A few years ago I was at a turning point in my career. I had a job that was ok. I was working for the government in a job I really liked. I thought the work was important. The pay was relatively low, but the hours and stress were high.
But I could tell I was burning out. I had two young kids at home and I wanted to spend time with them. Even when I was with them, I was thinking about work. So, stuff was bad, and I needed to change jobs.
I did what people do when they’re looking for a new job – I called people and asked them what I could do. I asked them to introduce me to people they know who might be willing to talk to me about what to do.
A friend of a friend got me in touch with a lawyer whose career was on the rise. He was short on time, but gracious about talking to me.
At least until I told him I wanted a job where I could stay involved in my kids’ lives, and that being a good parent is a priority for me.
There are plenty of lawyer blogs out there. There are plenty of personal finance blogs too. But what’s up with the lack of personal finance blogs for lawyers a more than only a few years into their careers?
Doctors have it good.
First, they get to help people. Second, in an emergency, their skills are useful. I thought about going to Haiti after the earthquake to volunteer to take some depositions, but then I realized I’m a transaction cost, and more transaction costs don’t help injured people.
I was having breakfast with a lawyer a few weeks ago. He’s older than me; his kids are out of law school and starting their careers.
As a side note: I think I’ll have been kind of a failure as a parent if my kids become lawyers. I like the John Adams idea that I study law so that my kids can study art or philosophy. Or, if not art, something that they choose. Seeing someone follow in their parents’ footsteps, if they haven’t tried something else, makes me depressed. Is progress not the goal? Must we all be sheep? Well-shorn sheep, to be sure, but no more in charge of our own path in life. Though, of course, I also strive to be less judgmental. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Etc.
Anyway, I asked my breakfast companion for parenting advice, since he seemed like the kind of person who would like to be asked for advice.
His advice: don’t send your kids to private school.
His is one of the few blogs I read close to daily. He writes about law practice management from a perspective that would be massively familiar to anyone interested in financial independence. Basically, burn the conventions of the past, focus on what matters, and create the life you’d like to have for yourself.
It’s inspiring stuff that he’s put into practice in his own law firm in North Carolina (that he runs from all over the world).
As a partner in a small firm, I find his management advice very sage, even though I’m not planning to live out of a suitcase any time soon.
The Millionaire Next Door is a classic in personal finance literature. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s less a prescription for how to invest your cash but a description of who actually becomes rich.
Lawyers tend to want to think through what principles ought to apply in order to get to a certain result. Here are some examples: Make a lot of money, then you will be rich. Go to a good law school, then you will be successful. Make partner, then you will be rich.
These are all fine inferences if you want to think your way into disappointment.
Another way to figure out what gets a result is to look at when that result has happened, then study how it happened.
A while ago I got deep into triathlon. I’d work out for three or four hours in a day, then finish, eat, and think about triathlon some more.
Because there are limits to how much someone can really exercise in a day – and I hit them – I found myself still wanting to do something with triathlon. I was still thinking about triathlons.
So, what did I do? I read books on triathlon, I browsed blogs about triathlon, and – I say with no small amount of shame, given the forum – I bought stuff associated with triathlon.
Virtually none of this buying, reading, or browsing did much to advance my triathloning much. My abilities were not such that reducing the weight on my bicycle, for example, but 30 grams made a tremendous difference in where I placed in a race. (more working out, though, did a lot)
Lawyers are known for being broken people. Compared to the average person on the street, we’re more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol suffer from mental illness, or commit suicide.
There are a lot of reasons for this. For one thing, the law attracts and rewards pessimists and being pessimistic doesn’t really correlate with happiness. For another, much of law is zero sum; someone loses every case that goes to trial or a contested motion. Lawyers are second guessed often, and we often see people at their worst.
All of that is important for why lawyers tend to be miserable. But I think there’s another important problem – lawyers think external rewards bring happiness.