“What’s it like to be a lawyer?” That’s a question I asked myself and a question I am now asked as a lawyer time and time again. When I was accepted to law school I did what I do with most of the deep questions I have in life – I turned to Google. “Should I go to law school?”
The first result was entitled, “why law school is the worst decision you’ll make” – Ha! I read through it. The negatives included graduating with enormous debt, a lack of job opportunities and intense work hours. And like any bold-faced 23-year-old I thought, “pffffft – I can do anything I put my mind to.” I wanted to prove to myself that I could achieve this coveted title. I also wanted to help people at a higher-level than I could as a front-line worker in the non-profit sector. So, I accepted the golden ticket and off I went.
I had some cool experiences in school but for the most part it was a lot of work and stress. That’s not necessarily such a bad thing since work and stress are integral to chasing any worthwhile goal. I had the opportunity to compete in several moots including the Jessup International Law Moot Competition and the International Criminal Court Trial Competition. Travelling to places like New York and the Netherlands to represent my school and country was thrilling to say the least and created memories that I look back on fondly.
After I articled I started my own practice. Starting a practice at a young age has been very challenging and rewarding. It is something many of my peers are interested in and seems to be the route young lawyers are choosing more often. I plan to provide seminars on this and other topics to support law students and new calls (stay tuned!).
So to answer my initial question, being a lawyer is a very subjective experience because it depends on who you are as a person. Some realities remain the same: you graduate with enormous debt, there are fewer job opportunities and hire-backs and the work hours are intense. Google was right. So, for those reasons being a new lawyer is very challenging.
The thing about actually practicing law is that you can help people solve their problems. However, you learn on the job since law school DOES NOT teach you how to practice as a lawyer. This is why senior lawyers say the first few years of practice are the most challenging because you are learning how to deliver services to clients, how to address the court, how to file applications and actions, etc.
When you begin practicing, you are also finishing the licensing process and law school, which leaves you a little more exhausted, knowledgeable, humble and risk-averse. Why? Because you spend three years studying case law with people who seem and may be a lot smarter than you. Case law, in part, is about punishing the poor buggar who wasn’t reasonable enough to prevent the incident that led to the car accident, or the death, or the unfinished contract, etc.
For example, if you produce a bottle of ginger beer and a worm somehow makes its way into the bottle and into your customer’s mouth, you’re probably getting sued. Decision? You’re likely paying damages to the plaintiff. Other ginger beer producers then hear about your punishment and think, “whoa – we are setting up policies that make it near impossible for worms to get into the bottles.” These decisions lead to better standards that punish negligent people/companies and make our society just a bit more harmonious.
So, as a law student, you spend three years studying the worst-case scenario. Your knack to spot trouble before it occurs is so acute that you can’t turn it off. Selling something to a friend? Don’t make any guarantees. Supplying something to a business? Make good on every precise condition and warranty in the contract. Thinking of starting a business? Here is a list of all the things that could go wrong.
While being familiar with risk is useful, it inadvertently makes you a bit more cynical about the world. That was tough for me to deal with when I began practicing. By nature, I’m an optimistic, risk-taking person and I am starting to see that while practicing law is a wonderful opportunity, I am currently not completely fulfilled by my work.
I had a heart-to-heart with a senior lawyer and I told this person, “3 years of law school, the bar exam and articling are exhausting enough – but to realize at the end of it all that you start from the bottom when you begin practicing law and have to overcome yet another learning curve with the added stress of debt and long work hours – that’s a tough pill to swallow.” The lawyer agreed, informing me that it takes about 10 years to build up enough experience to be really good at what you do. In 10 years I’ll be almost 40 and there’s a lot more I want to do with my life before then.
As a result, I am currently going through an internal conflict. My legal/rational brain tells me “Make more money!! You need to buy a house!! You need to have kids!! You need to build your practice!! How could you think of taking a risk on anything other than the stable growth of your practice?!” My heart tells me, “So you’re a lawyer now – but you’re only young once, baby – try acting, singing and dancing, explore comedy, start another cool business with your spicy man. Take more risks!”
This #SummerSixteen I am focused on following my heart through youtube videos, stand-up comedy, acting, and more. While I continue to practice law, I’m going to see where these artsy endeavors take me. Maybe I’ll get it out of my system and continue on the path of being an awesome lawyer or maybe they’ll change my trajectory completely. All I know is that while I am committed to excellent service for my clients, I am also committed to my happiness.
If you’re wondering what it’s like to be a lawyer, know that the path to become one is rocky and take some time to talk to or shadow different lawyers whose shoes you want to be in in a few years. If you really want to pursue this career, you’ll do it no matter what anyone says.
If you’re a lawyer and are not happy with your work or are considering starting again in a new field, do it. Don’t sit at your desk and work the rest of your life away. My friend Jean says, “you owe it to the world to share your talent.” She’s right. Live your best life, even if that means risking it all.
I am grateful to have made it this far and have the ability to help people solve their legal problems. I’ve proven to myself that I have what it takes to be a great lawyer and have worked with people who have been wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit, with entrepreneurs starting their own businesses, and other inspiring clients. But I’m young and life is short so I’m going to have some fun.