Law is very feast or famine these days. It's eat what you kill. This is the reason why there are a couple attorneys in my market (160k city 220k metro population size) who are fabulous salesmen and have been in the game for 25-30 years who make 7 figures. A handful who make between 150-400k. Regular partners at the larger firms make 100-150k and then a slough of lawyers make 35-40k.. which is sad considering that the rich lawyers get richer while the poor lawyers get poorer. The rich can throw more money on/at advertising to keep bringing in new clients.
That's why you have to be a "gunner" in real life (networking, summer jobs, etc) rather than in the classroom. Knowing the intracacies of the dorman commerce clause or pontificating in class about the Federalist Papers won't make you successful.
I mean, unless you crush it on your grades because of it - But doing well on tests has nothing to do with how much you speak in class.
Both of these posts are so very true when it comes to practicing in Iowa or throughout the Midwest. There's basically a top tier of attorneys--the "haves"--who work at the big firms (in Iowa, that's 15-25+ attorneys) or who work at a very select group of small firms who have their respective markets cornered. Everyone else fights for the shit that falls through the cracks: personal injury (the <$30k claims the good firms don't even want to write a demand letter for), divorces, DUI defense, custody modifications, court-appointed criminal defense, etc. Hell, court-appointed crim defense for these people at $80 an hour is the fucking jackpot, whereas the good firm attorneys only take those cases to help round out a few hours on their schedule, get them out of the office, and network with atty's and judges (usually to attain a future career as a judge).
For examples of that: I've worked for two small (< 10 atty) firms in Iowa now: one was the only legit general practice law firm across a four-county area and had basically a monopoly on the civil suits, government (county/city) counseling, large agricultural probate, banking clients, corporate formation, etc. and first refusal on the good malpractice/personal injury and whatnot.
The second firm was the biggest practice in a mid-sized city and owned all the significantly profitable work there, without question. These two firms recruit at OCI for paid summer positions, pay associates well, pay you your associate salary plus your fees for Barbri and the bar if you accept an offer, have partner tracks that move quickly and well into the six figures, output a lot of judges in their areas, etc.
Meanwhile, there are a LOT of other law "firms" (mostly solo practitioners, along with a few 2-6 atty shops) in those areas, maybe 30 of these shops total consisting of 60 other attorneys across these two areas. They mostly fight for the scraps left by the respective top firm in their area. A couple of the solos might have a few go-to clients who are close friends or relatives and enable them to move up a little. By "move up," I mean make $60k as a lawyer with 10 years of experience practice instead of the $35k - $50k that all the other solos and small shop folks make. Anyway, all of these folks, in general, are the "have-nots."
This is the no bullshit truth of practicing law in Iowa. Do the math: 15 attorneys combined in two different shops make a good living (I know 13 of those 15 make over $100k), and the 60 other attorneys fight for their scraps and consider it a REALLY good year to pull in an annual salary that starts with "fifty," even as mid- or late-career attorneys. The point is that most of the people going to law school, most of the people reading this, will be "have nots." There is a good amount of room in the "haves" for new folks, but it's simply a numbers game, and the numbers don't lie. There are a lot of talented, hard-working lawyers who are have-nots out there. And from what I gather from other attorneys and students, it's just as bad in NYC, Chicago, etc. Maybe worse, because there is a cadre of attorneys making $45k in NYC, which doesn't get you crap in that city.
The bar survey suggests my experience and observations are typical and accurate. And if you think good grades are what get you into the "haves," you are sadly mistaken. Maybe top half, but once you're there, don't think top 20% gives you a huge boost over top 40%. Can you talk to clients and earn their trust? Can you talk to other attorneys? Can you manage assistants and PRODUCE? Can you learn and successfully practice in 3, 4, 5 primary areas of law instead of just one? Can you learn on the fly? Can you go to happy hour at the local bar or country club and have the personality to bring in business? Can you talk to judges and establish credibility with them? Can you get along with everyone and maintain a good reputation in the firm and community?
This is Business 101, Sales 101, Social Interaction 101, not Property I and Contracts I.
Nobody cares what your law school grades were if your clients, other attorneys, and judges think you're a douchebag. Or merely uninteresting and average. You have to be special and bring something to the table that the firm can't get from everyone else in law school right now.
Although the big firms in my city make reliable solid money 100k+ there are a handful of solos that make more than the senior partners at the "big" firms. These solos are mainly plaintiff personal injury attorneys, civil litigators with a known reputation, successful trial lawyers, or those that do a highly repeatable volume work like bankruptcy, adoption, etc and have a complete corner on the market + active marketing campaign.
The solo I am working for spends over 100k just on marketing in a year, turns away well over 100k in fees for stuff he doesn't want to deal with and shows up to work at 10:30-11am every morning and leaves by 6pm. He has an army of paralegals doing the "legal work" and client contact after the first initial appointment is minimal. The first appointment, which is essentially a memorized sales pitch routine, is all he really does apart from delegate work. Sorry, no one can compete with this since telephone directory placement / advertisement placements etc are set in stone until the person advertising relinquishes the position. You can't even break into the market. The best you can do is try to land a "big firm" job and network and bring in clients like hell so you can make partner.
I think the problem with law students is that they assume they are special because they are in law school. However, being a lawyer doesn't mean anything these days, you're just a glorified white collar auto mechanic. Legal work is repeatable and can be done with software / paralegals. Your value to a firm is not how much work you can do but how much work you can bring in. 50 years ago the profession used to be a lot different and there were larger margins since there were no word processors nor internet. Firms these days resemble corporations more than anything. There are a lot of people on the bottom but there can only be one CEO / board of executives.
Law professors, their classes, and the culture for a lot of law school doesn't match the real world or the reality of the profession.
In my opinion, it is a joke of an education and the schools are doing little more than fleecing students.
To people reading this I'm sure I come off as someone who seems jaded or swindled into law school. Iowa is fronting my education with a scholarship without stipulations so I'll graduate without debt and I am one of the "haves" without doing anything to earn it just because I won the birth lottery (unfortunately the reality of our society is that it is not a meritocracy but people seem to think it is).
It is just a load of shit law schools lure students into the profession without being upfront about the realities of it. The least they could do is help students develop skills to actually be productive upon graduation instead of passing that responsibility onto firms to actually "train" law students. Just remember you're learning analytical skills that are absolutely necessary and will feed your kids.
Since you're going to have to be a salesman anyway and you likely are likely going to be paid a wage that is not worth the debt and opportunity cost when you graduate, law schools should really be encouraging potential students to start their own plumbing, electrician, carpentry, or lawn care businesses. People always need those services and you can at least work normal business hours and scale up to 6 - 7 figures depending on how good you are at serving customers, advertising, and managing employees. You would then also have something to sell and show for yourself at the end of the day. That work isn't glamorous, but neither is doing legal work and at least you wouldn't be sitting behind a desk all day.