The Above the Law blog is filled with complaints about the legal job market. It's too hard to find a high-paying job; the high-paying jobs require a lot of unpleasant unenjoyable time-consuming work. I may have had some sympathy for this a few years ago. Today, I just don't want to hear it.
I started the Center for Class Action Fairness in 2009 on a whim, with the vague goal of racking up some court experience that might let me establish a law-school clinic and sneak onto a tenure track at an advanced age, and maybe do some good in the process. Then I discovered how much I like litigation when I have autonomy and don't have to make arguments I don't believe in, and discarded the idea of writing law-review articles no one would read. Today I have two attorneys working for me, a fascinating docket, and get to argue more appellate cases every six months than I did in my entire ten-year BigLaw career. Every month, I'm presented with class action settlements where class members have legitimate objections and want to object, but my attorneys don't have the time because of other opportunities or commitments. Every month, I'm presented with still other class action settlements where class members would have legitimate objections, but no class member ever approaches me. If I were more gregarious and extroverted and proselytized for my cause better (and if I wasn't burdened with a right-wing resume that has the consumer blogs skeptical of my motives and refusing to write about me), I'd be even more utterly overwhelmed with these opportunities. I don't have a monopoly on class action objections or helping consumers and shareholders. At the risk of creating competition that cannibalizes my donors, go do what I do, maybe you'll do it better. You'll certainly make more money than me and my attorneys do if you don't handcuff yourself with a non-profit structure; this year alone, we've sacrificed hundreds of thousands of dollars of legitimate attorney-fee requests because we would have exceeded IRS limits if we asked for everything we were legally entitled to.
Ivy League schools have been discriminating against Asian-Americans for years; affirmative action programs produce illegal racial discrimination and entitlement to attorneys' fees in places other than New Haven; the Obama administration is engaging in any number of lawless counterproductive activities that could be stopped by litigation; there's a potential opportunity to profitably advocate on behalf of mass-tort clients victimized by their attorneys. Mad at your law school? Find a friendly tenured law professor and bring an antitrust class action against the AALS. Sue telemarketers that violate the TCPA: be the one who takes down those bastards at Card Services. Go, find clients, toil in obscurity and poverty for a few years, come out millionaires.
And these are just some of the things I would do if I didn't have to sleep or if there were 144 hours in the day or I could clone myself five or six times. And it drives me nuts because nobody's doing them!
Even if all you're looking for is money, the plaintiffs' mass-tort bar charges their clients 35-40% of recovery and flies around in Gulfstream jets. Be the one to charge clients 20-30% and settle for flying in first class.
On the defense side, does BigLaw really add enough value to justify $2M PPP partners—who make that money after the overhead of expensive offices in the middle of the city? Perhaps in mass-tort cases mobilizing hundreds of attorneys, but there's lots of other low-hanging litigation fruit for the picking. You don't need to be physically near the courthouse; everything's electronically filed these days. Get together with three of your law school friends, find a loft on the cheap side of town, bill lower rates for fewer hours, and make more money, or at least "enough" money to enjoy your newfound leisure and autonomy.
Your career ideas don't have to be my ideas. You went to law school for a reason; find a cause you love, and advocate for it, and, to the extent it's not entirely crazy, the money will follow; even if it doesn't, you'll be happier. Tikkun olam, even if your goals aren't mine. (From July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, class action settlement objectors won a grand total of seven federal appeals. I won four of those cases. If you're a regular reader of mine, you know more about this area of the law than I did when I started. How many other areas of the law are there that have gotten corrupted and could be meaningfully moved in the right direction with a little effort? Go find them.)
Want to know a secret that will help you even if you stick around in (or decide to go into) BigLaw? The law is big. Really big. Too big for anyone to learn completely. There are millionaire lawyers who barely understand civil procedure, but they hire someone who sort of does or fake their way through it. Pick an area of the law and learn it thoroughly, thinking hard and skeptically about it. There's no barrier to entry to reading cases and law review articles. Just by doing that, you'll become one of the top fifty attorneys in that area, and the other 49 are earning good livings. If it's a minor area of the law (like, say, class action settlement objections), and you put a couple of thousand hours into learning it and thinking about ways to make it better, you'll become one of the top five attorneys in that area before you know it.
But stop whining. The minute you become a member of the bar, you're a member of a cartel that permits extraordinary rents. And with 21st-century technology, you don't need a lot of help to make it out on your own.