My family has its roots in Michigan family farms. So far, I’m the only lawyer who grew up on one of my family’s farms. A few months ago, however, a nephew called to talk about the possibility of law school. How did I advise this potential second lawyer who grew up on a family farm?
It’s not surprising that my nephew is considering leaving the farm. When my father was deciding what to do in life, 60 percent of Americans worked on farms or in factories. It was possible for him to buy 160 acres and support his family with the farm and an outside factory job. When it was time for me to decide what to do in life, only 36 percent of Americans worked on farms or in factories. Now only 10 percent of people make their living through farming or factory jobs. The article “The Jobs Americans Do” notes that technology and automation have resulted in a shift from these labor-intensive jobs to personal service jobs. These are jobs that are difficult to mechanize. They may require judgment based on intuition and just knowing what will work and what is right. Consumers also may have an emotional investment in seeing a person rather than a machine perform this work. For instance, we want an actual person caring for our elderly parent or giving an immunization shot to our toddler.
Being a lawyer is a personal service job. The State Bar of Texas has a developed a website called What Do Lawyers Do. The site has videos of young lawyers talking about their jobs. The family law lawyer is an advocate for people dealing with extremely emotional and difficult situations. The administrative law lawyer helps people settle problems in a peaceful and personable way. The practice of law has clearly been impacted by automation and technology. There are not as many high-salary big law firm jobs as there were in the 1980s. In the end, though, the need for the personal services of lawyers to navigate conflicts, court cases, and business transactions still exists.
So what did I tell my nephew? Have a plan for getting through law school without massive debt. A backup plan in case you can’t get any job would also be a good idea. Acquire skills you will need to run your own law firm in case that is necessary. But aside from all those practical things, decide whether you are interested in providing a personal service. Do you want to help people deal with difficult situations in life? I’m pretty sure the answer is yes. A Michigan family farm might be producing another Michigan lawyer.