Lawyer…it is not for the faint of heart

So you want to practice law….

I would begin with a word of advice for anyone who is considering becoming a lawyer. That word of advice is: DON’T. Law is not for the faint of heart an it is not for normal, well balanced, people. It is a profession of confrontation and that is its core. But if you are the type who likes to have serious confrontations with others, in fact even relishes the opportunity to do so, then maybe it is for you. But enjoying having conflict with others is not the normal state of most people and if it isn’t your normal state then you’ll get one thing out of being a lawyer, stress. More stress than you will know what to do with. (Remember that argument you had with that guy in the, for example, checkout line last month. The one you came away from fuming while you thought that if you’d only said “x” at the right moment you’d have shut him up in his tracks. If that situation eats at you afterwards then you clearly are not the type of person to become a lawyer. It will make you ill in the long run. An even worse situation would be if you’d avoided the confrontation to begin with – then I can say you’ll despise practicing law.)

The other element of being a lawyer is that you have to lacks empathy for others. Your client comes to you and you recognize that they may have been seriously wronged but if you lose their case (despite your best efforts) you have to be able to let it go and move on to something else without a second thought. If you’re the type who is going to fester on the loss and the effect it has on your client then once again you’ll get one thing – stress.

I’m not saying that great lawyers enjoy confrontation or lack empathy for their clients (most lack those characteristics in varying degrees). What I’m saying is that to ENJOY being a lawyer you have to have those aspects to your character. And the result of lacking those characteristics (in other words being a normal individual) is stress and the terrible affect it will have on you over a number of years. Drinking, smoking, being overweight, sleeplessness which results in actual physical illness. Is it worth it? Plus, the money that used to be in law no longer exists – most new lawyers are finding it almost impossible to get a job in the profession due to the hoards that graduate every year.

So there are the negative aspects. What about the positive? It is NEVER boring. The next day will always be more bizarre than the last and your family will, very shortly after you become a lawyer, disbelieve what you’re telling them. I have simply ceased to discuss with my family what I do for a living because even though I understate the events of the day they think I’m hugely exaggerating what’s going on. But it’s the truth and it’s even worse than what I’m describing.

Being good at the law does NOT necessarily equate with intelligence – having outstanding common sense which is NOT an aspect of intelligence is almost MORE important than then being extremely bright. If you haven’t practiced law then you may think that intelligence and common sense go hand in hand. It is absolutely NOT the case. You can be the next Einstein and lack common sense. Common sense is imperative in making actual decisions in a case. What is acceptable, what’s not acceptable, what your client needs instead of what your client wants and what you THINK you can get away with is key. It is the TOUGHEST part of practicing law by far. It’s the “let’s make a decision and stick with it” part of the law. Let’s deal with a point of no return and pick a road to pursue despite the ramifications. And it isn’t easy

People DO revere you as a lawyer but they will take ever opportunity to ask you every legal question under the sun. Lawyers are like doctors, I may do evictions and real estate transfers but I’m not familiar with death penalty cases, in the same way a podiatrist (foot doctor) is not going to be familiar with brain surgery. They’ll be perplexed by the fact you aren’t up on very aspect of the law which would be impossible for any living human being.

There is money to be made in the profession but I warn you about the money aspect. If you don’t have ALL the cash up front then I don’t talk to you. No one will ever pay you a dime despite the fact you win their case (as far as they’re concerned you just showed up but they would have won anyway). If you get a reputation for winning in criminal cases the District Attorney will bargain with you instead of going to trial so you get a lot of money for doing little work. Problem is you have to get a reputation for winning. Errrr….good luck.

The one thing you have to really accept is that the court system NEVER determines who is right or wrong. It does NOT exist for that purpose. It exists to resolve conflicts between individuals. Vindication for your client is something you will rarely receive. A money settlement is all you’ll get and you’ll be surprised that most clients want to some how be vindicated (like a statement from the court that what’s happened to them is the most appalling thing they’ve ever seen) but all the court will ever offer is money. And surprisingly that’s not what they’re pursuing. They want to be told, in public, that they’re right and the other person is wrong. But, assuming you win which only happens half of the time, all they get is a judgment for money but they have they’re “principles” to vindicate. Money doesn’t satisfy that and despite the fact you win them all they can get they’ll tell you they’re dissatisfied with what you did. You’ll be grinding your teeth for sure.

It’s an interesting line of work but I can’t recommend it. I’ve been doing it for six years and the stress only gets worse. The opportunity to have interesting work, for most people, does not obviate the negative aspects of the work. The vast majority of lawyers I know, given another opportunity, would not have gone to law school and would be doing other jobs. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that. It’s a profession that creates levels of stress in most people that any enjoyment they derive is simply lost in the problems they are forced to resolve. You decide.