A New York Times article appeared on April 27th featuring the struggles faced by recent law school graduates, 20% of whom, according to one survey, are not working at a job that requires a license to practice law. This rather desperate state of affairs was introduced by the story of 29 year old Jonathan Wang, a Columbia Law School graduate who is quoted as saying, “I would spend three years at school in New York, then work for a big law firm and make $160,000 a year, and someday, I would become a partner and live the good life.”
So what is the “good life” that Jonathan and his cohorts strive to achieve? It sounds an awful lot like making a lot of money and then enjoying all the money he made. I don’t hear him talking about a deeply satisfying work life which responds to whatever inner calling he brings with him – be it service to a population he is attracted to, intellectual curiosity, deep engagement in the machinery that makes this society just and workable. Does the “good life” include time with his family – the chance to spend leisurely weekend mornings lazing in bed with his kid(s) crawling all over him or the loving rituals he will share with his partner that will keep them secure and bonded? Does “the good life” include a spiritual calling – be it a membership in an embracing congregation, or the awe he might experience in moments of private reflection? Does it include doing good works for no compensation other than the knowledge that you have contributed to the well-being of others?
This may be very generational, but I really don’t understand it when young people say they want to retire when they are 50, or even 40. I never hear (it may be said, but I’m not hearing it) that these people, who wish to sacrifice their early adult years for a “good life” later, speak of what they want to do with this good life other than spend the money they have sacrificed to amass. Meanwhile, they will likely find they must spend a lot of time, emotional energy (and money) attempting to reweave the bonds with their loved ones which have frayed and stretched as they have become embedded in a culture of striving for great financial reward. We should not forget that lawyers have a unique and valuable role in our society. No other profession studies the way a society works – how common disputes can be resolved in a productive way. It has been said that doctors are healers of the body; ministers are healers of the soul and lawyers are the healers of the society. It is a bit of a perversion to see the practice of law as an avenue to riches. It has become sadly common to think of it that way. Yet, we can’t escape the fact that lawyers have a frighteningly high proportion of their population suffering from depression. Google “lawyers” and “depression” and you’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s good, actually, that the practice of law may no longer be a gilded path to wealth. Hopefully, this will result in a greater number of young people not succumbing to the siren call of some “good life” and who may choose, instead, to contribute their skill, knowledge and earned wisdom so we can all live a good life.