I am sick of people saying lawyers are miserable, angry, drunks, mentally unwell, sociopaths, stressed out, have no lives, jerks, etc. etc. etc. Really. I’ve had it. I’ve been a lawyer for a long time. I’ve known lots and lots of lawyers. There are lawyers who are some of those things, one of those things, and none of those things. Because lawyers are people and people are some of those things, one of those things, or none of those things.
You don’t like being a lawyer? Don’t be one. No one is making you. No one is telling you that this is the only thing you can do. In fact, the profession is better off if those who are not committed to it, who think it is too stressful, leave. You notice how I didn’t say if they think it is stressful. Because being a lawyer is stressful. That’s kind of the job. If you don’t feel the stress or the anxiety when a person’s well being is in your hands, you should quit and find something else. No judgment on you. I don’t want to be a doctor, but I think that’s a great job. Smart people, doctors. We need them. It’s not for me. I have a lot of respect for a lot of people who do lots of different jobs. But I am not going to do them.
I read an article today that was entitled “Surprise. Lawyers are problem drinkers, and worse.”В (http://abovethelaw.com/2015/12/surprise-lawyers-are-problem-drinkers-and-worse/) (My link adder thing isn’t working.)
You know what the ‘worse’ is? Depression. Anxiety. According to this article, lawyers are substance abusers and have depression (mental illness) because we don’t take care of ourselves. We are too concerned about, you know, doing work. And I guess doing work all the time is bad and it makes you use drugs and get depressed. I disagree with this premise. I think it is flat out wrong. And, not only that, but it’s dangerous to the practice of law and lawyers. I do not want young lawyers thinking that if they don’t take all the breaks they think they need, they will become drunks or get depressed. That’s simply not true. You can be completely committed to the work. You can work your ass off for your clients. You can do great work and function like a normal(ish) human being. But your definition of normal will be changed.
Look, we work hard. You have to. There are people who are looking to you to save their lives, their homes, their jobs. This is serious business. You need to understand that you will not always be able to go on vacation when you want, you may spend less time with your kids than you’d like and you might work 70-80 hours a week sometimes. If you don’t want that kind of life, don’t be a lawyer. There is not any way to take care of clients and have this ‘work/life balance’ in the full time practice of trial work. Sometimes it is work, other times it is life. It’s a tightrope on most days but one that we can manage with sufficient practice and dedication.
And here’s the other thing, while environmental factors like stress can contribute to depression, there are plenty of people who have everything in the world and still are depressed. Just like there are those who experience extreme trauma with no effect on their mental health. To tell people that their inability to manage their workload or stress causes their depression is like telling someone that if they eat a salad every day they won’t get cancer. Is it better to take time for yourself and eat well? Sure. But not doing it probably won’t cause you to have a nervous break-down or get the flu? There are people who simply cannot handle the stress of certain jobs. Those people should find other jobs.
Being a lawyer is the best thing there is, if that’s what you want to be. I love it. I encourage people who want to practice law to go to law school and be a lawyer. Why would I tell you not to do a thing that has given me such great pleasure?В Some days it sucks monkey balls (if I didn’t admit that, well, you’d know I was full of shit) but overall, there is nothing else I would rather be doing. And if there’s something you’d rather be doing by all means, go do it. But stop shitting on my profession and the people in it.
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In this episode, we do a bunch of things. We talk about Hilary Clinton’s emails, this day in history, and millennials versus baby boomers. We have a great interview with Dan Hull, founding partner of Hull McGuire in DC. He opens up about his changing views on the 2nd amendment, what makes a good litigator, and hey! Millennials versus baby boomers. Finally, we do a product review of an American Made microwave egg cooker. It works well!
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In this episode, I interview a former client of mine, Jayne Nkemateh. Jayne was indicted and convicted in a large drug conspiracy in federal court. She served 18 months of a 24 month sentence in a women’s prison in West Virginia. In this episode, Jayne tells us how she got caught up in this criminal enterprise and what it was like going through a federal criminal case. She tells us what it was like in prison (the food wasn’t bad) and about her transition back home. This was a very cool episode for me because it’s rare that we get to sit down and ask a client “how are you feeling” “what are you thinking.”
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People gripe that law school doesn’t teach you how to be a lawyer. My law school did. I went to a school that taught black letter law. We didn’t do a lot of theory. We learned how to take and pass the New York State bar so we could get jobs and you know, do lawyer things. My law school taught me where stuff was in a library and how to write. We had a lot of clinics so people learned how to represent clients and even if you didn’t do moot court there were competitions and other venues for trying out your hand in a courtroom or appellate setting. I learned what I needed to learn. They gave me every opportunity for practical training and I took it.
I started interning at the District Attorney’s office my first year. I was in the Appeals Bureau so I didn’t get a ton of courtroom action. But I was able to go and sit in on trials, and do some things in local courts now and again. But I did learn even more law. Lots and lots of law. I learned what good, persuasive writing is. I learned that judges are human beings and that there is this thing called ‘the very bad man rule’ which simply means that if a guy is accused (and at the point they got to me, convicted) of doing something very bad, appellate courts will find a way to keep him in jail. No matter how right the defense is. I had great mentors guiding me every step of the way. I tried my first case the summer of my second year of law school. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. But I made it through and I scored my first conviction. (Honestly, it was one of my only ones. I got terrible cases and was a terrible prosecutor. I should have known then it wasn’t what I was meant to do.)
Fast forward a bunch of years to my days as a criminal defense attorney working under the guidance of a formidable man, Terry Kindlon. Man was he scary. And demanding. But he ran a business and he ran it well. It made money. He had a nice office and people worked for him. I mean, I worked for him. He wasn’t a solo and he wasn’t a medium sized firm. He had what I wanted. I just needed to figure out how to get there.
You know how I got there?
No, really. Do you?
I am asking because I have no idea how this happened. One day I couldn’t get a job with the DEA after I was ready to come back to work (true story) and then BAM I have an office that (sometimes) makes money and I have people who work for me. I run a law business.
And this, my friends, is what law school didn’t really teach me. It didn’t teach me how to treat employees. It didn’t teach me about putting money away for personal withholdings or whatever it’s called. It didn’t teach me about office meetings or white boards or how to properly make a ‘compliment sandwich.’ I learned this from being in the trenches. I’ve been an underling, I know what it feels like and I know the things I hated and the things I said I would never do. I know it the same way a young, rebellious teenager knows she will NEVER EVER EVER be like her parents because they are THE ABSOLUTE WORST EVER AND DON’T UNDERSTAND HER AT ALL.
Yup. Let me be clear about what it is I am saying. I have become one of them. I do a lot of the things I thought I would never do because I thought they were horrible and terrible and made me feel horrible and terrible. But it turns out they were actually very good for me. Working my ass off, not knowing what would come at me next, having to expect the unexpected made me a better lawyer and a better boss. I hated having my jeans on and then having the bossman say he didn’t feel like going to court so I needed to cover. Doesn’t he understand I have things I need to do? Doesn’t he get that I have a life? Why does he even still work at all if he doesn’t want to go to court.
Hahahaha. I laugh at 29 year old me. I mean, I laugh every single time I say those exact same words.
Now I see it was good for me. Sometimes I think I use the idea that it was good for me as justification for sending others. But then when I really meditate on it and think about what makes someone who they are the truth is that all of our experiences make us who were are. I would not be the lawyer and boss I am right now if not for what I went through. And if, according to some sources, I am not terrible at either being a lawyer or a boss, some of my experiences had to contribute to that, right?
I yell at my employees. I really do. I sometimes will say things like “And you are the smart ones, what do other people do who have legit dumb people who work for them?” But then I tell them, when they fail at communication, that as long as they communicate an issue to me, they take it off of them and put it onto me. If I don’t know because they don’t tell me something, it will remain their fault (and people seriously dislike blame.) If they tell me and I fail to take action, well, that’s on me. I tell them don’t ever give me the chance to yell at you when something doesn’t get done. Let me take the hit for it. These are things I learned from the very folks that made me feel like crap for a good portion of my law learning years. And I am thankful for it.
And now, I willingly subject others to this same rigorous law business training program. Because someday the people who sit in the cubicle in my small suite of offices might grow up to be like me and I want them to have the skills they need to raise up another generation of lawyers who are committed to doing right by clients.
The way to do right by clients is to care about how you do what you do. Do it with professionalism and excellence. And sometimes tell your employees they need to cover court so you can catch a movie. And let them know, what goes around comes around.Share on Facebook