If you’ve joined the thousands of other attorneys who bailed out of the legal profession in the last several years because you couldn’t make ends meet—it’s not your fault. If you’re still in practice but your miserable, it’s also not your fault. If you’re one of the legions of law school graduates who have $100K+ student loan debt, and, despite looking day and night, cannot find a single job even remotely related to law, it’s also not your fault.
I Don’t Like “Fault”
This is a hard one for me to write because I hate assigning blame. When I left the legal profession, I was absolutely sure it was my fault. I owned my failure and I was determined not to feel sorry for myself or blame anybody else. This mindset is deeply ingrained; and I’ve felt this way about fault for as long as I can remember. I don’t even like talking about fault because ultimately, it usually doesn’t matter. The more important thing is fixing the problem.
Just a quick side story: my late father-in-law, Jack, was a Marine. He was also an inveterate practical joker. And one of the things he hated about the other services is he felt that soldiers, sailors and airmen (like me) spent too much time doing investigations and writing reports figuring out who to hold accountable, when they could have been spending that time and energy actually fixing problems. One time, to illustrate the point, he a few of his Marine buddies went to an Air Force base and dumped several cans of pink paint all over an old fighter jet on display out in front of the base. As they walked about whistling with their hands behind their backs, everyone else on base was running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to figure out who did it and how they should punish whoever did it. They had the cops, the lawyers, the commanders all over this problem. Meanwhile, not a single airman on that base ever considered the idea of simply grabbing a power hose and rinsing the paint off the plain before it dried. While the airmen were naval gazing over fault, the paint dried and they ultimately had to chip it off and refinish the plane. Their first instinct was to find fault when what they should have done is washed the goddamn paint off the plane. When Jack told me that story, I felt like it was a master class in everything you need to know about “fault”, and I’m a big proponent of just solving the problem. But this is the exception.
Fault is the Problem
The difference here is that fault is the problem—to wit—too many of us have become paralyzed by blaming ourselves for failures we didn’t make and for shortcomings that we don’t have. When I quit law, my sense of self worth and fear of the future was so crushing that I couldn’t get out of bed for months, and I’m not an anecdote—I’m a statistic. This is understandable. We lawyers are a group of high achievers. We fought all the way to get where we are. To become lawyers we had to to ace high school, get through college, score in the highest percentiles on the LSAT, get through the grueling first year of law school, take and pass those four hour exams that determined our entire grade, and finally pass the bar. We are self starters, go-getters. For many of us this is the first time that we have ever failed in life. Of course we blame ourselves.
But we need to stop. I firmly believe that in order to move forward, regain our courage, get our mojo back and emerge from this setback to do great things in the world with our considerable skills and knowledge—we first have to acknowledge that we were set up to fail. And we have to understand how.
The Fatal Flaw
Prof. Campos wrote this book for people considering going to law school, but it’s very useful for our purposes because it succinctly explains exactly what the problems are with the legal profession and how those problems caused us to fail. Basically, it comes down to two interrelated problems:
1. There are too many cotton pickin’ lawyers;
2. Law schools are no longer set up to train lawyers—they’re just profit centers for universities, designed to sell you a degree for an exorbitant amount of money and then throw you out into a non-existent job market with crushing student loans.
Naturally, this is a gross oversimplification, and I’m oversimplifying intentionally because I want you to read the book. Prof. Campos goes into all sorts of interesting issues such as how law school went from becoming an academic exercise to a profit making industry, how technology has changed the legal profession and reduced the need for lawyers, and how the profession has adapted internally—in ways not friendly to practicing attorneys.
But the main takeaway I hope you’ll get is that you didn’t fail, and/or are not failing, because of any shortcoming on your part; but because you were deliberately set up to fail. The law school industry is not the same thing as the legal profession, and the law school industry deliberately misleads you into buying an overpriced degree that is not particularly marketable in this day and age. That’s why you failed.
Forgive Yourself—and then Move On
The point of all this is not to make you feel sorry for yourself or convince you to sit around blaming other people for your problems. I want you to help yourself and I want you to succeed by calling upon the many skills and talents that got you to where you are in the first place. But before you can do that, you first need to understand that the burden of blame you are carrying is not yours to carry. So throw it down by the side of the road and never let it bother you again. And then make the next steps on your life’s journey unencumbered.