I don’t know about you, but I see it every day, lawyers who hate their jobs, articles telling us there are too many lawyers. Rates of depression increase. Alcohol abuse is rampant in the profession. By and large, senior lawyers recommend not going into law as a profession. We know there’s a problem, and, yet, with all of these symptoms, we’re not stopping to ask a crucial question. Instead, we fluff around the edges, afraid to tackle one of the most fundamental issues associated with these symptoms.
We analyze, we provide support, and we offer condolence and sympathy. We encourage, exalt, and teach. All of those things are lovely, significant, and probably necessary, but in all that, we’re still missing the first question. You probably worked hard in school. I’ll bet you got pretty good grades, right? I’ll bet you’re a hard worker. You probably don’t mind long hours. If you’re like 95% of the young lawyers that I’ve seen, then 30 or 40 copies a day isn’t totally out of the question. I reckon you’re probably smart, articulate, and capable of arguing your point with passion and enthusiasm.
The problem is that none of those characteristics protect you from the list of symptoms. You think that your hard work will help you manage stress. You think that smart people don’t get depressed. You think that the ability to make a strong argument will stop you hating your job in three years. If anything, the qualities of people attracted to law, and the training that we get, leads us further down these rabbit holes that destroy lives in the law every day, and, still, we don’t ask the right question.
Should you be a lawyer at all? Should you be a lawyer at all? Did you forget that part? Did you get good grades, top marks in debating, and think, “I know, I’ll be the lawyer “like that person on TV is”? Fantastic, did you stop and ask the question, “Should I be a lawyer?” Can I be a lawyer? “Will I thrive as a lawyer?” So, what’s that question look like in real life? You see, the law isn’t all typing, isn’t all writing letters, reading cases, studying, advises, meetings.
It’s not a series of friendly coffees and catch-ups with polite hand-shaking and deals done each day. It has those things, but those things are only half the story. What’s it really take to be a lawyer? There’s something more, and if you haven’t experienced it yet, you will. You need it when the clouds start to gather. You need it when the storm breaks. You need it when you’re buffeted from every direction, and when the wind force is so strong you can barely walk.
What’s the storm look like? It looks like a client screaming down the phone. It looks like spending a day, all day, on a task, to find that, the next morning, the playing field is changed, and you need to start over. It looks like the colleague you can’t stand, but have to work with every day. It looks like the support staff that doesn’t give you their all or leaves you in the lurch when you need them the most.
It’s the employer whose purpose for existing, relates not you, your needs, your time, but only their ability to make more money than they did the day before. It’s when you wake up in the middle of the night with a cold sweat because you might have forgotten something. It’s not being able to talk about what you do with your family, your friends, or anyone else. These are the things we don’t talk about.
These are the aspects of legal practice that get glossed over as if they’re mere trifles. They’re constant, and to many, they become overwhelming which is why our polite little fiction that anyone can practice law is not only stupid, it’s also self-destructive. It takes more than smart. It takes more than articulate. It takes more than hard-working. You need to be able to take the hit. You need to develop a thicker skin than you could imagine. You need to have gravitas and strength, and courage, sufficient to weather the storm, no matter how hard it gets, and get up the next day with one question on your lips, “What’s next”?
If stress cripples you, if adversity overwhelms you, if you think your life and your career should be delivered to you on a silver platter and you don’t need to get in and do the work, then you really need to think about the main question, “Should you be a lawyer at all”? Law isn’t just an intellectual profession. It’s raw, it’s emotional, it’s deep, and it’s full on. It’s not about soft versus hard. It’s not about weak versus strong. It’s about equipped or not. It’s about ready or not. It’s about whether you will thrive in the profession or wilt. So, what’s your answer? Should you be a lawyer? If so, then what’s next?