Yesterday during our family BBQ for Mother’s Day, I had the same conversation I have almost weekly with various friends and family:
Person: You know I think I would have made a great lawyer. I love to argue with people.
Me: Well it’s not all arguing. There’s a lot more to this than just arguing in Court.
Person: Still, it’s so cool that you take on a case, look for the ways to win and defeat your opponent. What a great job.
Me: It’s horrible.
I’ve gotten to the point where I’m pretty damn blunt with people. When I’m asked why I’m not married, I say because I have no rush to do so and there is no benefit to me as an American male. When girls ask me why I’m not more flirty via text I respond because I don’t care. So when people ask me about my job and there is no downside to telling the truth*, I tell them that simply, it sucks.
*Such situations include dates (projecting negativity never helps secure a bang) or business development (nobody wants to hire a lawyer who hates what he does).
So why is being a lawyer, and specifically in my case litigation, not all that it’s cracked up to be?
1. It Never Fucking Ends
The above clip hits home to me. Litigation is one case after another that follows the same damn path over and over again. You get a case, you either have to sue or defend it. Then you engage in “discovery” which is horrible, nothing but paperwork and taking depositions (testimony under oath). Then you file motions, and oppose motions, and argue motions. Then you try to settle. Perhaps informally, perhaps through the use of a mediator. If all else fails, in one to two years you will have trial. And THEN, there is maybe an appeal that goes another year or two.
Finally though, the case is over. You have won or lost and can now forget about it. Except you have another 10-15 just like them at various points. And you get another one and start the process over again. I’m guessing most jobs are like this, but when you combine it with the other negatives it really takes a toll on your mind.
On a daily basis, you suffer from this as well. There is no off time—I have clients calling me in the evenings and weekends. My cell phone has to be available. Often times I fantasize about having a normal job where people can shut it down mentally upon leaving the office. Type in to google “lawyer suicide depression” and you’ll see that the added mental stress breaks many lawyers.
2. Your Peers Are Assholes
I’m a very mild mannered guy. I don’t raise my voice, I don’t engage in insults or name-calling. I’m the guy that you meet and think there’s no way this guy will ever wrong me. On dates countless times I’ve heard when I start escalating hard that “I never expected this from you!” And so on. I mention this because all the best attorneys I’ve ever worked with or against, have had this “grandpa” demeanor. They are your best friend. Everything will be okay, no need to argue. In fact, this is the best demeanor to have when trying to elicit information from an adversary because people’s natural propensities are to open up to people they trust, not people that they think are attacking them. But what makes a good lawyer is the topic of another day.
Sadly less than 10% of the attorneys in the real world are like this. Many think that bravado and overexcitement are the cornerstones of good lawyering because of their days watching SVU and CSI. Others think they are smarter than all the judges in the land and everyone is an idiot for disagreeing with them. It really makes no sense to me. I’ve had so many opposing attorneys say that “Between you and me I don’t see how your client will win.” Somehow they think these poor excuses for negotiation really work. Nonetheless these are the people you deal with. Straight-up idiots that somehow managed to pass the bar. And responding to an idiot’s motion is a lot more effort and pain than a well-thought out decent attorney’s paperwork. Here’s an email I received today actually – another poor attempt at “negotiating”:
Literally, you have no idea how broke my client is.
Nevertheless, I also am tired of spending my own time and money dealing with this ridiculous case…
If not, as much as I can’t believe that I’ve spent even 10 minutes of time, much less 40 hours on small case for a client who can’t afford to pay a few dollars, I will take the trial and you and I can waste some more of our time. Please tell your client, whether he wants to believe it or not, this ***** has NO MONEY WHATSOEVER!!!!! Not a dime. Can’t afford rent, can’t afford gas, and is barely scraping by. He will not get a single penny if he gets a judgment…
None of this has any impact on me whatsoever. All I needed to know was the dollar amount of his offer. Here’s another example:
Everything over $3,000 is coming out of my pocket. So, am I to tell my wife that we can’t go out for dinner for New Year’s eve? Maybe we’ll just drink water instead of wine.
***** wanted to know if you could take a credit card. Can you? Shame on you, robbing from the poor.
My response was as follows:
We unfortunately do not take credit cards. I will email you a draft settlement agreement shortly.
Unfortunately when this profession loses its professionalism we have attorneys like the above that just add unnecessary annoyance to simple things.
3. You’re Everyone’s Psychologist
Let’s be honest, the only reason anybody comes to you as a litigator is because they just got fucked. Either someone screwed them out of some money or someone has just sued them trying to extract money from them. The client always thinks his case is the biggest thing since the
GM Ford Pinto case. It doesn’t matter if the person lost his life savings in shady real estate deals to low level landlord-tenant issues, nothing is more problematic than that person’s case at that time. So they call, email and repeatedly tell you all their problems. And you have no choice but to listen.
Another manifestation of the same is that you undertake a lot of added mental “responsibility” for the outcomes of the cases. Even if they have a losing case, I do feel for them when they lose. Even worse is when they are supposed to win and they lose, of no fault of your own but of the legal system. It’s a hard pill to swallow, trying to explain to someone that they either owe a significant amount of money, or that they will not be getting the amounts they were previously screwed out of.
4. No Control
No matter how well I write, or how great my argument is in court, the final outcome is out of my hands. It’s the judge and jury that will decide and all I can do is put in my best effort to sway the decision. And I hate that. Did the judge’s wife made him watch the baby last night? No sleep means he’s cranky and doesn’t feel like listening to argument today. Jury member randomly loves the city I’m suing? There goes that verdict. These are extreme examples but there is so many factors at play from scheduling dates through the court to a judge’s mood one day that no matter how hard you work, prepare or try you cannot control your end result.
5. Debt v. Income
Unless you are going to one of the higher tier schools, you are not in the running for a high paying job. I have had attorneys work for me for free, just to get it on their resume. Top tier students are willing to intern for free for me during school. As a business owner, this is wonderful.
But for those considering law school, it’s a bitch. First of all it’s expensive as hell and you will be large debt coming out. Second, the market is horrible. You’d be looking at 5 figures for most of you, assuming you can even get a job.
As much as I dislike what I do there are positives. The biggest one is money…but only in one scenario. If you are good it’s relatively easy to make a lot of money. There are not many jobs that start with a 6 figure salary or that you get paid nearly $400 an hour to do. It’s an impressive job to women, be it girls you date or your mother’s ability to brag about you. It’s much harder to be civilly fucked with as a lawyer. You will be smarter and more logical than almost everyone around you just given your job. If you decide to jump ship there are many corollary careers you can dive into. This has kept me going for as long as I have, but with some tweaks to keep my sanity.
So Nobody Should Be A Lawyer?
There are plenty of people that have no business being a lawyer. But the more relevant question is that if you can actually be a good lawyer, should you be? The answer is only if you truly and seriously love being a lawyer. Otherwise it will kill you mentally. A little piece of me dies everyday. Sometimes I stare at my computer for what seems like an hour before I can gather up enough motivation to write another brief or call another attorney. But I’m good at it, it funds my life and allows me to travel like I want.
And yes I’m aware of the purported belief that “everyone dislikes their job.” But I hardly believe that is true. I have friends that enjoy their jobs and I can likely find multiple examples that, while are not the norm, still evidences people that like their jobs. My friend used to edit porn for a living, he was far from hating that job. I’m pretty sure this guy’s job doesn’t suck either. So to me that is bullshit. Which leads me to my next point… who cares if everyone dislikes their jobs? That doesn’t mean that you or I should as well.
The best advice I ever got from a lawyer was in response to my question about whether I should attend law school X or law school Y. His response: “Don’t go to law school.”