Whatever You Choose, You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Your Career

BY PIA OWENS

Last spring I heard a 2L bragging about his summer job at Über-Prestigious Law Firm. He was looking forward to the lavish lunches and social events, but knew things would change if he accepted an offer there; as a junior associate, he would work nights and weekends, keep his Blackberry with him at all times, and not have much of a life outside work. He complained, “I wish it didn’t have to be like that. It sucks, but that’s what they pay you for.” When I asked if he had considered other types of jobs, he stared at me. “It’s Über-Prestigious Law Firm. Do you know how hard it is to get a job there?”

Here at HLS, we’re privileged to be recruited for law firm jobs that students at other schools fight over. Whether this reflects misguided snobbery or commendable foresight on the part of law firms, it makes firm life the path of least resistance for us. At the same time, HLS provides support for public service work that ranges from funding during and after law school to an entire office dedicated to advising students and helping us find jobs. We get the best of both worlds – but only if we think through our career choices. All the public service funding in the world won’t help you if you limit your options to Vault 10 law firms.

There’s another side to this coin, though. All the public service funding in the world won’t help you if you honestly want to work at a law firm. This does not make you a bad, greedy, or selfish person. There are plenty of good reasons, besides prestige and money, to work at law firms. If you want to practice corporate or IP law, among other areas, a firm job is a great idea; few legal services clinics have a thriving M&A practice. If you’re looking for great training, lots of resources at your disposal, or the stability of a large company, there’s nothing wrong with getting that from a firm. If you’re hoping to move into a specialized area, even if your goal is ultimately altruistic, you may not be able to get a job right out of school – the experience you need might be waiting for you at a law firm.

It’s worth remembering, too, that not every firm is a 1,000-lawyer New York behemoth that sucks away the best years of your life. Some places have a dozen lawyers, and you know every single person in the office. Some pay less, but you can go home at night. Some specialize in a less demanding practice area. And some people are happy at the 1,000-lawyer New York behemoth, because they know what they want, and that fits right into their career plans.

My point isn’t that everyone should work at a firm, or that everyone should do public service. It’s that we have the luxury of a wide range of career options in both the public and private sectors. The important thing is that we choose, and that we not feel guilty about our choice. Not everybody has to be a public defender. Not everybody has to be a corporate lawyer. We can happily coexist.

Pia Owens, 2L, worked at a firm last summer and didn’t regret it.

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