Work + Growth

Myths We All Believed Before We Actually Became Lawyers

  • Popular culture has set us up to believe a lot of things about being a lawyer, but plenty of them just aren’t true
  • Many myths about lawyers focus on arguing, but being a lawyer isn’t about winning arguments as much as it’s about other foundational skills like writing and researching
  • Not all myths about being a lawyer end in disappointment, though!

By now, you’ve probably realized your life isn’t going to play out as if Dick Wolf were executive producer.

And we’re willing to bet that’s not the only myth about being a lawyer you’ve busted since you actually started working as one. Thanks to the frequent portrayal of our career in popular culture, we’re set up to believe a lot of things about lawyers’ lives that just aren’t true. Not all of those myths end in disappointment, but we’re admittedly a little bummed that our coworkers aren’t just like Sam Waterston.

For your entertainment, we’ve gathered some of the biggest myths most of us believed about being a lawyer until we began living the lawyer life ourselves.

Life Will be Like a Courtroom Drama

Sure, you might get your day in court. But what shows like Suits, The Practice—and yes, Law & Order—didn’t tell you is that most of your time will not be spent making dramatic speeches in front of packed courtrooms. In fact, even trial lawyers spend most of their working hours in discovery, reading, writing, and taking depositions, not appearing in court. We get it, though—watching a lawyer sit in front of her computer for hours on end doesn’t make for compelling television.

All Lawyers are Rich

While lawyers are higher paid than many other professionals, becoming a lawyer is hardly a guaranteed ticket to fortune. And when you think about all the time and money necessary to get there in the first place, you begin to realize exactly why most lawyers aren’t exactly rolling in it. Yes, some large firms pay extravagant salaries, but they are in the minority. Plus, most law school graduates take on significant student loan debt, so no matter their salary, most lawyers spend years paying off those debts, which are frequently in the six figures.

The Best Lawyers are Great at Arguing

Again, you can probably thank TV and the movies for making you think that most lawyers argue all day long, and that those who argue the best are destined to become the greatest. While litigation is indeed a contentious process, arguing well isn’t going to set the best attorneys apart from the rest. Instead, thorough research, top-notch writing skills, and logical reasoning are a lawyer’s top tools. It doesn’t matter how many “arguments” you win in your free time; becoming a great lawyer takes more than that.

Life as a Lawyer is Glamorous

Being a lawyer isn’t about wearing expensive suits and spending all day in court making impassioned arguments as drama unfolds behind the scenes. Nor is it about attending galas every weekend with other attractive, high-powered attorneys. There’s not much that’s glamorous about the reality of the job much of the time, which is more about working long hours, building up a caseload, and spending months and months on cases before they ever make it to court.

What “cool” lawyer things did you think you’d be doing much more of? Are there perks to the job you didn’t realize you’d get to take advantage of?

Your Work Will Always Be Intellectually Challenging

Certainly, much of your work will challenge you and put to use the skills you worked so hard to develop in law school. And of course, much of being a practicing attorney is demanding. But unlike what you may have previously thought, you’re not going to be intellectually stimulated all the time. In fact, there’s plenty of monotonous and repetitive work in the average lawyer’s day. Add to that all the tracking of your time you have to do thanks to billable hour requirements, and you begin to see that, just like any other job, there’s a reason they call it “work.”

You’ll Never Have Any Free Time

Let’s end on a high note, shall we? While it’s true that you will work a lot (especially during the first few years of your career), you’re not necessarily condemned to a life of all work and no fun. After all, if being a lawyer was that miserable all the time, fewer people would want to do it. It’s possible to still make time for friends, family, and hobbies while being successful. The trick, of course, is to focus on your time management skills and realize that you may not be able to do everything you want right now, but having time for fun things outside of work is possible.