The Appeal: Many college students decide to go to law school by default. After all, a legal career promises prestige, money, and the chance to use the law to make a difference in society. Some aspiring attorneys also picture themselves as the lawyers on TV, making scintillating closing arguments in an expensive suit before a rapt jury.
The Reality: Most lawyers' lives bear little resemblance to those on Law & Order. Even litigators spend lots of time drafting or poring over sheaves of detailed information and negotiating with other lawyers prone to contentiousness and chicanery. And most lawyers rarely go to trials, working instead as transactional attorneys who need to bill 2,000 hours a year or more to meet the firm's targets. That can mean long evenings drafting lengthy, airtight contracts or other documents. In the corporate world, many lawyers find less fulfillment and more burnout than the public imagines.
An Alternative: Mediation, or a less contentious niche within the law, such as adoption law or, alas, the burgeoning bankruptcy law, which a 2008 survey by Robert Half Legal found to be the fastest-growing specialty within the law.
Learn More: Mediate.com.