Once a Lawyer…

Robert A. Brooks, author of Cheaper by the Hour, about temporary lawyers and the deprofessionalization of the law, has shared this blog entry about why he may have a law degree, he’s happier not practicing.

I am a recovering lawyer.

Now, that’s not as bad as it sounds. I’m happy I went to law school and got some good experience practicing at a couple of corporate firms and the U.S. Justice Department, and I still use my legal skills (in my personal life and as a Criminal Justice professor).

But I’m happier that I stopped practicing. I can’t help but notice that the law (as well as other professions) seems to be headed toward greater proletarianization (bureaucratization and other processes that leave attorneys little ideological control over their work) and deprofessionalization (work is becoming more standardized, routinized, insecure, and surveilled).

I wrote about these processes in my book Cheaper by the Hour  which is based in participant-observation (I did the work myself for three years while working on my dissertation) and in interviews of other temporary lawyers.

Cheaper by the Hour calls temporary lawyers the “leading edge of the new legal underclass” and describes attorneys working in sometimes abysmal physical conditions and performing rote work (“document review”) that uses few legal skills. In a review of the book,  Library Journal rightly called this a “Dickens-meets-Dilbert world” (nice – I wish I’d thought of that myself).

Lawyers’ dissatisfaction with the law and their careers is of course nothing new, but there seems to be a harder edge to it now, a deeper disappointment. Witness the recent slew of lawsuits (described in the New York Daily News) filed by alumni of a dozen law schools that claim the schools inflated their placement statistics.

I’d love to hear from current law students, recent grads, practicing lawyers, and burnt-out ex-lawyers. Is the practice of law changing fundamentally? Do you find satisfaction with your work? Are you able to balance work/life demands? Are you under-employed and overburdened with debt? Would you do it all over again if given the chance?

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