Dear Mike

By Mike McBride


Dear Mike,
I failed the bar for the second time. I know I can be a good lawyer, but I freeze up with the multistate. I’m working at Starbucks, but at least want to work at a job that I can put on my resume when I pass the bar. What do you suggest?
—Failed, But Haven’t Given Up

Dear Failed, But Haven’t Given Up,
If you have a passion for the law, keep studying and preparing so that you will pass the bar next time. I recommend that you sign up for a bar preparation course and continue working through practice tests under timed conditions. It is gamesmanship that you can learn. Treat your preparation as a part-time job with regular hours. Keep working at it.

In the meantime, I also suggest some self-reflection. Go to your local law library and check out some career-oriented books. The American Bar Association, particularly the Law Practice Management and General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Divisions, publishes many great books about careers in law and also about other fields where a law degree is useful. Give some consideration to your values and skills, and don’t limit yourself just to the legal field. Assess your strengths and aptitudes, and follow your passion! A law degree empowers you to do many things, even if you are not licensed to practice law. The skills translate into many business, not-for-profit, and public service environments. There is an incredible universe of ideas and options available to you!

Dear Mike,
Law was going to be my second career. I retired at age 38 when my company started layoffs. I had always wanted to be a lawyer, but now after almost completing my first year at law school, I have my doubts. Is it really worth it? I don’t like my husband being the sole breadwinner. My children are being neglected.
—Having Doubts

Dear Having Doubts,
There is no doubt that there are easier ways to make money than practicing law. Don’t complete your law school education unless you are committed to it and it makes you happy. What do you really want to be doing in ten or twenty years? Consider your personal values and what is important to you. Your family, and in particular your children, should be your first priority. Have you considered delaying your legal education until your children are older? Also, have you discussed with your husband your family income situation in great detail? Consider the option of staying home and living on one income, if that option is available to you. Otherwise, consider what steps you can take to feel more fulfilled in your legal education and to feel comfortable that your family and your children are not neglected.

Dear Mike,
I have just learned after three years that I’ll never become a partner. They didn’t come right out and say it, but the other associate that started with me is being made a partner. No one even talked to me about it. Should I go out on my own? Look elsewhere? I have gotten real comfortable the last three years and have a number of bills, but feel unwanted and unappreciated here.
—Never a Partner Be

Dear Never a Partner Be,
Life is full of trade-offs, and being a partner isn’t all roses and fat paychecks. It requires a tremendous amount of hard work and responsibility. Determine what trade-offs you are willing to accept and what makes you happy. Could you be comfortable at your current firm and never be a partner—just a senior associate? Do you have interest in running your own law practice and all the trade-offs that entails like managing staff, doing the books, and shouldering all the financial responsibility?

Consider doing some research about other career options at your local law library. The American Bar Association, particularly Law Practice Management and General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Divisions, publishes many excellent career guidance books and books about managing your own law practice. Jay Foonberg’s classic How to Start and Build a Law Practice comes to mind. There are also books available that provide guidance on making partner at your firm, or making a lateral transition to another law firm.

Throughout all of this, you need to balance your dreams with your financial ability to pay your bills. Also, what skill sets do you have to offer other employers? It is important to obtain career satisfaction not only from challenging and satisfying work and good compensation but also from the appreciation of your colleagues and clients.

Got a question for Mike?
E-mail D. Michael McBride III at
D. Michael McBride III is a Council member of the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division. He also Chairs the Outreach Committee. McBride practices federal Indian law and litigation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he is a Director and Shareholder of Sneed Lang, P.C. He also serves the Kaw Nation as an Associate Justice of their Supreme Court.
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