04/10/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Lawyers

Over the years, people would mention to me that their son or daughter wanted to become an attorney, and would I mind talking to them about their career choice? I'd smile and always reply the same way: "Do you want me to talk [her or him] into it or out of it? I can go either way."

Law school has never been an inexpensive way to obtain a job or a career. I graduated 28 years ago with $45,000 in debt that took me 14 years to pay off. But pay it off I did, because I was able to start out at a job that afforded me the ability to pay my bills, buy a house and have a child. My degree was my ticket to hang out a shingle and launch my own business over 20 years ago, where I was still able to pay my bills, buy a bigger house, have another baby, and live a very comfortable life. My mother's words "be your own boss -- you know you can depend on yourself" seemed like a very wise instruction manual on how to use my law degree.

As a relatively old-timer at the real estate law rodeo, I've seen a lot of things before. I started my practice when much of a neighboring municipality was in foreclosure after no money down Farmer's Home and VA mortgages proved that those with little invested in their homes often end up losing them. Yet I steadily built my practice, even as interest rates soared as high as 18% and homes increased in value by double digits almost every year.

In previous recessions, I remained busy. I had plenty of clients both in buyers' markets and sellers' markets. Though I often felt overwhelmed with the volume of my workload and yearned for the phones to fall silent for a blessed few hours, I could never, ever have envisioned a phase where the only phone calls I would receive were from people so bereft of both hope and funds that my time would be occupied in assisting them without compensation. That's the real difference now from the troubles of the past two decades: I could use my degree and my accumulated expertise to make clients' lives better when they became homeowners or received checks at the closing, and in turn they would compensate me well enough to pay my bills and have enough left over to see Broadway shows, cheer on the NY Mets and Rangers in person, and send a child through college without financial aid. Nowadays, I am using my qualifications and skills to assist those falling through the cracks as I slip down with them also. I can't pay my electric bill with someone's gratitude or buy food with future clients' promises. I know I won't get far by scribbling "things will pick up in 2010" across the looming tuition bill for my second child, and I've yet to find a creditor that is sympathetic to an unsecured vow to pay as soon as my business returns to solvency.

As a teenager my mother expressed a desire to earn a law degree but bowed to 1950's pressure and learned stenography instead. She died one year after I started my own practice; I know she would be truly disturbed to know her daughter finds the profession she once coveted to be far from lucrative in 2009.