Whenever someone asks Lori Nelson if law school would be a good choice, she says, "Don't do it."
The economy is bad, the future is uncertain and the practice of law is changing. This from the new president of the Utah Bar Association, a family law practitioner and a partner in the Salt Lake City law firm of Jones Waldo (which represents The Tribune).
But if you're a freshly minted attorney, Nelson has big plans for you.
For one, she's working to boost people's estimation of lawyers (I know, cue the jokes). She's putting each new lawyer with a veteran who will serve for a year as a mentor to guide them through the ways of rules, procedures and professionalism.
As part of that, the bar has a "modest-means" program designed to connect underemployed attorneys with people who need legal attention but don't qualify for pro bono, or free, assistance. The clients get help and the lawyer gets a lower hourly rate.
Their issues may be foreclosures, landlord-tenant issues, debt collection. "There are just so many places where people need help," Nelson said.
She also wants to bring to light the good lawyers can do. Besides pro bono work, they may sit on planning and zoning commissions, city or community councils or homeowners associations, "bringing that expertise to all they do."
"One of my partners, every year at least, goes to Haiti to join Healing Hands for Haiti on his own expense and his own time," Nelson said. "Lawyers are doing things like that all the time, even though most of them are reluctant to trumpet what they do."
The bottom line is that Nelson wants to bring some recognition and shed some light on the benefits lawyers bring to the public.
"I think there's a perception that lawyers sit in cushy offices all day and then golf a lot and make a bunch of money," she said. "That just isn't right. This is a hard job. The hours are huge â¦ and that doesn't include the volunteer work."
Nelson got into law as a single mom looking for a career. She took a class to research her options, and it "came down to two careers, and one of them required math."
So she earned a degree in philosophy, as many lawyers do, and then her law degree.
When I mentioned that everybody's got an opinion about lawyers, Nelson replied, "They hate all lawyers except their own.
"It would be of some value to understand that, as in all things, there are some bad apples," she said. "But that shouldn't be the measuring stick by which you assess the value of all lawyers."
As for those who ask her about going to law school, she tells them about the problems these days, but also that law school is "a good education, even if it's a little like boot camp."
But when I asked if her son had shown any interest in law, Nelson laughed. "He ran the other way as quickly as he could."
Lawyer life isn't all work, though. At home, Nelson loves to cook. She's been putting up plum, apricot and raspberry jam and making dill pickles. "Everything came from my garden the dill, the garlic, the cucumbers," she said.
She described saving a lobster-artichoke appetizer with puff pastry for a dinner party and said she reads cookbooks like novels.
"Cooking is an amazing therapy. You're in the moment, being creative," she said.
But back to the law.
"It's fascinating. It's dynamic, it's always changing," Nelson said. "You never stop learning, you never stop growing."
And sometimes, she added ruefully, "it can be dreadfully boring."
I think most of us, in whatever job we do, can relate to that.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter: @pegmcentee.