It’s a great question, one that hopefully deserves a great answer. What is it precisely that motivates people leaving high school to go to university and study law? Well, the short answer is “everyone is different” and “everyone has their own motivations” but is that answer fun? Absolutely not. So we’re going to take a look at what motivates people to become lawyers and maybe, just maybe, have a bit of a laugh while we do it.

What Motivates People

Simple question right? What motivates people? Broadly. Generally. In philosophy, this often tends to be translated into questions of altruism. Are we all selfish to the core and only motivated by what profits ourselves, or are we altruistic and motivated by what we can give to others? Or, conversely, is the act of “giving” really just a popular source for an internal dopamine hit, meaning we ultimately only do things to “feel good” thus making every act selfish in some way, shape or form? That debate we are going to happily leave to the philosophers – specifically try the historical August Comte, or take a look at the modern Atlas Society for more on that weighty discussion.

Another way of looking at what motivates people is from a more rational, economic sense. And for this, we’re going to turn to Mankiw’s principles of economics where the famous N. Gregory Mankiew explains what motivates a “rational” person. In this infamous text, popularly used as an introductory textbook the world over, he explains that people, defined of course as rational beings, fundamentally respond to incentives. Which, when translated into English, basically means that people are motivated by things that motivate them. Amazing! Incredible! Who could have seen that coming? Such beautiful rational logic. Stupendous.

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Okay Really, What Motivates People to Become Lawyers?

Okay enough with the silliness. Obviously, people find motivation to do things from a variety of sources, and those same people can be influenced by a variety of pressures both internally and externally. Some come motivators come from a need, some from societal pressures, and some from an internal want or desire – making every individual’s motivation thoroughly unique based on their context. But, if we were to make some broad, sweeping generalisations well…


Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. People need money. People want money. Lawyers are well-paid. People want to be lawyers. A bit too cynical? Okay, let’s try it a different way. People want things other than money, money gets them those other things. More money means more other things, and being a lawyer means more access to those other things. Simple right? Well to put it bluntly, yes, it is. According to statistics from the ABS and ATO, on average lawyers see an income of around $185k per year. At the same time, the Australian median salary for all occupations across the country was around $48k, making a law degree more than three times more valuable than the average job in Australia. If that isn’t strong motivation, I don’t know what is.



Where there’s money, there’s prestige, and people definitely look up to lawyers. Sure, many lawyers have a bad reputation, but others have stellar reputations, highly respected, and when push comes to shove everyone wants a good lawyer when they need it. This means at some point or another, being a lawyer means people either want you or want to be you. And that’s a pretty solid endorphin hit right there.

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Okay, yeah, if you accept that as a motivator then a lot of lawyers really do actually do the job to help others and -not- for the money. Evidence? Despite the insanely high average, public attorneys are routinely paid half as much as corporate jobs, and yet people still become lawyers in order to be public defenders. Some even work pro-bono, or take cases that have a limited chance of success – but they do it because success could mean everything to their client. Sure, maybe they are in it for the dopamine, but they’re also in it to help others and that is what motivates them above all else.

Intellectual Challenge

Well hey, if we’re going to accept altruism as an opinion, why not the challenge of it all? Anyone who has studied knows that learning new things, tackling problems you’re passionate about and solving them can be a powerful motivator all of their own. Heck, even the act of just studying a master of laws online and developing your existing skillset can be an endorphin hit all on its own. But being a lawyer invites that sort of intellectual challenge on a near-daily basis. It’s a strategist’s dream, bonus points if you enjoy public speaking which brings us to…

Storytelling and The Centre Of Attention

If you like making your case in front of others, then you’ll love being a lawyer because it is ALL about doing solid research, ticking every box you need to tick, arranging yourself up against an adversary and then presenting the best damn case you can – in front of an audience. Sure, that audience might not be twelve jurors, it might just be the judge and your competition, but for some people being given the opportunity to make a strong case – or to turn a weak case into something powerful through story – is all the motivation they need.

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Winning and Moving On

Lawyers win cases, and they lose cases, but it’s almost always very clear when they do. Every challenge has an end, every fight has a conclusion. It’s like watching a movie, the end might not be satisfying, but you know it will have one, and sometimes, it’ll be fantastic. Other times, eh, not so much, but at least you can move on. That’s not something a lot of other jobs offer. Other jobs are just the same thing, day, after, day, after day. But legal cases? That’s a battle that can be won, that will be won, if not by you then by someone, and then you go on to fight another. And sometimes the joy of just finishing something, even if you lose, can be as good as a victory.

But of course, as we said at the start, everyone is different. Everyone has their own motivations. Maybe this list covered it, maybe it didn’t. But at the very least we hope you had a bit of a chuckle while you thought about it.

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