Community + Relationships

Following in Your Lawyer Parent’s Footsteps

  • Are lawyer parents pushing their kids to follow in their footsteps just a little too hard?
  • You don’t have to handle your career in the same way your parents handled theirs. Be your own kind of lawyer!
  • If you no longer want to be a lawyer after a few years, break it to your lawyer parents gently and with another plan in place

Statistics show that children of lawyers are 17 times more likely to become lawyers than children whose parents work in other professions.

It’s not unusual for children to enter the same profession as one or both of their parents, but that’s a lot of footstep following. Is it even possible that all those lawyers’ kids just happen to also really want to be lawyers themselves—or are lawyer parents pushing their kids into the legal life a bit too firmly?

Why Law School?

If you’re in law school right now, think about how you came to the decision to attend rather than do something else. If one or both of your parents are lawyers, what did they do or say—over the years as you were growing up—to influence your decision? Some parents flat-out tell their children that there is only one career path they should follow, while others simply hint around, talk up the virtues of becoming a lawyer, or regularly bring their children to the office.

Parents telegraph their wishes to their kids all the time, even if they don’t explicitly say exactly what they want. They may make it clear that they will be disappointed if their son or daughter doesn’t choose the “right” profession—the right profession being a successful lawyer, of course. It can be hard to separate your parents’ wishes and expectations from your own at times, but it’s important that what you do for a living is what you’re truly interested in. You don’t want to be stuck slogging through the long days many law firms require if you have no feel for the work.

Your Own Kind of Lawyer

Now, once you really do decide to become a lawyer, your lawyer mom or dad will probably be ecstatic. You’ll be a litigation/intellectual property/immigration attorney just like them! But chances are, the practice areas that you’ll find interesting will be different from what your parents work on. You may be fine with having the same job title as Mom or Dad, but you don’t have to have their exact career. Following in their footsteps doesn’t mean becoming a clone: Be your own kind of lawyer—without apology.

You may clash a bit if your mother or father views the type of law you practice as being in direct conflict with what they do: You’re a prosecutor, your dad’s a criminal defense attorney; you represent plaintiffs in class-action suits, your mom is corporate counsel for a huge international company. As long as you can all agree to keep work at the office, you can learn not to let these different professional viewpoints get in the way of enjoying each other’s company.

If you work at a firm that does things in a less traditional manner than your lawyer parent is used to—meaning that your firm doesn’t require you to work yourself almost to death and you actually have some semblance of work/life balance—they may be a bit judgey about it. You might find yourself the target of more than one “you millennials have it so easy” or “young people today don’t know the meaning of hard work” or even “how are you supposed to make partner if you don’t regularly work at least 80 hours per week” harangue. Just smile and take it in stride as you reiterate how productive and efficient your firm is precisely because of the way they do things, and how happy you are.

How do you want your career as a lawyer to differ from your lawyer parent’s career? What do you want to be the same?

What if You Try Law…and It’s Not for You

Ok, so you got through law school, found a position, worked for a few years…and you don’t love it. You have come to the realization that you don’t want to be a lawyer anymore, and you are taking steps towards another line of work. But if one or both of your parents are lawyers, they may take it personally, try to change your mind, or simply not understand why you would “throw away” such a prestigious career.

Hopefully, your parents are reasonable people who get that not every career path is for everyone, and won’t look at your career change as a rejection of their way of life or a waste of all the years (and money) you (and they) put into becoming a lawyer. If you’re worried about your parents’ reaction to your desire to leave the law, be sure to have something else already lined up and/or a concrete plan of how you’re going to pursue your next venture—they’ll take the news much better if you have a solid strategy in place.