How do you give career guidance to a twenty-something son? If you're like me, not very well. My offspring and I have been talking off and on for over a year about what he should do with his life.
Having labored in frustration at a social service agency for a couple of years, my youngest has come to the realization that he needs to supersize his education if he wants to get ahead in this world.
He has decided to go back to school and get a master's degree - but in what? All summer, he has been weighing his options. One week he considered social work; the next, he contemplated teaching. Briefly, public health administration was a possibility.
All noble callings that aspire to make a difference in the world. These were good choices, I thought, because my son is a giver, not a taker.
His latest and unfortunately final choice, however, left me dumbfounded. "Dad, I'm getting ready for the LSAT," my son announced proudly. What was the LSAT? Some new telecom company - that certainly would be a mistake. Then he said the words I never thought I'd hear from a son of mine.
"No, Dad, the LSAT is the Law School Admissions Test. I want to be an attorney."
I was speechless, but not for long. "You want to be a lawyer?," I blurted out. "Are you nuts?"
At age 25, it wasn't the first time my son had heard such an outburst. "Geez, Dad, why don't you tell me how you really feel?" he laughed.
How Many Attorneys Does It Take?
This wasn't the only surprise my son ever delivered to his parents. Over the years, he has told us he is gay . . . a vegetarian . . . and potentially a convert to Judaism.
But an attorney? I have a journalist's attitude toward attorneys. They are to be avoided. I once wrote a column that began "How many attorneys does it take to publish a newspaper? Answer: Two - one to insist on inserting a word in a story and another to insist on striking that very same word." Well, my attorney wouldn't let me publish it. It wasn't a joke, after all, it was what our two highly paid corporate mouthpieces actually had done. The column was a no go, I was counseled, because it would violate attorney-client privilege. Yeah, right.
So the smart journalist writes his story carefully enough, and accurately enough, to keep barristers at bay.
I even studied some law to become more adept at keeping attorneys away. For example, I learned I can say anything I want about attorneys in general - as a group of people - without fear of being sued. Why? Because the law holds that you cannot libel a group. In other words, no matter what you say, even if it's untrue, it cannot be considered libel when talking about any group, whether it's Tasmanians, CEOs, circus performers, or journalists.
So I can say whatever I want about attorneys with impunity. At least, I could before my son decided to become one.
The hardest part about all this is wondering where I went wrong as a parent? Had I failed to tell him enough attorney jokes? Or had I told too many, making him sympathetic to the much maligned members of the bar? My son has always had a soft spot for the downtrodden.
I have tried valiantly to change his mind. For one thing, law school takes three years - longer if you go part time. For another, admission is very competitive. The schools are inundated with applicants; I sent articles to my son pointing out that law school applications have hit a 20-year high. Even after graduation you still face one more test, and it's a doozie - the Bar Exam.
Next, I researched the job prospects. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyer employment will grow 18 percent this decade (considered average). "Job competition is expected to be keen," warns the BLS. Average salary at $88,000 looks pretty good, but I didn't tell him that. Nor did I share these words from the BLS profile: "Prospective lawyers should develop proficiency in writing and speaking, reading, researching, analyzing, and thinking logically - skills needed to succeed both in law school and in the profession." Yup, he's got all that.
Nor did this job description exclude my son: "Individuals planning careers in law should like to work with people and be able to win the respect and confidence of their clients, associates, and the public. Perseverance, creativity, and reasoning ability also are essential to lawyers, who often analyze complex cases and handle new and unique legal problems."
There was one description of the work that seemed useful. I found it at review.com/career. This site enables you to find a career that fits your traits or read about the traits of a particular profession. Among the site's comments from professionals in the field, I found this: "It's hard to work fourteen-hour days researching a case when you know that even your client thinks you're a bloodsucker," a New York attorney whined. The work is hard. Attorneys can work eighteen-hour days and spend up to 3000 hours per year on cases. "On some level you have to like what you do," mentioned one attorney, "because you're doing it all day long."
Of course, my boy might decide not to be an attorney at all. "Lawyers enter business, accounting, finance, entrepreneurship, and academia after being in the profession a number of years. Some become judges," review.com reports. Others enter politics - which reminded me that more than a few of our state legislators have a law degree.
But that too was a frightening thought.
Resting My Case
Unfortunately, all my research and reasoning with my son was for naught. He feels I need to come to terms with my lawyerphobia. He has also assured me he is not going to be one of those attorneys obsessed with money. His goal is to effect change by working for social action agencies. So I visited Idealist.org, a website for nonprofit agencies, and found countless openings for attorneys. My son can ultimately decide to help senior citizens, minorities, battered spouses - or any of a thousand causes. Or he could use his law degree as a springboard to other professions.
That made me feel pretty good until a co-worker informed me his lawyer friends started out that way "and they got tired of working for nothing." Eventually they sold out.
Gradually, I am coming to accept my son's decision. It hasn't been easy. I cannot talk to my brothers about it - I don't want them to know there's an attorney in the family. And support groups are out. I can hear it now, husband and wife sobbing the words, "We had no idea." Or the other parents claiming they could sense their child was different, from birth.
Frankly, I would rather cope in private. And, in time, I will come to a place of acceptance. Who knows, I might even help organize a lawyers' appreciation-day parade. It shouldn't be too hard. After all, crowd control won't be a problem.