MDs and ESQs: “I don’t get no respect”

January 7th, 2008

Pity the doctors and lawyers. They slogged through countless, sleepless years of higher education and amassed astronomical student debt only to realize that they’re no longer envied and revered by the rest of us poor working slobs.

According to yesterday’s New York Times, “some doctors and lawyers feel they have slipped a notch in social status, drifting toward the safe-and-staid realm of dentists and accountants.” What’s more, MDs and ESQs “only” make six figures, when much sexier-sounding hedge funders and webpreneurs (some of whom didn’t even go to college — gasp!) are making millions.

Call me callous, but I find it hard to feel sympathy for anyone who chooses a profession just because they think it will sound good at a dinner party. (Why does the Sunday Style section measure everything against the dinner-party yardstick?) This might have something do with the fact that when I was in school, everyone and their grandmother (mine included) regarded Lawyer or Doctor as the holy grail of career choice. As for flexible, creative, entrepreneurial work? That’s what stoners and slackers did.

So score one for the so-called slackers. And note to the Times: Not everyone under 30 in the brave new entrepreneurial workforce wants to be the next Web 2.0 bazillionaire. Some just want to do work they can stomach, have some time left over to spend with the people they love, and avoid a hefty dry cleaning bill in the process.

Entry Filed under: Coffee break,Overworked and underpaid,This freelance life

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. amypalko  |  January 7th, 2008 at 7:14 am

    Is it necessarily helpful to situate this discussion in the ‘them and us’ terms you set out here? I am not a doctor or a lawyer, but I have known many throughout my life, both socially and professionally, and it is my experience that those in both professions don’t tend to be in it for the money and the prestige, but rather from a strong desire to help others and to effect positive change. I think, rather than keeping score between ‘so-called slackers’ and the older, traditional professions, we should accept that many of us are just here trying to do our best in this world, doing work we can ‘stomach’.

  • 2. Kuri  |  January 7th, 2008 at 7:47 am

    I feel a bit sorry for the doctors and lawyers, actually. Not the callous careerist (there are a few of those) but for the ones who went into these professions thinking that they are important and expecting to do important things, only to become disillusioned by the “billable hours” nature of the profession. They have a lot of student debt, making a late career change a bit difficult. While I don’t know any doctors well, I understand this is particularly true for doctors who want to be general practioners but find that a specialist practise that charges high fees is the only way to pay off the debt.

    That said, I think the careerists (those who choose the profession of doctor or lawyer because it’s prestigious or money-making) are hurting these careers a lot. They’re the ones driving up tuition and learning to do well on exams rather than out any passion or appreciate of the subjects. And they’re probably infecting their idealist co-workers with regular, unhealthy doses of cynicism. As someone who has thought a lot about a legal career it’s this aspect of the career that’s putting me off.

  • 3. Michelle Goodman  |  January 7th, 2008 at 8:13 am

    my dad is a lawyer, my uncle is a doctor, and i have a couple of doctor or lawyer friends. some of them are happy with their work, some of them are not. some of them are smug about their vocation, some are not. some of the happiest of the bunch work in the least lucrative and most “helpful” gigs (medical clinics, nonprofit/policy work, public defenders, etc).

    even though the Sunday Style section is often fluffy bunk (note how the article i’m referencing paints most doctors/lawyers as lamenting that the work just ain’t what it used to be), this article made me smile. and i wanted to share why. call it my revenge of the freelance nerds moment. (maybe you had to grow up in the tri-state area in the 80s…)

  • 4. Lauren  |  January 7th, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    As someone who got her law degree, worked in the legal field for a year, then promptly got the hell out in favor of a full-time job at the arts nonprofit where I interned in college, I really appreciated this entry.

    (BTW, Michelle, I LOVE your book, read it religiously during my career change, and recommend it to everyone I know. I’ve also given it as a gift at least twice.)

    I, too, know fantastic attorneys who are both ethical and good at what they do. I also know full-of-themselves pricks who were incredibly petty to a boho theatre major like me during law school, because their sheltered little minds couldn’t handle anyone “different.” See why I was so eager to get out of law?

    I don’t regret getting my JD–I feel like it really improved my writing and problem-solving skills, which are useful in any profession (and when you are trying to keep yourself fed and housed during your career change!). That said, I do agree with the MD-Esq dynamic due being held up as the Holy Grail of careers, and that can really lead people who aren’t quite sure what to do with their lives after college (heaven forbid!) into a path that ultimately isn’t right for them.

    So that’s my two cents. Keep on rockin’!

  • 5. Steve  |  January 7th, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Thats ok MD’s and JD’s I am a dentist..went to school as long as the MD’s..longer than the JD’s, did post grad residency etc etc ..and this author put me on the same level as an accountant.Last time I checked my field was still a profession. Anyway status is a bunch of crap….one should do their job well, be nice to people, and be happy with themselves….that is where job satisfaction comes from!

  • 6. Amy Williams  |  January 8th, 2008 at 11:43 am

    Like, the first commenter, I also took some offense to this entry. Not all doctors and lawyers are evil. Or chained to their desks. In fact, I am a freelance environmental lawyer. I use my JD (which I am so, so glad I got), I save trees, and I work in my PJs. The best of all worlds!

  • 7. Anali  |  January 8th, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    Another attorney here just piping in. In reality, many attorneys are making far less money than six figures and can barely pay their student loans. This is something that your average person doesn’t understand. There are not enough jobs out there and those jobs that are mentioned in the article are few and far between. Here are some more articles that give a more realistic view.

    Many of us are doing contract work and don’t have benefits. I have a flexible schedule, which allows me to pursue my writing on the side, which is great, but it’s hard trying to explain to people the reality. There are many attorneys struggling to make a living just live everyone else.

  • 8. Michelle Goodman  |  January 8th, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    oy vey.

    i, too, work in a field that the average person does not understand. that is why this nytimes article tickled me so (btw, the article, if you read it, DID point out the hardships of law grads today).

    i understand that the lawyers are pissed off. i am contemplating shutting down the comments. of course, i am holding out hope that hillary clinton, my absolute favorite female lawyer (i’m totally serious — i’m rooting for her in a big way), will chime in about how she’s offended too. somehow i think she has better things to do though.

  • 9. Amy Williams  |  January 9th, 2008 at 11:02 am


    I just wanted to say that, although I was a little turned off by this post, I still LOVE your book. It’s my new “how-to” manual for making a living as a part-time environmental lawyer, part-time Starbucks barista! :) And your blog is really great, too.

    And, although I’m more of an Obama fan, I also really love Hillary. She’s awesome.


  • 10. Michelle Goodman  |  January 9th, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    hi, amy w and everyone else who wrote in:

    (a) i am sorry i was cranky yesterday. errr, and monday. i’m chalking it up to sleep deprivation and deadline stress, but you can chalk it up to whatever you like. :) this posting experience has taught me yet another a valuable blogging lesson: you never know who might be reading your book/blog, so think long-and-hard before you risk offending vast swaths of potential readers. that said, i gotta be me and say what i feel… (also, i smell a blog post coming on re the practiced polish of a book and the off-the-cuff rawness of a blog, but that’s another can of worms for another day.)

    (b) THAT SAID, i had NO idea that anti 9-5 lawyers would read my book. or this blog. that is so cool. in fact, when i wrote the book, i had no idea ANYONE AT ALL would read it (aside from my editor and friends and family), so it’s lovely to get positive feedback on both efforts. thank you. thank you. THANK YOU. i am glad it’s been helpful.

    (c) when i wrote the initial post in question, i was mostly scoffing at the 50something/60something lawyers/doctors i’ve met along the way (my parents’ contemporaries) who i’ve heard complain about things i think they have no business complaining about. you know, people with too many cars or rooms in their houses who whine about their workaholic lives. (these are the very people who gave me grief about my chosen profession when i was young and could have used the emotional support of some older folks in my life. i moved 3K miles away to get away from this culture. but i guess i still have a chip, eh?) those folks in question likely have the means to change gears if they need to, even if it means selling off some assets. i was not at all intending to bash anti 9-5/creative/do-gooder lawyers with flex gigs, PT gigs, grassroots gigs, novels in progress, etc. those are the people i relate to and wrote the book for… anyway, i’m sure everyone will have more to say about all this, and you’re welcome to. as long as it’s not pornographic, i’ll send the comments through. but i’m moving on, except to say this:

    (d) i think barack is pretty fab too. if he gets the nom, i’m with him 110%. but first, i’m gunning for hil. she won me over this month.

  • 11. Will  |  January 9th, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    When it all boils down to it, both career paths require dedication, crazy hours and most of the time giving up a piece of your life. The only difference is that for MD and ESQ’s they have some sort of reassurance that their time invested will be some what rewarded in the end, can’t always say that for the next aspiring web 2.0 entrepreneur millionaire.

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Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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