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The Magazine of Illinois Lawyers

September 2016Volume 104Number 9Page 10

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President's Page

Musings About Life Beyond the Law

Most lawyers wonder what another career might be like, while many nonlawyers yearn to join our profession. Whose grass is greener?

Vincent CorneliusAm I the only one who wonders what I might be doing if I wasn't a lawyer? Of course, I'm not the only one. I can't be. Many lawyers have seemed to transition seamlessly into second careers that are completely unrelated to the law. I hate to admit that many of them appear to be less stressed out than when they practiced law. I recognize that this is a peculiar topic for the recently installed ISBA president to raise, but I'm sure that many of you have also wondered.

The truth is, while I may have wondered, I have never seriously considered any professional option other than the law. I know several lawyers who have left the profession to answer their calling in the ministry. Others have become real estate brokers, restaurant owners, and all manner of consultants.

A few lawyers have even developed consulting firms that advise lawyers who are in career transition. The second career that seems most common for lawyers is that of teacher or professor. Just about the only lawyer second career I have not seen yet is the Walmart greeter. I would wager a lock of my hair that one is out there somewhere.

The trials encountered by the typical practitioner outside of the courtroom far outnumber the bench and jury trials we navigate inside the courtroom. We encounter every practice challenge from law office management to law practice economics. Then there are the volatile opposing counsel, the irritated client, and the agitated judge, sometimes all in the same case. Law partnerships too often end with more acrimony than the typical divorce. The practice of law faces new threats every day. These are the challenges that seem to make lawyers wonder.

I am a first generation lawyer. I hail from one family of teachers and another family that owned a funeral home. No one ever pegged me as a funeral director, and the family funeral business never appealed to me, that is until I learned how much more money the typical funeral home makes than the vast majority of law offices. By then, I had made the full investment of time, emotion, and finance in my career as a lawyer, and my grandfather had sold the business to a valued employee.

My grandfather once laughed that the practice of law and the funeral business are a lot alike. He said that people only came to funeral homes and lawyers when things were really bad and every other option had already been exhausted. That is still funny to me, and mostly true. While I've never been told that I have the personality of an undertaker, I have been told that my personality is suited for politics, teaching, and ministry.

The nature of legal training lends itself to professional versatility. Lawyers are great thinkers, communicators, and strategists, with aspiring spirits. Lawyers own the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics. The President and First Lady of the United States were practicing lawyers who are well into their second careers in politics. The White House may even be occupied by another lawyer from Illinois after the November general election.

The lawyer second career that I have coveted most was Lester Munson's return to his journalism roots as a legal analyst for ESPN. I could see myself really enjoying that job (with a few research assistants, of course).

We all know someone who is well beyond the traditional college age who has said to us, "You know, I've been thinking about law school." Oddly enough, the law is the second career for many very successful lawyers and judges. Many are the lawyers who are former teachers, police officers, and social workers. Supreme Court Justice Ann Burke speaks proudly of her first career as a teacher. Supreme Court Justice Robert Thomas remembers fondly his first career as kicker for the Chicago Bears. The examples are endless.

The lawyers who have decided to leave the profession, exasperated with the challenges of "doing good," stand in stark contrast to the many people who have abandoned or outgrown their well-established first careers, and decided to become lawyers with the same desire to do good. This makes for an interesting juxtaposition. For different reasons, many nonlawyers yearn to enter the legal profession, while many lawyers contemplate their exit strategy. If only one could know with certainty whether the grass is actually greener on the other side of the fence. For now, I'll take my chances on this side of the fence.

Member Comments (2)

What misled many under-graduates away from such non-legal occupations was the law school industry bubble advertising of its graduates' lucrative starting salaries luring them away from other graduate school programs that would have better served them. Its bait that "...a law school degree qualifies graduates for a wide variety of other well paying occupations..." was especially effective in the downsizing, layoffs and termination of other graduate programs.

I, like most lawyers I know, have had similar musings over the years about other careers, and this article really struck a chord with me. I have found many opportunities for "doing good", and thus great career satisfaction in the law despite it's many challenges. I agree with the author - for now, and for me at least, the grass truly is greener on this side of the fence. A very thoughtful piece.