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This lawyer took two lower-paying jobs in a row and was happier; now he writes on SCOTUS for the NYT

Posted Jun 2, 2014 6:15 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The New York Times journalist who covers the U.S. Supreme Court has some advice for newbie lawyers, based on his own experience: Get the best-paying job you can, but don’t get used to the money.

Writing for the Harvard Crimson, legal journalist Adam Liptak explains his advice. An unhappy lawyer who is locked into a mortgage and a cushy lifestyle won't be able to change jobs. “Leave yourself free to follow your heart,” Liptak says.

Liptak followed that path when he took two pay cuts to land his dream job as a journalist for the New York Times.

Liptak started out at a Wall Street law firm—a great learning experience—but he didn’t like punishing work schedule tied to hourly billing, and he didn’t like the person he had become.

“The experience tested my ethical compass, and it coarsened my behavior,” Liptak wrote. “I was sometimes a jerk in dealing with my adversaries. I was sloppy in accounting for my time. I managed to care deeply about whether associates at the firm across the street were making a few dollars more. I did almost no pro bono work.”

After four years in the trenches, Liptak took a pay cut to work as a First Amendment lawyer in the legal department of the New York Times Co. At that point he was closer to his dream job.

“I once heard a great piece of advice from Judge Robert D. Sack of the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit,” Liptak writes. “He was asked the secret to getting your dream job. Here’s what he said: ‘Hang around the hoop and hope someone gives you the ball.’

"One day I got the ball, and I grabbed it. And I took another pay cut to do it.”

Hat tip to @bobambrogi.

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