The Whiniest Profession?

The writer uses a pseudonym, Atticus Grinch, and with good reason.  His snarky, self-indulgent whining could potentially win him the title, Prince of the Slackoisie, despite stiff competition.

I was at a fundraising event downtown—accountants, doctors, entrepreneurs and engineers mingled about, cocktails in hand. A young, smug-faced finance guy with expensive shoes came up to me, shook my hand and asked what I did for a living.

A smirk began to curl on his lips and he said: “Hey, what do you throw to a drowning lawyer? His partners.”

Did he laugh? No. Did he cry? No. He did what a self-indulgent whiner does: his thoughts devolved to himself.

Little did he know that earlier that day, I had spent an hour of unbillable time researching effective suicide methods on

If his life is so miserable that he’s seriously contemplating suicide, then it strongly suggests one (or both) of two things. He’s either suffering from clinical depression and needs professional care or he’s made an exceptionally poor choice by becoming a lawyer and needs to get out.

This isn’t a huge mystery. As law schools opened on every street corner, sucking in ever more ignorant children with government-backed loans, and refusing to vet their matriculators for their ability to withstand the pressure of the profession, new lawyers who lacked the qualities necessary for a successful, happy future doing what lawyers do, serving their clients, clogged the tubes.

Indeed, we lawyers should be a happy lot. We’re paid well, many of us earning six figures within the first few years of practice. We’ve got smarts; research suggests our average IQ is a not-too-shabby 120, for whatever that’s worth. We’re lucky in that our skill set can easily align with our social values too, whether that means serving big business or helping refugees. And while everyone has a lawyer joke up their sleeve, parents are generally proud to say their kid is a lawyer. We should be winners in the pursuit of happiness.

No, no, no.  Somebody lied to you, and despite your “not-too-shabby” intellect, you were stupid enough to believe them.  This wasn’t about you.  This wasn’t the magic of being “winners in the pursuit of happiness.”  This was about what lawyers exist to do, and that’s serve clients.

He then runs through the typical litany of lawyerly misery that pops up at every lawyer group therapy session, because it’s so hard to be a lawyer, and so many lawyers he knows, between blow, booze and body odor, are all screwed up.  Because it’s so hard to be a lawyer.

And, yes, we snuff it. Our suicide rate is six times greater than that of the general population.

What makes us so gloomy?

Does that statistic bring tears to your eyes? Does that persuade you that we’re “so gloomy”?  Then you’re in the wrong job, not because you’re depressed but because you aren’t smart enough to recognize nonsense when you see it.

At the core of this self-indulgence is the fallacy that lawyers are special. Our suicide rate is so very high?  Six times the average?  That sounds so serious. That’s the sort of statistic that children in the happiness industry use to sell their snake oil. But we’re not special.

We don’t even crack the top ten professions inclined toward suicide, and we’re no different than lathe operators.  You want misery? Stick your hands into people’s mouths everyday and inflict pain. Dentists are number two, with physicians leading by a wide margin.

First, this is the statistic that matters, not that lawyers are more likely to commit suicide than the general population.  How do lawyers fare in comparison to other professionals, and the answer is we’re doing pretty well. This doesn’t mean any suicide is fine, but that we’re hardly overwhelmingly prone to it.

Second, rather than whine about the laundry list of self-indulgent causes of lawyerly misery, our “pessimistic explanatory style,” the pressure of the “billable hour,” the “dispiriting nature of the work itself where the quality of the job I perform can have little to do with the outcome,” grow up.

We’re not unique in having to endure pressure, ambiguity, hard work, outcomes beyond our control.  That’s the job. That’s our responsibility.  If you don’t want to endure the terrible pressure of being a lawyer, don’t be a lawyer.  But don’t be a doctor. And don’t be a dentist. And forget about being a lathe operator.

This baby Machiavelli’s whining will resonate with his fellow slackoisie, concerned only with their own feelz of unhappiness. That’s what happens when you only look in the mirror and forget that you’re not the center of the universe.  They will wring their hands and shower appreciation on him for writing the words that they feel as well. Oh yes, I’m so sad too. You have captured my misery. You are so right.

If those are your feelings when reading this tripe, then get help and get out. Nobody promised you that being a lawyer was the surest path to happiness.  What you were promised was that you would gain certain skills that would allow to help other people as their lawyer.

You want misery? Try being injured through no fault of your own and lacking the ability to pay for medical care or feed your children. How about spending 27 years in a prison cell for a crime you didn’t commit.  But some kid tells a lawyer joke and you feel the need to look up ways to off yourself?

The last feature at the shit-carnival is other lawyers, aka “colleagues.” I put that word in quotes because we also call them “adversaries,” revealing a distressing paradox. Unique among professionals, ours is a zero-sum adversarial system. Scaring, devastating, surprising, misleading and stressing out your enemy-colleague is part of winning. We’re trained to not trust anything they say and have everything confirmed in writing.

For people who belong in the legal profession, the adversarial system is a feature, not a bug.  That’s because of the one thing wholly unmentioned in this pathetic philippic, clients.  The adversary system isn’t a scheme to suck the joy out of your life, but the heart of why lawyers exist, to represent clients with divergent interests and provide a means to resolve their differences short of broad swords.

If representing your client isn’t a good enough reason to wake up in the morning, put on a seersucker suit and go do battle, then you have no business being a lawyer. But for crying out loud, stop whining about it and demanding that the legal profession reinvent itself to make you happy. It’s not about you. It never was. It should never be.

So you fucked up by going to law school? Cut your losses and do something else. You are in the wrong profession.

H/T Cristian Farias


26 thoughts on “The Whiniest Profession?

  1. Jordan Rushie

    A lawyer joke made him sad? Jesus.

    My paralegal did jail time over a fight when he was 19. He studied law in jail, and even got a paralegal certificate. Whenever I bitch about how hard my job is, he reminds me that when he got out of jail he couldn’t even get a job as a WalMart greeter making minimum wage. There are guys on roofs right now in 90 degree weather, making $25 an hour, who are going to be unemployed once it gets cold out. Many people would kill to be able to bill what lawyers bill just to give advice and write briefs.

    This kid thinks his woes are somehow special because he has a law degree? Give me a break.

  2. Noxx

    A wise old man once told me it was fruitless to pursue a profession you don’t enjoy.

    Well, he wasn’t so much a “wise old man” as a manic mix of Doc Brown and Hunter Thompson, who would curse my parentage with amazing fluency from deep within a blue cloud of Mexican grass, while writing equations in the air and stabbing his horny yellowed finger at my forehead, and incidentally teaching me many, many things I would need to know in my profession.

    I think what he actually said, was something like “If you don’t like this f****g job there are a dozen hungry motherf*****s in front of Home Depot who will like it just fine”

    Oh no. Muh feelz.

    You will forgive me if I look dimly upon our friends tale of woe. Life is tough all over, for lawyers and bakers and candlestick makers.

  3. David M.

    He might’ve been a bad lawyer, but he could probably write a good short story. He’s got a lot of meandering, off-kilter style, I’ll give him that.

  4. wild bill

    Old lawyers never die. They just lose their appeal. Young lawyers with little appeal, can’t wait to die and commit suicide.
    The past is not necessarily prologue. The new wave of lawyer suicides will eclipse the old guard, and physicians and dentists. Some of them are already regetting their choices and wishing they had entered the medical professions. Replacing the Hypocric Oath with the Hippocratic one. Ha.

  5. Don

    Is there not a seminar in law school on how to eviscerate a smug fucker and his lawyer joke?
    Lawyer jokes are unoriginal, and really only work off of one premise, so take them head on.
    Sure there are times when this won’t be an option, but if he did it every once in a while poor Atticus might feel better.

    Also, finance? That tool has no business taking a shot at anyone’s profession, his makes up the second most deplorable variety of scumbags on the planet (politicians being #1).

          1. wild bill

            What do you call 100 disgruntled bLAWg commenters during the hot summer recess?
            Answer: Victims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Ha. (Does not matter if they’re sinking or swimming.)

            1. SHG Post author

              It’s after noon. Drinking is permitted, provided it won’t interact with your medication. That would be dangerous.

      1. Dave

        My dad has been a lawyer for almost 40 years (and it is his third profession) and he loves lawyer jokes. He collects them and is always looking for more. I really ought to see about collating those. I am embarrassed to admit I know very few good lawyer jokes myself.

        But now I have to ask you, SHG, what is your absolute favorite, go-to lawyer joke, if you have one?

        1. SHG Post author

          Client pays a lawyer with $100 bills. After he leaves, the lawyer counts the money and finds two bills stuck together, raising a serious ethical question: does he tell his partner?

  6. Patrick Maupin

    Not just whiny. Also indignant:

    A man on his deathbed calls four favorite friends: his doctor, his accountant, his minister, and his lawyer. He tells them that he wants them to witness how he has divided his millions so that he can take it all with him. He has put a fourth of all his money into four briefcases – one for each to take and deposit on top of his casket before the dirt is dumped in.

    After the funeral, the four happen to meet for coffee and are discussing how difficult it was dropping the briefcase and burying all that money! The minister is the first to breakdown and confess that he “kept a bunch” because it was only right to keep such riches to give to the poor in his community.

    The doctor also admits he “didn’t bury it all” because there are so many poor people who lack health care and the money will help alleviate some of that problem.

    The accountant says “how similar our thinking is! I didn’t bury it all either–I reserved a lot of the money with which I will start college scholarships for the deserving poor students in our city.”

    The attorney gets the last word: “I am appalled! What miserable and despicable and untrustworthy friends you are!! I put a check for the whole amount in the briefcase and he took it all with him!”

      1. SHG Post author

        It’s a variation on a shorter joke, same idea. Three guys owed the deceased $40 each. One puts two $20s in the coffin. The next puts 4 $10s in the coffin. The lawyer writes out a check for $120 and takes $80 change. But Patrick’s version adds the screwing the poor element. Very nice touch.

        1. PDB

          A person working for a charity calls a lawyer and asks for a donation.

          The lawyers says, “My mother has cancer, my sister is disabled and unable to work, and my brother just got laid off and he and his family are about to lose their home.”

          The charity guy says, “Gosh, I’m sorry to hear that.”

          The lawyer responds, “And I don’t help any of them, so why should I help you?”

  7. Ray Lee

    Everyone should submit their favorite lawyer joke. Most probably know mine because it was my Dad’s favorite when I was in law school. Why are lawyers replacing white mice as the favorite laboratory animals? There are three reasons: (1) there are more of them; (2) the lab techs don’t get as attached to them; and, (3) there are some things you just can’t get a white mouse to do.

  8. Nigel Declan

    I’m no expert, having missed the Millennial train, but I think this post might be one of these “microaggressions” things that the kids are chatting about these days. It may, no doubt inadvertently, rub a few of them the wrong way.

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