01 25, 1:10 pm CST

Serving as a federal judge is a gift, and those who are not up to the task should go back to The Bronx.

By DirkJohanson on 2013 01 25, 1:21 pm CST

I am a solo practitioner, with continuing debt (I wouldn't call it "crushing," but I went to a state school, at NIGHT (*gasp*) so after 12 years of payments I feel lucky to only owe another $30,000. Sometimes I feel privileged to be a part of this profession, and sometimes I don't. It's not a gift. It's something I chose to do and, quite frankly, I felt like going back to square one after about a year, and often still feel that way, but there's really no turning back.

What really got me thinking, though, is whether the social life of male justices is considered an appropriate topic of conversation. "But she hasn't been dating since her confirmation ..." ?!?! Who cares?!? That combined with the use of the phrase "the whole wide world" made me cringe for women still trying to prove we're not dumbing ourselves down so we can catch a husband. Sheesh.

By Amy Noe on 2013 01 25, 1:37 pm CST

I enjoyed law school. Graduated coif and cum laud. But I never loved the practice, and it was wearing and draining on me. So I've gone back to square one. I'm in seminary. It's harder than law school. But I feel more fulfilled.

Peace be with you.

By Transitioning on 2013 01 25, 1:41 pm CST

I have been looking forward to reading her book, she seems like a very interesting person.

I must say though, an interview with Oprah about your autobiography is a funny place to complain about your loss of anonymity!

By Tom on 2013 01 25, 1:58 pm CST

34 writes: "What really got me thinking, though, is whether the social life of male justices is considered an appropriate topic of conversation."

The social life of Justice David Souter was widely discussed, even during the nomination process, and I've heard it speculated on multiple occasions that Justice Roberts is gay. Also, I don't remember either voluntarily giving interviews to Oprah.

Finally, it is safe to assume that Justice Sotomayor knew she was going to be asked about her social life in advance of the article, and she could have refused to answer.

34 continues: "That combined with the use of the phrase “the whole wide world” made me cringe for women still trying to prove we’re not dumbing ourselves down so we can catch a husband."

Maybe Sotomayor's just not that bright in the first place. She's a double-diversity hire who admits she was out of her league at Yale, and what little I've analyzed of her work I don't find very impressive.

By DirkJohanson on 2013 01 25, 1:59 pm CST

I truly believe that Justice Sotomayor is excellent as a member of the Supreme Court. But I have to wonder about her comment that "being a lawyer is the best job in the world". It can be for someone like her who had the breaks fall her way. I recall recently listening to her comments about her book on NPR in which she indicated that after 4 1/2 years with the New York DA's Office and several years in a law firm specializing in intellectual property cases when an opening arose in the federal District judiciary she applied on the recommendation of one of the partners at the law firm. Federal judicial positions do not get filled by a lawer with several years of experience but only if that candidate knows someone with connections. Here, in Chicago, where I reside, my chances of being a federal judge even after 25+ years of practice I would stand as much a chance at becoming a federal judge as a snow ball would have in hell. R. Krakowski

By Richard Krakowski on 2013 01 25, 2:24 pm CST

You know, she is right, or she should be right. Law should be a chance to bring clarity, resolution and justice to client's lives. It should be a great thing. However, I spent most of my career in big law firms - try to feel like you are doing anything other than killing yourself to enrich the idiots up the food chain (who got to the top because they were straight white men in the 1960-1980s, hung in, and are there even if they don't deserve to be there) doing that. Biglaw is one of the most worthless wastes of human life out there - but the practice of law should not be.

By Skeptical Attorney on 2013 01 25, 2:38 pm CST

I disagree strongly with Justice Sotomayor's judicial philosophy on many levels, but have to say that she did get one thing right: her entire career, not to mention elevation to the Supreme Court, has certainly been a gift. "Magical ride" indeed.

By Just Some Bloke on 2013 01 25, 2:38 pm CST

Justice Sotomayor's comment reflects a simplistic and naive view of life and what is involved in being a lawyer. The best job in the world for anyone is doing something they love that is intellectually satisfying and financiallyacceptable (making enough to meet your needs and wishes). But for those lawyers, like comment #6, being successful as a lawyer means that you must start to think about where you want to be as soon as you start out. I tell the young lawyers in our office that unless they develop and act on a strategy that enables them to build a client base or develop a specialty that will lead to them being sought out by clients and other professionals who refer cleints to them, they will be economically irrelevant by the time they hit 15 years of practice. A lawyer who depends on his partners and associates to refer mundane and commodity type work to him or her will be expendible during an economic downturn. Those with the clients will hoard the work for themselves and the ones who have no client base or a consistent flow of external referrals because of their specialty will be economically irrelevant. This is just as true in the large firms as it is in smaller ones. So for you younger lawyers, if you get to your 20th year of practice and have no job, there will be no one to blame but yourselves.

By benfranklin2 on 2013 01 25, 2:42 pm CST

Yes, Sonia, "it is good to be the Queen"! Let us hope she is not as vapid and out of touch with the harsh realities of the profession as this makes her appear. Let's also hope that her law clerk prints these comments out for her so she does not put her foot in it again.

By Andy - '97 grad on 2013 01 25, 2:45 pm CST

Comment removed by moderator.

By mike on 2013 01 25, 2:52 pm CST

Most of you people are ridiculous - elites that are obsessed with buying the next great car or taking another cruise in the Mediterranean.

What Justice Sotomayor is saying, really, is head to the Bronx. Head to Queens. Take a look at what the vast majority of your fellow citizenry and residents are doing for a living. Lawyering is one of the best jobs in the world.

As for her "getting all the breaks," perhaps you should read up on her first summer after Princeton (after losing her alcoholic father at nine, after living in a public housing space with her mom and brother, after speaking visiting food shelves), when she was studying the subtleties of the English language. She didn't get all the breaks -- she made a lot of them for herself by working hard and being prepared. And I suspect what she is saying is this: stop thinking that you cannot make it outside of BigLaw. As she said when she got her first District Court appointment: the financial down-grade is still quite a significant perk compared to how she grew up and compared to how the majority of Americans live. Stop engaging in the rat race and you may actually find happiness even if you don't make the $200K/year.

By teo on 2013 01 25, 2:56 pm CST

Comment removed by moderator.

By You voted for this CRAP, NOW bend over on 2013 01 25, 2:56 pm CST

I am sure there are some who beleive it is a great profession and have had a good exeperience. However, I always try and talk people out of going to law school or at least seriously rethink it.

Based on the reality I have seen over the years in different roles, government, corporate and private practice, it is not a very satisfying job when you look at the majority of the folks in it.

What kills it for me is that after almost 30 years at it if I look at all the lawyers I have met or worked with in the profession none of them show up on my top 100 list of people I would like to be when I grow up.

There are easier, more creative, more productive and more satisfying ways to make money if that is your goal. Private practice lawyering is the worst job I have ever had.

By RAB-Practitioner on 2013 01 25, 2:59 pm CST

Yeah, because her Supreme Court appointment wasn't strictly based on her race... oh wait, YEAH IT WAS. #disgruntledrecentgrad #stoppreachingsonia

By Andrew on 2013 01 25, 2:59 pm CST

I feel certain that Justice Sotomayor did not intend to offend people with the suggestion that her career has been a magical ride. I also hope that she was not trying to suggest that if any given lawyer has not also had a magical experience he or she needs to somehow finagle a big do over. I have had a very satisfying career thus far (though maybe not by Sotomayor's standards), but then I went to a top law school and graduated near the top of my class. I had a scholarship but also incurred a lot of debt, but that was back in the heyday where big firms were hiring like crazy and I was able to repay my loans quickly. My career hasn't been "magical" but I have been sufficiently successful (as well as lucky at critical moments) and I feel entirely fortunate. By contrast, I have a brother who is also a lawyer. He is just as smart as I am but because he has massive test performance anxiety he did not do as well on the LSAT, went to a 2nd tier law school and struggled somewhat under the pressure. He has worked on and off as a lawyer. He is currently unemployed and has never made more than $40K. He is a beautiful writer and certainly as capable as most lawyers I know. But the credentials matter, and as time passes and a person's career does not develop, it puts him at a serious disadvantage. All he wants is to be a lawyer. I am trying to use whatever tiny influence I might have to get him considered for positions but at his level they do not think he should be an associate, and he certainly cannot be a partner given his gaps in employment and the wide variety of law he has practiced. It is fairly heartbreaking. Point being, people who are devoted to the law sometimes cannot create the magic. My brother would actually be happy making $40,000 per year as a working attorney. It would be great if we could all create our own "magic" but sometimes we can't.

By Love the Law Also, but a Tad more realistic (I hop on 2013 01 25, 3:22 pm CST

I was a subway conductor who attended law school at night. Since being admitted in 2001, I have been a solo in a city packed with lawyers. Since 2001, I have put on 47 trials, and won most of them. The financial and personal price I have paid for maintaining a downtown practice is staggering. My health has been ruined, I owe a mountain of debt that may outlive me, and like justice Sotomayor, I have no personal life anymore. I was financially better off drving a train - less money but no debt! Meanwhile, I have kept many people falsely accused of crimes out of prison, kept people from losing their homes, and I have been chosen for some high profile positions in bar service after only twelve years as a lawyer. Would I do it again? Some days yes, some days no. For those prepared to endure great personal, financial, and emotional sacrifice, the practice of law offers personal rewards beyond reckoning.

By John Smith on 2013 01 25, 3:22 pm CST

Skeptical @ 39, sorry you could not handle it. I "hung in there" by consistently winning the many cases I tried and making clients happy, which inevitably will build a book of business of one's own for those who prove themselves capable. Those who wanted to but proved themselves unable or incapable, always lash out with whining name calling like "who got to the top because they were straight white men in the 1960-1980s." That's me (except it was the '80s and '90s and continues). After working my way out of poverty including working my way through a State law school, I'm quite happy with our profession except for the whiners and Sotomayor sycophants and apologists. Cold hard fact: Had she not been a latino and female, she would have never made it to the bench, much less to the USSC, so she should stop complaining about our profession which has done nothing but give her gifts because of her race and gender.

By Not Skeptical on 2013 01 25, 3:27 pm CST

Comments #6 and #9. Thank you.

Sotomayer got where she is because of affirmative action and political correctness. She is not qualified to sit on the USSC. Her obviously ignorant comments demonstrate how out of touch she is.

Sadly, Washington, DC and Hollywood have a lot in common. They both operate on fantasy.

By Name removed by moderator on 2013 01 25, 3:41 pm CST

Comments #6 and #9. Thank you.

Sotomayer got where she is because of affirmative action and political correctness. She is not qualified to sit on the USSC. Her obviously ignorant comments demonstrate how out of touch she is.

Sadly, Washington, DC and Hollywood have a lot in common. They both operate on fantasy.

(My apologies - I hit "send" early by mistake).

By Name removed by moderator on 2013 01 25, 3:44 pm CST

Hey "Not Skeptical:" While some of what you say has merit, if you had lived in the fifties, as I did, you would know that a good many mediocre, if not dumb, white guys got into Ivy League colleges, law schools, and good firms as "legacy" admissions and hires. Philosophical differences aside, Justice Sotomayor was a sitting federal judge, and practiced law extensively before her appointment to the Supreme Court. I remember some of the white male judicial nominees proposed by "Big Bush" and "Little Bush", and Ronald Reagan, and they curl my hair.

By John Smith on 2013 01 25, 3:50 pm CST



even the 'o' 'a' typo.

By You voted for this CRAP, NOW bend over on 2013 01 25, 4:03 pm CST

I've been a lawyer for 30 years. I worked full-time during law school, and attended school at night. I got no handouts, no scholarships, no free ride. I paid for it out of my own pocket. I have never thought of my career as a gift, but as a job. I worked hard for every second of my career and I have sacrificed a lot personally and professionally for my clients. Supreme Court justices really have no concept of what it is like to work like most of us have done...many of us work in the trenches and not in a high rise or in an ivy covered school. Her career may have been a gift for her...and it certainly appears that it has been, but she really is in no position to speak for the rest of us. I wish she would have kept these thoughts to herself.

By Patsy1 on 2013 01 25, 4:04 pm CST

She is short-sighted to say the least !!!!!!!!! Anybody caught in the trap that is coporate or insurance defense law knows that your are NOT HELPING REAL PEOPLE.

By EJF on 2013 01 25, 4:15 pm CST

I hated lawyering, and I probably still hate it. Several years ago I took to heart some of the principles of neuro-linguistic programming and the old adage "fake it until you make it." I resolved to come into work every day for a week with a big smile, a spring in my step, and to greet every co-worker, client, employee and colleague with an enthusiastic good morning. Every time the phone rang, before answering, I'd tell myself "thing call will be fun; this call will be a great opportunity". Today I'm having the time of my life - I still hate it, but I've learned to trick myself into thinking I like it. This is of no use for those wallowing in debt, but if you have a job, are making good money, but hate it, it's worth a try.

By Pierre-Paul on 2013 01 25, 4:17 pm CST

Comment removed by moderator.

By Mary L. on 2013 01 25, 4:20 pm CST

number 7 is right on, the rest of you, stop whinning!!

By gene brown on 2013 01 25, 4:22 pm CST

It's amazing that whenever a successful person of color provides public comments, those that disagree consistently attribute his or her success to race, gender, double minority status, etc. to make themselves feel better about their own shortcomings. John Smith is absolutely correct. Get real, many of you and many successful and/or wealthy lawyers achieved the same b/c of legacy, white privledge, male privledge, good ole boy networks, family wealth and sometimes, just plain old luck. Otherwise, you genius masters of the universe would not have to whine on a message board.

By Frank on 2013 01 25, 4:36 pm CST

I'm surprised she didn't tell us to eat cake.

By Lafayette on 2013 01 25, 4:59 pm CST

Ofcourse the Justice should be so happy. She has somone to write her opinions, security wherever she goes, travel expenses paid to wherever she desires to go on the planet, a decent place to live and whom is she kidding? Most of us had to go to schools our loans could afford and take jobs that most Yale and Harvard Grads pass on. Yes in the PD office I had much fun winning 50% of the time against the United states and getting four reversals in the 3rd circuit against the government. It is us the little people that make it possible for the Justices to even have a chance to make a ruling. It is not a matter of fun to be a good attorney. It takes dedication and a lot of sleepless hours forming a defense for a client that most often is guilty of the crime. It is even more difficult when you have a client where the FBI lies and fabricates a case against your client and you get them off. I had such a case and the Judge (Giles) did nothing after he was presented with the perjury by the Marshal. It is not fun but dedication that drives this profession for so many have been wrongly accused and imprisoned. Try trying a case where your client is white, the community is black, you are black and the judge and jury panel is black. Reverse discrimination is alive and well and it is not fun defending such a client. Been there.

By Augustin Ayala on 2013 01 25, 5:03 pm CST

So, Frank @ 60, just let me be sure I understand your position correctly: because there was discrimination in favor of white males in the past -- which I take from your comment you think was a bad thing -- discrimination in favor of, e.g., Latinas, is now a *good* thing?

Discrimination based on race or gender is wrong, period. You don't right a wrong by continuing it. And I'm not making a sweeping statement here about all "successful persons of color" -- I don't think anyone thinks Tiger Woods won all those majors because of affirmative action (or did he get a few strokes subtracted from his scores because his ancestors were not allowed on the courses, and I just missed it? -- but it is just wilfully ignorant to contend that Sotomayor wasn't selected for SCOTUS because of the demographic boxes she could check. There are probably at least a thousand other people who could have done the job as well or better but didn't have the "qualifications" Pres. Obama was seeking.

By Just Some Bloke on 2013 01 25, 5:05 pm CST

John Smith @ 53, fair enough, except your last sentence indicates you could not put philosophical differences aside. What you described was not limited to the 50s; I've seen it in my time and seen it decline over the course of my career. I've hired plenty of grads from Ivy League and top-grads from State schools in my carreer, only to find the latter are more likely to already know to number the paragraphs in their motions, find their way to the courthouse and when there, introduce themselves to the judge's law clerks and other staff. I've also had legacy partners, but the rest of us made sure they were not overpaid based on the weight they pulled. That some legacy admissions, hires and judicial appointments were once (and still can be) based on male gender and a white color hardly justifies a new legacy based on female gender and a minority's color. If the latter becomes acceptable, it generates a "push-back" (or pendelum swing) that the former should be just as acceptable (indeed that pendulum swing is why we are debating this and why she is where she is). B. McLeod @ 51 hits this nail on its head.
Yes, as you noted, Sotomayor "was a sitting federal judge, and practiced law extensively before her appointment to the Supreme Court," as if that is supposed to distinguish her from thousands sitting judges, from whom she was indistinguishable based on merit unless merit depends on one's gender and minority status and unwise public comments. Taking a step back, and giving the Justice benefit of any doubt about her lack of wisdom, the Oprah interview was nothing more than a marketing ploy for her book, and given all the comments in this forum, the ploy worked and worked well. Okay, the Justice or her publisher has a wise marketing agent, fortunately one who is not known by gender or minority status, but only by the success of the ploy.

By Not skeptical on 2013 01 25, 5:21 pm CST

Couldn't agree more. It is gratifying to see an individual like Sonia Sotomayor elevated to the United States Supreme Court. I was a cop in another life and have been doing criminal defense and general people law now for 35 years and love it all. I tell lawyers who complain about being a lawyer and "can't wait to get out of the business" to do just that. If you no longer care about the folks you represent then you must get out of the business. You are not doing anybody any good.

By Wes Johnson on 2013 01 25, 5:22 pm CST

As much as I admire Justice Sotomayor's personal story and respect her amazing career, I think her comment that dissatisfied lawyer should simply go back to square one is divorced from reality.

I am in the process of disengaging from my practice and from the "legal profession" after twenty-eight years of solo practice, largely dedicated to the public interest (representing victims of employment discrimination, civil rights violations, environmental organizations, and prosecuting citizen suits against polluters as a private attorney general). Although I never got rich (I estimate that my earnings declined from 90% of the entry-level salary paid to first year associates at "biglaw" firms to about 60% today. Nevertheless, I made enough money to be able to retire at age 60 very comfortably, largely by working insane hours.

Yes, law is a lot more satisfying than many of the other things that I could have done, and I was also fortunate enough to attend state law schools at a time when law school was affordable. While I may have done OK, I want to disassociate myself from the practice of law because I am thoroughly disgusted with the dysfunctionality, corruption and constipation of the United States legal system, and want to do something useful with my life before it is too late.

Justice Sotomayor apparently does not have any sense of the reality of practice: of cases that take many years of discovery drudgery and silly motion practice before ever getting to trial, of the self-righteous and pretentious crap that is routinely generated by large law firms; of clients that cannot obtain justice because it is simply not cost-effective, of arguing before politically appointed judges who might be able to qualify for a GED on a good day, or even if competent, may be handicapped by the goal oriented jurisprudence of the United States Supreme Court.

Yes, I am dissatisfied, but even though I may have done well, if I had to go back to square one, I would do something else.

By Disgusted public interest lawyer on 2013 01 25, 5:30 pm CST

For all of those complaining about crushing debt as the reason you can't leave the law, I have news for you: most lawyers don't make tons of money. That is, the opportunity cost of leaving the law is, for most of us, not that high. So if you hate the law, go find something else. Your tuition is a sunk cost at this point. Deal with the fact that you made a bad investment.

For those of you who <i>do</i> have one of those high paying firm jobs, suck it up, put in the time, earn the big dollars, pay down your debt, then do what you love. And who knows -- you might find that your time at the hated big firm will open doors for you, as big firm partners often have connections with people in the profession you'd rather join.

By American of African Descent on 2013 01 25, 5:36 pm CST

Oh Dear. Not Skeptical @ 50, you thought I couldn't handle it. Perhaps someday you'll develop a more nuanced, multifaceted understanding of work and life and how to spend one's life. Enjoy your trials and showing your "capability" to everyone.

By Skeptical Attorney on 2013 01 25, 5:37 pm CST

What if a wealthy preppy, straight, WASPY white male who owns a yacht and lives on a horse farm in NOVA had been appointed instead of Sotomayor? Would any of Justice Sotomayor's detractors, many of whom seem racist, be any better off? The Democrats won the white house, and twice in a row, the Republicans snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Most people at the top of the heap in any given field forget where they came from quickly. Deal with it!

By John Smith on 2013 01 25, 5:43 pm CST

Sotomayor loves her some Sotomayor!

By You call this coffee!? on 2013 01 25, 6:16 pm CST

@69: "What if a wealthy preppy, straight, WASPY white male who owns a yacht and lives on a horse farm in NOVA had been appointed instead of Sotomayor?"

We already know that the white male would not have been able to perform as well as a wise Latina.

By Marc on 2013 01 25, 6:17 pm CST

You know, I am ALWAYS amazed when I hear that a licensed, law school graduate is working at a minimum wage job, unless it is a "second" job in order to make more cash (aka nights or weekends only). When they have abandoned the law because they claim they "can't find a job" I know that they have NOT put in the effort to make something of themselves.

I know FAR too many attorneys who completed law school, passed the bar, and then sat on their butts and expected to be offered a gold-plated career simply because they did. It doesn't work that way. You have to MAKE opportunities for yourself if you're not one of those privileged few whose families operate a firm or who knew someone prior to law school.

Let me expound on the ways that an attorney can make a path for him / herself:

1.) Go to the courthouse and take Criminal Appointments. EVERY jurisdiction has indigents.

2.) Go to the courthouse and find the court that deals with child protective services matters. Get appointed to represent the children in those cases. Again, your paid BY THE COURT or by the local CPS branch. Get assigned 9 or 10 of them going at once, and you'll be billing $50/hour 40-50 hours per month minimum ($2000) right there.

3.) Get on a list of consultation attorneys for low-cost divorce providers from the local Domestic Relations Office (or whatever your local version happens to be named).

4.) Pick either an under-served section of the law where there is a need OR something that the other attorneys in the area DON'T WANT TO DO, and become the BEST practitioner in that area in your geographic region. Mine is State Deceptive Trade Practices Act claims. Where I live NOBODY wants to do them because they're hard and time consuming. What NOBODY realizes is that just about EVERY provision has a clause including statutory damages, attorney's fees and costs.

5.) take a "mediation" and "arbitration" course, and then go see your LOCAL BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU. They are ALWAYS looking for arbitrators and mediators. It doesn't pay a lot, but if you can build up the ADR process of the BBB, you can create a permanent STREAM of work for yourself as people FLEE the court system as overburdened and expensive.

6.) Join your local BAR ASSOCIATION and WRITE for their Bar Journal. You may think it's beneath you, or that you shouldn't because it's not "paying work." TOUGH. You want the respect of your peers and for people to recognize your name? You need to work for it. Bar Journal writing and writing articles for local Bar Associations on facets of practice in your geographical region WILL raise your profile, and the public WILL take notice.

7.) Find a currently practicing attorney and use them as a mentor. Again, the local bar association is likely a good place to do this. Find someone who has an overburdened practice, and talk to them about an "off-load" arrangement where if they have a case they can't service, or that is not appropriate for them to refer it to you. Does it work with every type of law? No, but if you find someone who does divorce who's been practicing for 30 years, they're at least occasionally going to get a case where the party doesn't want to pay their $350/hour fee, because the assets to do so are just not there. Ask for THOSE cases to be referred to you, do them competently and use word of mouth to get your OWN practice moving.

As I started out: whenever I hear a licensed attorney whining about how they can only find a "minimum wage job" at McDonald's or Home Depot, if they're not at MINIMUM doing the things listed above, I shake my head in disbelief and know that they're not putting in the effort.

By Charles W. Skinner on 2013 01 25, 6:19 pm CST

I graduated from Cleveland Marshall College of law 17 1/2 years ago. I never had not one professional opportunity to prosper and be successful as a professional. However, it 's never too late.

I'm Black, I have encountered much discrimination and had many doors of opportunity closed in my face. I'm not disgruntled or negative.

By Angelo Dickens JD on 2013 01 25, 6:19 pm CST

Amy Noe, I agree with you on the dating content. Then again I was also appalled when Oprah asked Mrs. Obama about possible future "baby bumps" and expressed her wishes that it be a boy. I think she's playing to the basest view of her audience as bubble-headed women whose interests lay within parameters appropriate to 1950s housewives.

By Barbara Saunders on 2013 01 25, 6:52 pm CST

"A gift!?!" Last I checked, a gift requires donative intent on the part of the donor, made without an expectation of consideration in return. No law school that I am aware of gives out degrees for free to anyone who applies.

On the contrary, we all earned our degrees, our licenses, and continue to sacrifice in the pursuit of our careers. To imply that lawyers are given some opportunity that they did not earn is a slap in the face to every person who has ever passed a bar exam. Virtually every lawyer made significant sacrifices to attend law school; some with debt, others at the expense of existing careers and family. I paid my way through law school by working full time and attending an evening program. No one gave me anything, I earned it.

As for returning to square 1, after hundreds applications since graduating five years ago, yet never actually having practiced a single day as a lawyer, square 1 is a place I'd love to be. I guess her comments only apply to those 'lawyers' who were 'given' the chance to practice.

Does anyone know if she happened to close the interview with 'let them eat cake'? Just wondering.

By StLawyer on 2013 01 25, 7:12 pm CST

#6 Why don't you go solo? Most firms are not looking for experienced lawyers with 25 years behind them unless they have a large book of clients that they can bring with them Talk with other woman lawyers, they may be able to point you to a firm where you might fit in. Here in Michigan two solo female attorneys joined together and now have a successful practice. Possibilities are endless. Just have to find the one which works for you. Good luck.

By Henry Legere on 2013 01 25, 7:48 pm CST

A lawyer will never be out of work if he is willing to take on a difficult cause. I think what she is referring to is a sabbatical, and she is absolutely right. Unfortunately, few of us can take one due to the circumstances that we have created (i.e., the net we have woven).

By Bob Paine on 2013 01 25, 9:16 pm CST

To all those spewing vitriol on this board at the Most Honorable Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, please take a deep breath and relax. The wise Justice was simply suggesting that any lawyer who has a hit a wall in their practice should consider hitting the "reset" button. A little perspective is in order sometimes. To all those whiny newbies claiming the Justice's comments were condescending, please also chill out, the comments were not meant for you, but were meant for those who have been practicing for a while and are experiencing "burn-out."

By Stop Hatin' on 2013 01 25, 9:57 pm CST

Comment removed by moderator.

By Opiegonefishin on 2013 01 25, 10:27 pm CST

#77 -- The world is filed with difficult cases and lawyers willing to take them on. It is less filled with lawyers willing and able to do so without getting paid.

By AndytheLawyer on 2013 01 25, 11:50 pm CST


damn straight

By Va Lawyer on 2013 01 26, 12:06 am CST

I reared a family of 6 then went back to Law School when the youngest one was settled into elementary school. I studied and helped them study at the same time. I did not "like" law school but I love lawyering. I'm lucky to live in a small town where I was able to hang out my shingle after graduation. It is all I hoped it would be - challenging and rewarding. The loans are tough - but I went as cheap as I could since I knew I would only need to impress myself after graduation - not anyone else to hire me.

By Anne on 2013 01 26, 12:29 am CST

I agree! It is the best gift I've ever given myself. I think a lot of people come into the profession for the wrong purposes. Those are the ones you find complaining the most. I <3 Justice Sotomayor. She reminds me so much of myself and gives me hope for a bright future.

By Labellaesq on 2013 01 26, 12:59 am CST

Leslie Cole you don't need a job! Having a license to practice law gives you the ability to hang a shingle and work for yourself. That's what I did when the economy tanked and I love working for myself! Step out in faith!

By Greta Locklear on 2013 01 26, 7:34 pm CST

This is the same woman who set female attorneys back 100 years by saying that her idols in law are Nancy Drew and Perry Mason. Nice.

By Greta Locklear on 2013 01 26, 7:35 pm CST

It gave me a bit of pause when the justice mentioned how her childhood dream was really to be a cop. Not that such a thing is problematic per se, but when the child is growing up in the Bronx and the cops the child has seen were the cops in the Bronx, it makes you wish that issue could have been subject to a little more inquiry during confirmation.

By B. McLeod on 2013 01 26, 7:48 pm CST

Why when someone is successful and loves their job/life, do people in this country whine and show nothing but resentment and claim that the person was somehow unfairly favored? Let's face it, many if not most people you see around you who are promoted or get opportunities don't do so based on "merit." In the corporate world the system still favors middle aged white guys who often are just overconfident buffoons whom other overconfident buffoons feel comfortable with. I am lucky to have gotten into the legal bus at the right time and am lucky to have been able to retire, but the burden of being often the only female in the room and having to fight from being interrupted and treated like a child finally got to me.
Let's face it, there are way too many people who go into the legal profession because they can't think of anything else to do. Then they complain because it's boring. But the oversupply of lawyers just creates a perpetual machine that needs to feed itself.Lawyers suck up societal resources and it would better if bright people would contribute in other ways.l Doing all pro bono work now has opened my eyes to the sad system of "justice" in this country where ordinary people have little to no access, while millions are spent on doing nothing but years of e-discovery on cases that should be solved in a day. I'm glad she is happy and lucky. But instead of being resentful and blaming others for your poor choices think of ways you can contribute.

By Godell on 2013 01 26, 11:07 pm CST

Honestly, most of these comments seem to have "taken the bait." (You wouldn't let your opponent frame the issue like this, . . . right?) If Justice Sotomayor made these remarks to O Magazine, that alone tells you not to take them seriously. They may have been "massaged," or truncated, or altered in some way, or the Justice herself may have been singing to the Oprah tune "to be polite," or something. Of course it's glib, of course it's disconnected with reality. As one person stated, if she even commented on her dating life, you know the tenor of this article.

What bothers me is that people ARE so bothered by blather. Does it really matter what she said? Would anyone truly take it as being serious advice? (Does anyone think the outcome of any case will ever hinge on this, or that it's characteristic of how she views her cases?)

Every career requires compromises, and some compromises are too much to ask. The problem is student debt, which exists across the board but is unbelievably onerous for professional school graduates, and it is crippling. WHO has the freedom to do what is best for them, and for others, if they are so severely indebted? WHO can possibly enjoy any demanding job with this debt load? Who has choices within law, much less outside of it? I'm sure a lot of people would practice the kind of law great attorneys of the past practiced, if they could afford it!

I don't understand how it got to this point. I graduated from a well-regarded state school in 1992 with no debt, and it's interesting how much the cost went up soon after. Even the rent on my old apartment (next to a dive bar with decent food) literally skyrocketed within a few years. When I was there, you could live on $1000 a month basic expenses if you cooked your own meals. Utilities were so cheap the bills looked wrong, and you got some of your rent money back when you filed a state tax return (low income people didn't have to pay the property tax embedded in their rent). So . . . what happened? Obviously, a lot of seriously bad things happened to bring us to where we are. People are being cheated out of their future.

Having said that, I do wish Justice Sotomayor had not been so glib. It just proves that even S.Ct. justices don't understand PR. Yet in the Internet age, everyone is expected to be a pro.

(BTW, I ended up leaving law after less than 7 years, and I would like to go back. I'll start as a paralegal if necessary. I am not lacking in realism. I'll do what needs to be done. I had to leave law, and even though I want back in, I understand what I'm getting into. It is far from being a "gift" in any sense of the word. This may not work no matter how good I am, or how hard I try. One last point -- a lot of jobs are bad now, besides this one. Somehow, law seems to hurt more when it is bad.)

By Sonja (real name, real spelling) on 2013 01 27, 1:13 am CST

@72 -- you know what? These are such great ideas, I think you should expound on them further.

No, I am totally serious. There are several things there I may want to try, but I need to know more. The one thing that drives me nuts is that after a law school education, I expected to know more about being an entrepreneur in the true sense of the word (I know -- it is a horribly misused word.) Well, my neighbors who do construction, plumbing, heating & air, etc., know more about finding a niche and starting a business than I do. It is NOT because I "don't wanna." I "wanna", all right. Don't think the guidance is there.

Also, some of these ideas are somewhat problematic, because newer attorneys are (quite properly) afraid of making a mistake and harming a client. I don't say this to dismiss the ideas. On the contrary, a person needs more guidance on HOW to implement these suggestions. Look, even telling us precisely where to find more information would be good. Please don't assume that we all should know, or know how to find out. I have a horror of missing something I simply didn't know to look for, and ultimately screwing up someone's case. The shame would kill me. BTW, I was a great researcher (was), clerked for three years, CA bar, and all that stuff. I've seen my share of serious mistakes on the part of other lawyers, even at the federal level. It's enough to make me pause.

If you're willing to write about this in detail, I hope someone is willing to pay you!

By Sonja (real name, real spelling) on 2013 01 27, 1:32 am CST

Ok guys. Whether you agree with her opinions are not, Justice Sotomayor is at the top of our profession, along with the other 8 members of the court. The people who get to the top usually love their jobs. The guys at the bottom usually don't. There's nothing new about that. If you don't like what you're doing and you have the opportunity to do something else, do it. If you don't keep plugging and try to get ahead and find your enjoyment elsewhere in life. That's what most people do.

By George Sly on 2013 01 27, 2:52 pm CST

A commenter wrote "Why when someone is successful and loves their job/life, do people in this
country whine and show nothing but resentment and claim that the person was
somehow unfairly favored?"

And so your point is that when someone is unfairly favored, no one should complain? I dissent.

By ABS on 2013 01 27, 6:00 pm CST

@90 I guess you're right, George, but it is a shame - - - as the story above reports - - - that old Sonia hasn't had a date apparently for 3 years.

By Yankee on 2013 01 28, 1:48 pm CST

"..the best job in the whole wide world."

Is she five years old or just talking down to the percieved level of her audience?

By silencedogood on 2013 01 28, 3:28 pm CST

I'm really disappointed and disgusted with the attorneys stating that those trying to find work aren't working hard enough to find jobs. I worked three jobs through a public law school, left working at a law firm after law school (which was dissolving) and went to work in the public sector in order to have the Public Loan Forgiveness apply to me. This was the only available job where I could raise a family, survive my drowning law school and credit card debt and feel good about what I was doing. Four years later, I am still searching for better jobs, even outside the legal field. I am surrounded by secretaries who make more than I do, and I cannot even get a call back for a secretary position due to being overqualified. As an attorney, I'm considered too expensive to be considered for anything but contract work in the public sector, so I have to pay for my own insurance. Also, all of my friends and colleagues are disillusioned with their jobs and we are all searching for a way out. None of us make more that $65,000, and I make half of that. All of us work hard, do more than is expected because of the economy and are underpaid. As a female, I also have to worry about the added bonus of not getting hired because I am prime age to get pregnant. I have been directly asked when I plan to get pregnant in multiple interviews, illegal or not it happens. Whoever these self righteous attorneys are out there, consider your son or daughter entering the profession right now. Without a legacy, without money, without options, this profession is at its worst right now. Many are not retiring or double dipping, leaving even fewer jobs for us. Also #72, I have tried most things on your list, even being published by by local bar association numerous times. Apparently you don't realize being assigned to cases requires you to have an "in" with a judge. Very difficult to do unless you have powerful friends or connections with your firm. After six more years working in public service, I hope to never work as an attorney again. The examples of #72 and the hatred you portray towards our generation could not be more disturbing.

By Young Attorney on 2013 01 28, 3:45 pm CST

Take away the debt, the clients, the deadlines, the long hours, the grumpy judges, and the accounts receivable and it is a pretty sweet gig.

By Alec Leamas on 2013 01 28, 4:23 pm CST

It is a rough time for most of the country. If you compare compensation and employment levels in the legal profession with those in the economy as a whole, you will note that the BLS data still shows the legal profession as among the highest paid, with unemployment levels well below average for the economy as a whole. Not everybody will make it. Life is hard sometimes. Go figure. If you can find something better, find something better.

By B. McLeod on 2013 01 29, 12:12 am CST

Law has become more stressful because of the combination of (a) elevated and unrealistic goals, (b) misconceptions about the practice of law, and (c) expectations of discounts/freebies.

By Free & Cheap on 2013 01 29, 1:24 pm CST

#87 Well, if middle-aged white guys are often overconfident buffoons, then why do so many claim that we still need affirmative action to help women and minorities? Why did we and why do we still need social engineering to help certain groups compete with "buffoons?" If a person needs assistance to compete with a "buffoon" then what does that say about that person?

And for those who believe that affirmative action is needed to right the wrongs that white men committed in the past, you should be aware that the number of women and minorities who benefitted from affirmative action is far greater than the number of white men who benefitted from the old boy network.

The vast majority of white men were indentured servants and laborers. They were not part of the small old boy network - in fact, they were shunned by that network. Everyone looks at the small group of white men at the top to justify discriminating againts all white men. Talk about racial and gender profiling.

By Plentypie on 2013 01 30, 1:44 am CST

selective recall?

Following her second year at YLS, SS gained a job as a summer associate with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. Her performance was not adequate and she did not receive an offer for a full-time position, a failure that would long bother her.

In her third year, she filed a formal complaint against Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge for suggesting during a recruiting dinner that she was only at Yale via affirmative action.

By skeptical on 2013 01 30, 2:26 am CST

Love Justice Sotomayor, or hate her. Think that her comments are brilliant, infantile or pie-in-the-sky. The point of the article is that she is (in this guise) just another author trying hard to shill their book. If some of her comments seem inane or asinine consider the questions and the questioner.

By Faulhaber on 2013 01 30, 6:16 pm CST

Being a lawyer is awesome, and I love that I get to do it for a living. What I don't love is the soul crushing debt you have to incur now to do it.

By John E on 2013 01 30, 11:03 pm CST

Young Attorney (#94) a question: Exactly how old do you think I am. The answer will be enlightening to you and show the reactionary nature of your comment.

Here's the answer: I'm 33, and I didn't go to law school until I was 28. So don't give me bull-droppings about [engage whiny voice] "well it's different for our generation" [end whiny voice] because I'm PART of your generation.

I have no powerful connections, I have no firm (I'm a solo-practitioner with a home office). I hung out my OWN shingle the DAY I was licensed, in a city where I have no background, no connections at all, knew only my wife (and she's not from here either), and where 50%+ of the 800,000 person population speaks a language that I do not (Spanish). No money, no legacy, but a thirst to go out there and work hard every single day to build a reputation. Literally EVERYTHING that I have built has come from my own work ethic and going out and pounding the pavement every single day.

In the court's I practice in, the judges literally BEG attorneys to come in and take cases. But, let's take your "you have to have an 'in' with the Judge" comment at face value for the moment. You want to get in good with the judges? HELP THEM. Find out what their pet causes are, and VOLUNTEER at them. Join the local charity programs and do some Pro-Bono work for the clients they serve. Yes, it requires some research on your part, and some extra work. Don't whine about it.

If you're already working in the "public sector" as you say, for 6 years, no less, then you're probably ALREADY known to the Judges and Opposing Counsel (unless you're a desk-jockey merely preparing forms, filings and motions). So I guess the question becomes: What, exactly, have you been doing over those six years to still be so nameless and faceless in your area that you can't get paid more than $32,500? I mean, come on! That's averaging ONE $125 flat-fee traffic every day for a year.

Go and TALK to the judges. Ask for advice or mentorship opportunities with them. Attend the local CLE at EVERY opportunity that is free and every other opportunity that you can afford. Go to EVERY meeting of the Local Bar Association.

If you want out, that's fine; more work for those of us who are willing to do the hard work and take the risks which lead to rewards. But don't whine about it, because you're not going to get any sympathy from me, a MEMBER of your generation, who is making the hard choices to make it work.

By Charles W. Skinner on 2013 01 31, 7:14 pm CST

Sonja (#89) - You asked me to expound. I would be happy to:

Keep in mind with all of these that your BEST asset is a humble attitude. Yes, you went to Law School for 3 years, passed the bar, clerked, etc.... For the purposes of this advice, set ALL of that aside, tell everybody that you're a new practitioner and that you're looking for help and advice because you want to do it right the first time. Yes, you are GOING to make mistakes. Attorneys who practice for 30 years make mistakes. Do the best you can, don't neglect your clients, correct mistakes as quickly as possible, and apologize sincerely to your client when you do. Finding persons that you can go to for advice though goes a LONG way toward avoiding the biggest pitfalls.

1.) Taking Criminal Appointments. Make an appointment to meet with the judge face to face BEFORE you ask to take an appointment. It doesn't have to be a long meeting, just long enough to introduce yourself, ask a couple of questions on judicial philosophy, if the Judge has any "court specific" rules and the process for appointment. If you do, the Judge WILL remember you.

Then go and talk to the Court staff briefly. Tell the court coordinator or judge's secretary that you're a new practitioner and you want to make sure you're following the specific court's procedures. They will be MORE than happy to walk you through them, because they will want you to get it right the first time, so they don't have to hound you to correct an error.

Third, especially for Criminal appointments: Go and watch for a day. Then find a Court that has a lawyer about your same age who is practicing in the DA or County Attorney's office, pull them aside after arraignments or after some other court proceeding, introduce yourself, and let them know you're a new practitioner and ask for a basic walk-through of the process for that court or that county, and ask if you may call upon them to ask for procedural advice (where to file, deadlines, scheduling, etc...) from time to time. Again, they will be MORE than happy to help you, because it means that they have an open line of communication for any plea negotiations, as well as making sure that every step is done properly to limit appealable error. Ask them for a Defense Attorney who they might introduce you to to be able to ask for any "legal" advice (motions, defenses etc...).

2.) Taking CPS appointments: This one requires a bit more effort, but has the potential to be much more rewarding both personally and financially. First, find out if your area / court / geographic region has a "Court Appointed Special Advocate" (CASA) for children program. If it does, start there. They have a 40-hour training program for "citizen-guardians-ad-litem" for children in the CPS system. You're job as an attorney is to represent what the child "wants;" a CASA GAL volunteer is there to represent what is "in the child's best interest." The training, however, will tell you literally EVERYTHING you need to know about working in the CPS courts. If you cannot take a "pro-bono" case as a GAL, ask if you can "audit" the course simply for the information.

Then, again, go see the Judge who handles those cases. Let them know you're a new practitioner, that you have (or are) taking the CASA course, and ask what other training they would like you to have prior to being assigned as an "attorney-ad-litem" for children whose parents are before the CPS courts or have been removed from their parents for abuse or neglect. It will probably involve a continuing legal education requirement for representing children. The ABA has one, and most state CLE programs have one as well. In Texas, it's a 4 hour program, but it is archived online through the Texas Bar CLE program, and it's free if you agree to take on at least two cases, or $120, if I remember correctly, if you do not agree. Take the course, complete an "affidavit" that you have done so, and ask to be put on "The Wheel" for appointments or whatever the local court calls it.

Once you're assigned a case, standard rules of representing a client apply: Go talk to them, find out what they WANT you to do, and attempt to do it. Again, find a practicing attorney on each side, and ask them if you may come to them for advice from time to time (a County Attorney for CPS and a "Defense" attorney who practices as parent's counsel or another attorney who represents children). Again, they will be more than happy to help you on procedure (not so much on the law, but they will often point you in the right direction). And actually spend some time talking to the attorneys about the case. The likelihood that you're going to miss something huge if you're in contact with the other attorneys in the case regularly is actually very, very small.

[End Part 1]

By Charles W. Skinner on 2013 01 31, 8:07 pm CST

3.) Low cost attorneys list for divorces - Talk to your local Domestic Relations Office. They are usually the ones who maintain this. Ask them if there is a "free" divorce program for indigent clients. Usually this is through the local "legal aid" society, but they're usually so swamped that they like to get other attorneys to handle the "no fault, no property" uncontested divorces. The legal aid society where I practice will actually extend their Errors and Omissions Insurance Policy to attorneys who take these cases, and they will TRAIN you to take them (which gives you a basic understanding of the process).

That is not the paying portion though, that's just how to do it. Once you know the process, get on the "low cost" consultation list through the Domestic Relations Office. Talk to the director of the office and they will tell you where the list is posted. These will be poor clients, but if you can handle the divorce inexpensively ($300-$500), they can usually pay that amount. Usually these are uncontested where both sides want out. Just remember that you're only representing ONE side, and make sure to write into your agreement that if the divorce BECOMES contested, that you have an hourly fee arrangement.

4.) Picking under-served areas of law: This one is a bit more time intensive and tricky. Talk to the attorneys who have been around for a while. The local Bar Association get-togethers are a good place to do this. Ask them what they "hate" to do, or what the last client who came to them asked for that they either couldn't do, or thought there was no money in so they turned them away. This will take you a while, but eventually you'll have a short list of practice areas that none of the older attorneys want to touch, and the reasons why. Pick one of those, go to the local law library and get a practice manual on it (O'Connor's practice manuals are decent) and spend an afternoon reading it. If you think that you can do it, learn it, love it, and then tell all the attorneys in the area that you practice in that area, and that if a client comes to them with that type of problem, you would appreciate the referral. The attorneys will BEAT A PATH TO YOUR DOOR with referrals, because those attorneys don't want to do that type of work, but don't want to tell the client that they need to "find" another attorney either, lest they lose FUTURE business from that client.

This will require a LOT of study on your part, though, largely because if there are few practicing attorneys in that area of law near you, you won't have a lot of mentorship opportunities. However it also means that the local Judges are unlikely to be well versed in that area of law either, so if you can learn the topic decently, you can somewhat fake it, and any attorney that you're likely to go up against will similarly be unfamiliar with that type of law.

Remember however that Professional Rules on Competency still apply, so make sure you know it well and are researching as you go to deal with issues as they come up. If you have a "county" law library, ask the librarian for assistance if you need to research a particular motion, area of law or topic, and they should be able to help you. A lot of law libraries also maintain a "Lexis-Nexis" or "Westlaw" subscription which can be used by library patrons for FREE. You may have to reserve a time, but it's FREE use of Lexis-Nexis or Westlaw for research.

[End Part 2]

By Charles W. Skinner on 2013 01 31, 8:25 pm CST

5.) Mediation and Arbitration: Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is becoming HUGE as people flee the court system as expensive, arbitrary and time consuming. They are looking for ways to settle disputes inexpensively and quickly, and largely privately, without leaving public court records behind that future individuals can use in disputes.

Enter, ADR mechanisms. The Better Business Bureau nationally has been pushing on the local chapters to implement various forms of ADR in order to settle disputes between BBB members and between BBB members and the public consumers of member services.

Find your local BBB office number and make an appointment to speak with the local "Dispute Resolutions Specialist." They will be able to tell you exactly what they need to put you on a rotating list of Arbitrators and Mediators. It will usually involve some training course or series of courses. How you will do this depends somewhat on your personal temperament: If you are a person who is comfortable hearing evidence, summarizing that evidence and making a decision as to what is "fair," then Arbitration is for you. If you would rather help the parties to come to a negotiated settlement between themselves, then you should focus toward Mediation. If you can do either, then learn BOTH, and offer them both as services.

The BBB Arbitrations and Mediations don't pay much (right now the local BBB pays $50 per arbitration) but if you do them well, the BBB staff themselves will become your biggest cheerleaders in the community, and it will VERY quickly raise your profile among BBB registered Businesses. If you're willing to do some legwork, go to the local Chamber of Commerce and discuss with them setting up a joint BBB-Chamber Mediation / Arbitration program, where disputes from members of organizations are handled through the BBB program. Same thing with the local "Apartment Owners Association" (for landlord-tenant disputes). This takes some work on your part, but if you can make the connections, you can build a really solid base of arbitration and mediation clients, who sometimes will use you OUTSIDE of the BBB or other processes. That is where you make your money, because with some of the bigger arbitrations and mediations, you price at normal attorney rates $150-300 per HOUR.

Just about every state has a "mediation" course taught by some organization in that state. It's usually a 30 to 40 hour course and will cost you about $1000. There are also advanced courses that can be taken, which allow you to do things such as mediating a divorce on behalf of the family courts (via an Advanced Family Mediation Course). These will teach you the basics of everything you will need to know, and will involve a lot of "role-playing" exercises so that you get used to the format. Once you've finished the training, look around your local area for the "Alternative Dispute Resolution Center" or something similarly named, and volunteer with them to "co-mediate" a couple of cases. These will be unpaid, but they will give you experience.

With some experience under your belt in arbitrations and mediations, again, talk to the Family and CPS courts about taking on mediation of CPS cases and mediation of divorces and civil matters. With these, you're being paid by the court system, in attempting to resolve issues instead of going to trial. Where I practice, EVERY case is REQUIRED to go to mediation BEFORE it can be taken to trial, unless the attorneys involved sign an affidavit that mediation would be completely without benefit (and the Judges take a really hard look at those). Again, sometimes the courts want special training or some level of experience, which can be gained from other training (such as the representing children CLE, CASA or free divorce programs mentioned above).

[End Part 3]

By Charles W. Skinner on 2013 01 31, 8:54 pm CST

6.) Bar Journal Writing: I don't have much to say about this one. Join the local Bar Association, and if they have a Journal, find the editor and ask if there is a topic he would like you to write on. You may get something interesting, or something completely boring, but write the best article you can, and then go and sit down with the editor for an hour or two once you're done and edit it WITH him or her. Not only will it show initiative, you will also become a better writer by doing so. Try to do one every Quarter, if you can, and if possible, get a picture of yourself attached to the article so the public can associate the writing and stories with your name and face.

Also, join committees of the local Bar Association. After one or two years, especially if you're writing on topics related to law or practice of that committee, you will likely be made chair of a committee as individuals rotate off or no longer wish to serve on that committee. This can give you a ready-made topic for you to write for the local Bar Journal, or at least an area of law that the committee is looking to update or giving advice upon.

Try to write for other publications from time to time as well. Again, it raises your profile. (Local Paper Editorial, local Magazine, School Board, Chamber of Commerce Newsletter, etc...).

7.) As for mentorship, that kind of runs throughout this advice. The individuals who you meet, and the time you spend cultivating those relationships will somewhat dictate how much assistance you're going to get. If there's a Bar Luncehon, sit with a different group of attorneys or Judges every time you can go. Talk to them about their practice areas, and ask if you might call upon them for advice from time to time.

Find out when the local "legal aid fair" or "lawyers for veterans" event is put on by the Bar Association or Legal Aid Society, go and help out. Pick an attorney practicing in an area you're interested in, and ask if you can WATCH if you're not comfortable giving advice to a client or two yourself. Help with the setup and break-down of the event, because it gives you time to talk to the attorneys who are dedicated to that event. Usually that is one of the biggest championed causes of the local Bar President (helping the indigent and poor) and just by BEING there, you start to gain the respect of the leadership of the local Bar Association, which usually will lead to a higher-profile in the community, because they WILL remember your name, and that you were giving of your time and efforts when they called.

I hope that I've been of help to you (specifically Sonja) and to any other younger attorney reading the preceding advice trying to make inroads into the practice of law in your local community and to raise your profile amongst the lawyers you practice with.

By Charles W. Skinner on 2013 01 31, 9:17 pm CST

Mr. Skinner, Excellent advice. Good job.

By Henry Legere on 2013 01 31, 10:20 pm CST

Mr. Skinner, I truly don't know how to thank you. This was so generous of you. People honestly do not know how to go about these things, but what is brilliant about your suggestions is that anyone who follows them will certainly find more information, which will lead them to more opportunities, which in turn will lead to more information, and so forth. I especially appreciate your advice on humility. I've always been that way, but it hasn't always been appreciated. Maybe now is the time when it will come in handy.

Now that I've thought about this, I'm not so surprised that lawyers graduate without knowing how to start a career. Please believe me that they don't. I'm sure my law school was not unusual in that it catered to Big Law. (Catering to those who endow the chairs is -- conveniently enough -- what also requires the least amount of personal mentoring and creative, strategic thinking.) Too many of the professors didn't know much about how to be lawyers -- or if they did know once, they forgot. At the time, I was always skeptical of the students who criticized the faculty on this ground. I'm afraid they had a point.

I believe a lot of people would prefer to practice on their own, or in a smaller setting, but don't see a path. They want to, but they simply don't know how. Not to mention that law school often has the effect of making a person more timid, rather than less so. You come out realizing how little you do know, and how serious your deficiencies could turn out to be some day. Thanks for a roadmap that proves it's not insurmountable.

I hope things go great for you in 2013.

By Sonja (Real Name, Real Spelling) on 2013 02 01, 9:11 am CST

Skinner: If in fact you are considered part of this new legal generation that faces hardship then I applaud your determination and admonish your pretentious air. Great for you that you want as a solo practitioner and can afford malpractice insurance. I for one do not want to work in the civil realm. Paying attention to my comment would have alluded you to the Public Loan Forgiveness Program that I am apart of. Anyone in my area knows this to be one of the better routes in this economy. This program allows your loans to be absolved after ten years of public service work. Therefore, I would pay over ten years, around $27,000 in loan payments instead of $130,000 (plus interest over thirty years, yikes); another wonderful reason for me to stay in the public sector. I have been working for four years, I have six years left before my loans are forgiven and I can do what I want. Needless to say, in my area, jobs are scarce. Turnover for government jobs is extremely low and in that very difficult to acquire. I have applied to almost every job applicable to this Program and reiterating my earlier point, I am either overqualified or competition is fierce.
Having worked in civil practice all through law school (one of my three jobs at the time), I found out that I am not suited for civil law. I’m not a good liar and I like to be on the right side of the law. That’s makes me enjoy criminal prosecution and government procurement law. It’s what I feel comfortable in and what I’m good at. So no, I will not be begging my judges for me to be appointed in their courtroom and WOULD NEVER allowed because it’s a conflict of interest with my position. I do not know where you practice, but here it is very hard to get an appointment to a court, I have people try to contact me every week to get into mine (needless to say it doesn’t ever happen.)

I already do charity work, pro bono and like I said I also write for a statewide bar association. I realize something soon will open up for me, but the patience for this has been exhausting. I also go to at least 1-2 CLEs a month. At that, I am done defending myself.

Finally, don’t jump down my throat and others because we are having a rough time and you aren’t. Some of us are doing everything in their power to try and succeed with all the obstacles in front of us. What I and they could use are words of encouragement. Not this “holier than thou” condescension. Also, don’t imply that I’m whining for stating my opinion of how things are for a lot of us young attorneys and for standing up to people like you who imply that with hard work this magical job will appear. It doesn’t happen for most of us, that’s why some many people are amazed and upset with Sotomayor’s comments.

By Young Attorney on 2013 02 01, 6:02 pm CST

Please chill. This is all about supply and demand. The problem with young lawyers not finding jobs is nothing personal, it's not about their lack of effort or ability, nor should they feel outraged because it's not happening for them. They shouldn't slip into some angry state because a job hasn't fallen out of the sky and they feel they are owed a job by somebody just because they went to school and passed a bunch of tests and borrowed a bunch of money. They need to offer value to somebody willing to pay for it. In the world as it is today it's the people who have some kind of technical background who are getting ahead. I'm sure there is plenty of work for IP lawyers who have a B.S. in some technical field. The days of the liberal arts major who doesn't know what else to do having the safety valve of law school are over.
The advice given is very good, but probably won't be enough to solve the problem for everyone. Sotomayor's comments, I think, were directed at the people who did land jobs, in BigLaw or wherever, and are complaining that it's a lousy job and boring.
There are lots of people, not just lawyers, who are being left behind because the world just doesn't need what they have to offer.
BTW, forget the mediation route. That field is so overcrowded it's ridiculous. So many so-called mediators chasing too little work, so they are all offering "training." You can't even find volunteer opportunities because everyone is trying to get into this. Besides, people who can pay money want to hire a mediator who is seasoned, older and has been around the block, not some young inexperienced person.

By Ex BabyBoomer lawyer on 2013 02 02, 5:40 am CST

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