Re: Engineer considering switching to law - should I do it?
Posted: Sat Jun 23, 2012 11:58 am
crossarmant wrote:rayiner wrote:If you want a low-stress 9-5, you can have that in engineering, but you'll be making $80k. You can have that in law too, just go work for state government or something.
Except you're more likely to find one of those in engineering and not have to take out $100k+ in student loans or spend more time in school. I think with engineering, you're contributing something to society and you're making solid money with which to start a family and live a genuinely fine life. I think there's too much risk involved in giving up a solid career to pursue law just because you're bored.
$100k or even $200k is not a life-altering amount of money. Not when you make that in a year or two. It's important to consider the debt, but you can't let that completely overshadow all other factors.
It's highly romanticized that engineers are "contributing something to society." As an engineer, you work hard to pad the pockets of wealthy investors, just like you do in law. Hell, I have contributed a lot more to society just in law school doing clinical work than I ever did working as an engineer on defense contracts.
Engineering does let you make solid money and live a fine life. No doubt. But there is a lot more earning potential in law. A fresh hire at Sullivan & Cromwell has a much better chance of making $1m+ as a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell (maybe 3-5%) than a fresh hire at Amazon has of making $1m+ as a successful startup founder (maybe 0.01%). And if you're talking about partnership at some firm somewhere where you'll make more than the $150k you ever will as an engineer, well then that's achievable if you play your cards right. And in the mean time, you'll have an office with a door that closes, a secretary, etc.
People on this board complain endlessly about how firms are too leveraged and partners make too much money off the backs of associates. Even at a leveraged sweatshop like Cravath, 35%+ of the revenue attributable to a mid-level associate will go to his compensation or for overhead like his office, secretary, etc. For a highly productive software engineer, it might be something like 10%. Software companies are phenomenally leveraged, with hundreds of rank-and-file engineers and lower-level managers for every person that owns equity. The nature of law leads to inherently flat hierarchies.
There is a good post on Hacker News today that exemplifies the terrible aspects of engineering that people on TLS usually overlook: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4150569. It's about how Nokia is firing a team they acquired a few years ago because they're switching to Microsoft technologies. The poster argues that:
1) retraining developers in a slightly different technology is untenable, so it makes sense to just get fresh ones;
2) that in any case there are tons of developers on the market versed in the new slightly different technology;
3) blames the engineers at Nokia for not taking responsibility for the direction of the company (a company they have neither equity in nor executive control over).
Perspectives like this typify how executives feel about engineers. Even post Latham/Dewey, lawyers are far better off. Firms recognize that lawyers are intelligent and can adapt to changing law. When they have layoffs, it's because the economy tanks. Engineering companies have regular layoffs even in good times because they see engineers as suitable only for specific technologies. Law firms put a lot of responsibility on associates for the direction of the firm, but even the most highly leveraged firm gives associates a much better shot at equity than an engineer has at a C-suite position at an engineering company. A second or third year at Cravath runs his own (smaller) deals. Outside of the startup space, engineering companies don't let third year engineers come near the client.