1. Most professions reward an optimistic outlook. Everyone works toward positive outcomes, you want good things to happen, right? Law rewards a pessimistic outlook. Our job is literally worrying about everything that could possibly go wrong and planning for it. So it both attracts pessimists, and reinforces pessimism.
2. In most professions, everyone is essentially working together toward a mutual win. Doctors and patients both want the same outcome. In law, it tends to be a 0-sum game. If I’m having my best day it’s probably because someone else is having their worst day. So if you’re a person with any empathy at all, it’s kind of hard to take total joy in the wins. (Now you work in politics so you may be used to this.)
3. People generally hire lawyers because they’re going through something really bad. They don’t want to be hiring a lawyer. They’re miserable and misery loves company. Also, in my experience the kind of people who find they need lawyers tend to be people who can’t work things out for themselves, are prone to bad decision-making, or are just kind of assholes. These are your clients. They’ll be telling you what to do.
4. Law is a pretty hidebound, hierarchical profession. Where a lot of organizations try to be flat, law is happy to be almost military style in lines of command. So if you’re an associate, there will be a partner with an “if I say jump you jump” mentality. Same with judges. Same with law professors. People in law seem to love telling other people what to do, and often feel like they are the only one with the right answer. This is also to some degree encouraged. Learning to state your position with authority, even when you know you’re standing on thin ice, is part of being a lawyer.
5. Before I went into law I worked for big corporations. I learned management skills. I was kind of shocked to realize in law firms, management skills are not really acknowledged as a thing. You get promoted for winning cases and bringing in money to the firm. Once you’re promoted you get to boss other people around. In other words, lawyers often make terrible managers, and since the quality of your boss is a huge impact on your happiness, lots of unhappy people.
6. Add to that the long hours, the constant grind, the slow realization that you’re working within a system where things like “justice” and “right and wrong” and “truth” don’t really exist, and you get real cynical really quick.
7. Law school is expensive, you can easily come out of it with $200K+ debt after 3 years of not earning. If you land one of those high paying biglaw gigs right out of school, then score! But those positions are not guaranteed. Also, unlike medical school, there are way too many law schools out there trying to fill their classes, often with students who probably shouldn’t be lawyers. So there are a lot of lawyers chasing a limited supply of high paying jobs.
This also means that if you get out of law school and decide you don’t want to be a lawyer, you’re kind of screwed. The only job you can get that comes close to paying down those debts is a law job, so you’re stuck being a lawyer long after you wanted to leave. (Also, I worked for a firm that over-hired its class going into a downturn and ended up laying off almost the entire incoming class, basically screwing their careers. One promising biglaw assoc I knew was working evenings at a Buffalo Wild Wings to make ends meet.)
8. Billable hours are the devil’s work. Having to account for everything you do to the 10th of an hour is excruciating and the billable expectations (2300+ at some firms) often can require, let’s say, questionable billing practices. So if you’re an honest person, the fact that every week or month you have to submit a timesheet that is maaaaaybe a little fraudulent can wear on you. Or, you’re actually working 2300 hours a year and you’re just burnt to a crisp.
9. The constant, constant bickering. Sorry, I meant “meet and confers.” Discovery disputes can be some of the most petty, infuriating, hopeless parts of law – and they seemed to be a large part of my career.
10. A lot of other lawyers are just kinda jerks. Many are people who went into the career because they like to win or they like to argue. These are not the characteristics one generally seeks out in their colleagues.