By Cliff Ennico
Hey, kids, have I got a deal for you!
Step right up to learn more about the hottest career in America!
You will spend three years in graduate school reading millions of pages of text, ruining your eyesight, then pass a rigorous multi-day exam to get your license. Then you will have to spend several years in a grueling apprenticeship working 80-plus hours or more each week.
But don’t worry . . . it gets better.
You will then have the privilege of working 24/7, with no time for vacation or family, for people who see you as a “necessary evil” at best (and just “evil” at worst), who resent the fact that they need your services, and who will nickel-and-dime you on your fees every chance they get because they think what you do for a living should be available as a free service on the Internet.
You will not be popular with fellow professionals. Not only will they not refer you any business, they will do everything they can to steal the few clients you have. You will have intense competition not only from millions of other professionals in your field, but from Web-based solutions and outsourcing firms in India and Bangladesh that offer to do what you do for a fraction of the cost (even though they haven’t gone through the rigorous training you have, and often do a poor job).
You will be forced to negotiate your fees constantly, and will have to insist on being paid up front or else risk not being paid at all for the work you do after it has been done. And if a client does cheat you out of your fee, you can’t talk about it online (or anywhere else) because you have to preserve your client’s confidentiality even if they refuse to pay for your services.
You will make a decent living, enough to send your kids to decent colleges and pay your mortgage, but you will not be rich enough to qualify for “one percenter” status.
You will be subject to hundreds of extremely technical rules of ethics and behavior: violate even one of these rules and you can lose your license.
There is no scientific basis for the work you do: much of the advice you will give your client will fall within “grey areas” requiring a fair amount of judgment and guesswork and a superior knowledge of human nature.
If you make even a small mistake doing your job, or your client isn’t 100 percent satisfied with the job you did, your client can sue you for malpractice. If a client sues you and wins, you will probably lose your home because you are not legally allowed to form a corporation or limited liability company (LLC) to limit your liability. You will have to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year for malpractice insurance, and there is no assurance you will be covered if the you-know-what hits the fan.
Even when you do your job perfectly, you will never get credit for it, and your clients will reward you by telling jokes about your profession at cocktail parties.
In exchange, you will have the privilege of working in one of the most prestigious careers in America.
Yes, boys and girls, you can be . . . a lawyer!
People have an image of lawyers making tons of money for doing nothing, and overcharging clients for doing something that should be a public service supported by taxpayers. But, for the vast majority of lawyers in the United States, nothing could be further from the truth.
“To put an attorney’s income in perspective, a surgeon with twenty years of experience earns exponentially more than a lawyer with the same number of years, and they both pale in comparison to any of the New York Yankees,” says Arkady Bukh (www.nyccriminallawyer.com), a New York City criminal attorney who has represented many defendants in high-profile white collar crime cases.
According to a recent U.S. Department of Labor report, the median annual income of all wage-and-salaried attorneys, nationally, was roughly $110,590 a year. Better than working at McDonalds, to be sure, but far from what you need to live in Manhattan, Greenwich (CT) or Beverly Hills.
“The mediocre attorney who graduates with mediocre grades from a mediocre school will get a mediocre job with a mediocre firm and can expect to make mediocre money,” says Bukh. “Rarely will they get more than one-third of their billing rate, which seldom is over $100 an hour.”
The amount of money an attorney can expect to make depends entirely on “location, location, location,” according to Bukh, who explains that “any attorney in New York, regardless of school and grades, is apt to make more money than a small town lawyer in Iowa; while a counselor with a large firm on Wall Street will make more than a one-man practice in Flatbush (Brooklyn).”
As for his own income and job satisfaction, Bukh says “no victorious defendant in criminal court ever complained that he overpaid his attorney.”
Cliff Ennico (www.succeedinginyourbusiness.com), a leading expert on small business law and taxes, is the author of “Small Business Survival Guide,” “The eBay Seller’s Tax and Legal Answer Book” and 15 other books.