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Mid-April 2014 Newsletter – Should you let your kids grow up to be lawyers?

April 15, 2014

 

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Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Well, we may not have had Tiger Woods as part of The Masters last weekend but we have our own Tiger Mother here at Pekarsky Stein.   As you know by now, our mid-month edition is lighter on glib and often cheeky self-promotion and more about providing meaningful content to our readers.   In addition to the sampling of unique and interesting articles attached further down, our newest Partner and long-time Tiger Mother, Ranju Shergill, has penned this month’s piece, a variation on the old Willie Nelson tune entitled Should You Let Your Kids Grow Up To Be Lawyers.   We hope you enjoy it.

Regards,

Adam

Should you let your kids grow up to be lawyers?

Every parent wants their kids to grow up to be successful and happy and some go so far as to gently prod them towards professions that have traditionally been viewed as successful career choices.  My kids may accuse me of suffering from Asian Mother Syndrome having read Yale Law School professor Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother where Chua writes about how the typical Asian mom prioritizes academics and musical accomplishments (in classical piano and violin only) over typical kid stuff like sleepovers and play dates, but they know I’m only pushing them to be happy . . . . right?

As the daughter of immigrant parents, I grew up in a household where going to university was non-negotiable.  I attended Simon Fraser University obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences followed by a post Bachelor Diploma in Environmental Toxicology.  Funny then, how these many years later my current role as a Partner with Pekarsky Stein has provided me with a front row seat to hearing the skinny and getting the low down on how lawyers get to be lawyers…talk about evolution!  At the same time I enjoy a privileged window on their level of happiness in life and in their careers.  This is a learned skill and opportunity only a Tiger Mother can use to leverage for her own cubs.  So before we answer the question “should we let our kids grow up to be lawyers” we must first be a good scientist and gather the data to be shared with readers while not horrifying privacy lawyers that may be reading this.   For starters, let’s define “lawyers” in the real world as opposed to the world of Boston Legal, Law and Order and Suits.  My data comes from my world of lawyers, predominantly those reading this article.

Lawyers enjoy the finer things in life and as one Grade 10 student put it when we were presenting during a recent career day class, “I wanna be a lawyer so I can drive a Porsche and be in the munney man”.  I believe what this impressionable young man was speaking of was a corporate lawyer.  Broadly speaking, those are the ones working in downtown office tower window offices with tasteful decor.

Corporate solicitors advise on various areas of law including securities, finance, governance, M&A, commercial contracts, employment, real estate, etc.  Corporate litigators are the lawyers who attempt to either get people into or out of trouble depending on whether they act for the plaintiff or the defendant. Think federal drug trafficking cases in Supreme Court, multi-billion dollar pollution claims against (or for) oil and gas giants, or class action human rights cases against (or for) corporations.  By the way, at the time of this career day talk, we just didn’t have the heart to burst this kid’s bubble and tell him that most practicing lawyers are married living on reasonable double incomes, living in the burbs, driving minivans and hauling kids to soccer practice.

Having said that, in private practice or big firms in particular, corporate lawyers work in iconic office towers, have assistants available at their beck and call, and best of all, they get a bump in their salaries every year they’re older simply by virtue of aging.  Even if they’re in-house (working in a company as an employee), they’re almost always guaranteed an office, typically a dedicated assistant, more lawyers to manage if they need, and for the luckiest of the lucky the highly sought after downtown parking spot.

Though private practice lawyers often enjoy the bigger bucks, in-house lawyers tend to benefit from short, medium and long-term incentive compensation structures the size of which would likely surprise and even surpass their private practice pals.  Lawyers are “special” employees in-house, meaning that when organizations have sophisticated compensation programs designed for pay equity across the company . . . . well . . .   it doesn’t necessarily restrict you if you’re the in-house lawyer. In addition to the compensation, the other perks are multiple ranging from health spending allowances to on-site workout facilities to in-house daycare and cafeterias.  And if in-house lawyers are good and practical and not perceived as “the Department of No” they will quickly earn the trust of their finance, engineering and geologist peers, earning a seat at the management table and having a say in strategic business decisions at a level that even the most senior law firm partners would be envious of.  They’re among the first to know about the future of the business; acquisitions, mergers, sales, and divestitures and the last to stand when a business wraps up and the lights are flipped off.  Being a lawyer also gets you on Boards, on corporate websites, and into more Stampede parties.

Lawyers are everywhere whether you see them or not.  Everything you see around you has been made by a company that used a lawyer to run their business; protect the patent, review the contracts, structure the company, finance the deal, advise on the employment requirements, lease the building, and manage all the other lawyers you have ever needed to run that business.  Lawyers are what make the world go round or so they say. Every business has to use a lawyer’s services and they will use external lawyers until their business warrants the need for a permanent hire within the organization – an in-house counsel position.  These are among the coveted positions, that makes the legal search side of our business so fun.  As a recruiter, we get to learn about our client’s business, industry, operations, and culture.  Drilling deeper, we learn about the legal team, corporate leadership, and our client’s story—the good, the bad and the ugly.  Every company has to have a story when it comes to recruitment, and the disadvantage of private practice recruitment is that the story is just largely indistinguishable and interchangeable among firms.  They’re all selling more or less the same story; “come work for us, develop your skills with the same type of work, reach your billable targets to get a reward, and next year, do it again.  Just do more of it.”

There is a societal status associated with having an LL.B. behind your name.  The fact that you have scored decently on the LSAT, made it into law school, made it through law school and been called to the bar is an accomplishment few of us attain. Law school teaches one to analyze, solve problems, challenge ideas, reason, understand the importance of following precedent, think creatively, pay attention to details, and respect the law of the written word.  Of course law school also teaches you to snap judge someone’s intellectual capacity, argue about abstract hypotheticals, and throw your best friend under the bus just to get a summer job at a law firm.

Is it worth it?  Doesn’t every parent just want their kid to end up happy?  Doesn’t success lead to more success and ultimately happiness?  From my objective scientific viewpoint, lawyers generally enjoy what they do.  Lawyers are generally dealing with people and businesses and they develop their skills either deeply into the law as a Partner if they remain in private practice, or in business matters if they transition into in-house Counsel positions.   Either way they benefit from higher levels of compensation than many other professions, and younger lawyers typically climb the career ladder faster than other young professionals.  They’re usually the better dressed in an organization.  They wear the bling, expensive watches and cufflinks, maintain fresh manicures, and wear the latest fashions which in my estimation puts a good cha-ching into the happiness meter.  But happiness isn’t all about money right? . . . . right?

Law school camaraderie is prevalent.  I’ve sat in on literally hundreds of interviews with my Partner Adam, a lawyer of 15 years, and the first 10 minutes are almost always a variation of that game ‘6 degrees of Kevin Bacon; lawyers talk about their law school years, what became of certain classmates, who made it on the bench, who’s getting married, divorced and on it goes.  They stick together in a pack.  Lawyers typically marry lawyers . . . . at least for the first marriage.  Their kids go to the same schools.  They have second homes in Fernie or Canmore or Invermere and they generally enjoy their status within organizations and society – despite being the brunt of bad lawyer jokes.  Sure I guess there is a negative risk of being a lawyer associated with the stress of qualifying, putting in the long hours as a student and Associate, keeping up with the rest of the pack, making sure you’re being seen in the right circles in the right outfit but really – aren’t those same risks associated with any other demanding profession?

I guess having had the privilege to meet many fine lawyers in this job – from bright shiny new ones to seasoned fascinating, at times jaded, characters, I have surmised the benefits of being a lawyer far outweigh the disadvantages of being a lawyer and when it comes down to it, the disadvantages to becoming a lawyer are the same as becoming a doctor, dentist, or engineer.  What it really comes down to is that the Tiger Mother limits the choices her cubs can take so considering the options, having your child become a lawyer and come out of it unscathed and successful ain’t the worst thing in the world.  If they become lawyers and classical pianists in their spare time, well then my job is done.

Ranju Shergill is a Partner with Pekarsky Stein having joined the firm at its inception in the summer of 2009.   While Ranju’s search specialty is in the legal space, she has successfully executed complex searches in finance, marketing, human resources to name a few.   She is the proud Tiger Mother of two wonderful teenaged children.

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