Being a lawyer sucks, law school was a terrible mistake, and you're drowning in debt.
It's a popular refrain. I've been leading the chorus for years. Maybe it's time for an attitude adjustment.
Before you dismiss me as a cockeyed optimist who references musicals while doling out advice, hear me out.
A Pro Bono Plan Pays Off
Yesterday, Above the Law published an interview with Dana Tapper, a University of Virginia 3L who's pursuing a career in public interest law. Tapper has student debt -- a lot of it -- yet she's firmly committed to sticking with the public interest route and working with kids.
This week, Tapper appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" after her friend wrote to Ellen to share Tapper's story. While on the show, Ellen surprised Tapper with $20,000 to help pay for her bar exam expenses and make a dent in her loans.
If you want to cry uncontrollably in front of your computer, you can watch Tapper's surprise below:
Tapper told Above the Law's Staci Zaretsky that she's never doubted her decision to forego the big firm bucks to help others. "I've always wanted to save the world, and now I have an avenue to do so thanks to law school," Tapper said. "Once you've seen the impact you can have as a zealous advocate who doesn't give up, it's definitely worth it."
Should You Do the Same?
Is her decision financially sound? Absolutely not. But I admire her passion. It's hard to imagine feeling the same way about transactions or bankruptcy or oil and gas law.
How can you rekindle your own passion for the law? Find pro bono opportunities that make you happy.
Pro bono work seems like the easiest way to use your legal background to help others, while still bringing home a comfortable salary. (Also, the ABA asks lawyers to volunteer their time.)
Let's try to find a happy ending to our legal career "mistakes" together by doing more pro bono work.
For me, the happiest day I ever spent in a courtroom was the day I watched an adoption in family court during law school. (A New York Times Opinionator piece about adoption recently reminded of that.) I have no interest in practicing family law, but I can still offer my time and legal skills to organizations in my community that help facilitate adoptions.
Editor's Note, March 5, 2015: This post was first published in March 2013. It has since been updated.
- Thanks to Talk Show, 3L Who Wants to Save the World Has $20K to Help Pay Her Student Debt (ABA Journal)
- Why You Should Do Pro Bono Work (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)
- Pro Bono Services Can Pay Off for Your Practice (FindLaw's Strategist)
- Remember You're Free to Deduct Pro Bono Expenses (FindLaw's Strategist)