Seduced by Job Title Glitz

Many a lawyer has chased visions of Atticus Finch but found reality was much less glamorous.

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Michael Wade
It has been said that much more pleasure can be found in being the one who tells the lawyer to prepare the necessary papers than in being the one who has to prepare them. That hard truth is acquired, often too late, by many a young attorney who entered law school with visions of being the next Atticus Finch or Clarence Darrow.

The image doesn't match the substance of many a job. The romantic view of the cowboy masks low pay, hard work, and the questionable pleasure of dealing with cattle, storms, and barbed wire. Another celebrity job group—writers—soon discover they have to hold down a regular job to pay the bills and that their leverage with publishing firms possesses echoes of the farm workers in The Grapes of Wrath.

There is an ego factor: A plumber may be paid more, but the writer, the lawyer, and the cowboy will enjoy—at least until the pipes burst—greater prestige. That reward may soon crumble if the career choice provides more drudgery than glamour. I've met many attorneys who cannot wait to escape to another career. There is a reason why you see so many lawyers in politics.

The fact is that many of us choose our line of work without even a minimal attempt to learn what that discipline truly entails. It is risky to examine a career from a distance—especially through someone else's camera. Talk to the practitioners. Find out what they like and dislike about their job. Ask if they ever wish they'd chosen another path.

They may give you a positive response and a positive conclusion, but listen for the tone and the words in-between.

Michael Wade writes, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.