Summary: Why is it that so many attorneys feel helpless and unfulfilled?

Lately I have heard many attorneys ask "What's the point?" This generally comes up in connection with depressing conversations and leads to uncomfortable silences and existential questions. I often feel forced to agree with such sentiments and find myself commiserating with responses like "That's awful!" and "That sucks" and "I know how you feel!"

Is there Any Point for Attorneys Working Their Tail Off Inside of Law Firms, Being Abused and Worrying About Career Security?
 
A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes

Have you ever asked "What's the point?" Here are a few examples of attorneys who have recently asked this sad question:
 
  • An attorney from a top-five law school, on his third job in three years (law firm, to in-house, to law firm), now in a slow practice area, making very little money, stuck in a firm in the Midwest where he is not from and knows no one, making $55,000 a year, and cannot even afford his student loans.
     
    • "I'm down to eating macaroni and cheese just to get by."
    • "I'm taking the bus to work because I want to save gas money."
  • An attorney in an important role in a major American company, working 3,000 to 3,500 hours a year for the past 20 years, commuting two hours to work each way, and never having had the time to get married or have children, but supporting her parents (who live with her).
     
    • "I make close to $900,000 a year but would like to work closer to home."
    • "I'm rarely home before midnight."
  • An attorney who moved to California from New York to get the "good life" and has now discovered that despite making $300,000 a year all she can afford for her family is an apartment because even a two-bedroom "fixer upper" costs over $2-million.
     
    • "You should see our apartment. It's not very nice. It's all I can afford. I never thought I'd be living like this after making this much money."
    • "I'm not sure what is worse: The fact that I hate my job and am working for nothing, or the fact that I never see my son."
  • An attorney with excellent qualifications who was a partner at two major American law firms but now has no business. Despite numerous interviews he has been unable to get anything for over a year and wants to give up completely.
     
    • "I'm thinking about just giving up. I do not know what to do. Is it completely hopeless for a partner without business?"
    • "Every time I get an interview my wife gets all excited and starts looking at where we could live, but then nothing works out."
  • An attorney who had an important role in a government agency that was tarnished in a scandal. Because he was at the agency during the scandal, his name comes up when people search for him online and he is not getting any interest from law firms even though he was formerly getting called and recruited weekly.
     
    • "I'm not sure if my career is over, but with a law firm it certainly is. I'm so depressed I do not know what do to."
  • An attorney from a major American law firm who moved to another state to take care of her daughter. After 12 years of working for the same law firm, she was let go because the firm did not want to establish an office in another state. Due to her age, she had an impossible time finding something new.
     
    • "I never thought I would not be able to get a job. I was months from making partner at my firm and needed to be near my daughter. Now no one has any interest in me at all."
  • A Harvard Law School graduate who lost his job with a major law firm and is now working in insurance defense and unable to get interest from large law firms, because he is in insurance defense and large law firms will not touch him.
     
    • "Half of my department lost their jobs after we settled a large case. I took the first job I could get because I needed a job. Now no one will hire me because I do not have the 'right job'."
  • A woman who went to a top law school, spent five years at a top law firm, worked for a small company for a year and now wants to go back to a law firm, but cannot find a job because she is in a practice area that is unique.
     
    • "I'm pretty sure I'm going to give up and do something else. It does not make any sense to spend the next year looking for a job. There are no openings."
    • "I never thought my career would be destroyed and stopped by simply going in house."
  • A woman who is extremely motivated, intelligent and working in a large law firm she finds "too confining" and wants to either leave the job or get a job as a "CEO" of a technology company. She is the sole breadwinner of her family.
     
    • "I cannot do this anymore. Do you know of any companies that need a CEO?"
    • "Maybe there is a law firm that will let me open an international office for them. I'm sick of it here."
  • A patent attorney who lives on the opposite side of the country from his wife and has been unable to find a position in the same market for the past five years.
     
    • "It is really hard having a marriage like this. I see her on holidays which is good."
  • An attorney who lost his job after 20 years, has three children with disabilities and is the only breadwinner in his family and cannot find another job.
     
    • "Do you know of any contract jobs?"