Perry Mason, LA Law, Law & Order…. bogus! If they did a show on the reality of lawyering no one would watch it. The scene would be of an individual sitting in an office in front of a computer for most of the day researching and writing. Fun stuff, huh? Absolutely riveting. Ratings would skyrocket. No, they wouldn’t.
What’s it like to be a lawyer? Would you do it again? I get these questions often. Depends on the day. Some days it is exceptionally wonderful, and then some days, it really sucks ass.
The egos in this field are, you guessed it, out of control. I’ve gotten bit by this bug myself on an occasion or two (Oh hush. Let’s just stick with two). A case in point: Attorneys usually get their cases called first. Time is of the essence because time is money. Once I had to wait an HOUR in a DHS waiting room for a child support hearing and you would have thought the ENTIRE world was ending. Even the divas were ashamed of my behavior and wanted to disown me (Reel it in, Princess. You’re still human).
The people… well… let me tell you about the people. We call them clients. Sometimes (Shhhh!) we give them other nicknames, but I am really not at liberty to discuss that here. And, if asked, I will say you’re making that up.
The people… there was the guy who works at the landfill. I sat with him for ninety minutes waiting for his young kids to arrive after one of our hearings. I wasn’t required to stay. I stayed because I wanted to. He was a throwaway. The kind of person the world looks past. That day we talked and I listened. I learned a treasure trove of information on all the planning and grid systems used for landfills. The information was truly interesting and the experience was very valuable.
Then there was the young veteran suffering from PTSD, defending against assault & battery charges. He was violent, or so that is how the world saw it. This young man’s eyes were cold and empty. It breaks your heart, the emptiness, and you know full well he can snap your neck at any moment and most likely will not remember doing it. The wounds people carry are not always visible.
Then there’s the elderly man whose estate planning you did who still drops by regularly to tell you an old war story. It’s usually not a convenient time, never is when you have deadlines and work to complete. But, his wife of sixty years is gone now. His kids are grown and you sense he is desperately trying to remind himself that he is still alive and not completely invisible to the world. The wounds are not always visible.
Then there’s the elderly man you watch lose full and complete control of his emotions. He grabs and hugs his adult son, in the middle of the court room, sobbing, while the deputies forcibly try and separate him from his son so they can complete their task of leading this “criminal” out of the room. Dressed in his bright orange jumpsuit and handcuffs, he’s off to serve his prison sentence. A debt to society.
Then there’s the young man fighting for his first born child. The tension in the courtroom was thick. As we waited for the Judge, I tried to lighten the mood by doing my best white girl, no rhythm, rap song, but alas…. (Yes, I know it was inappropriate. Well… I do now. Unfortunately, though, it’s how I function. Roll your eyes and move on. Go!). Then this man’s wife, holding their newborn in her arms, after sacrificing their time, money, and special occasions together (they lived out of state) to fight for his child (A relationship he was entitled to, I might add), bent over and whispered a prayer in his ear. At that moment a sense of calm and peace fell over the room as I watched a tear stream down the cheek of my client. It was one of the purest moments I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Love knows no bounds.
Then there’s that one guy who goes to the same church you do. The one who catches you in the parking lot of the Courthouse as you’re putting on your suit jacket so you can file some documents in a case. The one who asks you that one question that always makes you cringe; “Are you an attorney?” Stutter… stutter… mumble (Shit!). “Yes.” And you then get the distinct privilege of spending the next fifteen minutes of your life getting chewed on by this semi-stranger because he feels he just got shafted at the hearing he just left. And, you are EXACTLY what is wrong with the world and everything about the justice system is derived from satan himself. Blah! Blah! Blah!
But wait… THERE’S MORE.
Then there is the young hot rod. The one making more money than he has sense. The one who is having an affair and the one who also has a wife and small child. The one who has a full melt down at the mention of paying child support. And, you, you get the pleasure of smiling at this young punk while he goes on his tirade and accuses you of “being afraid to go to trial” because you worked extra hard to settle the case knowing full well the Judge in THAT county will hand this punk his ass if he even gets a whiff of infidelity. Seriously, afraid? Just saved your skin, Boy! How I’d love to hand you over, but *mumble* ethics *mumble again*. That’s like saying Mike Tyson is scared to fight. Get in the ring, punk!
I’ve done all kinds of legal work… divorce, custody, domestics, criminal defense, guardianship, adoption, estate planning, civil litigation, appeals, contracts, business law, banking law, employment law, regulatory and administrative law. You name it. A general practice covers a lot of different areas. You meet a lot of people.
You have to maintain a tough skin in this business. You often see the ugliest side of humanity. No one ever comes to see me because they are having a good day. The job requires you to willingly walk smack dab into the midst of the fiery turmoil going on in the life of another. I’ve been yelled at more times then I can count. (I’m not just talking about the clients, I’m taking about other attorneys and Judges too). I’ve had the phone slammed down in my ear. I’ve been cussed out and threatened. Grown men have refused to shake my hand in an effort at intimidation. People have called me names that would be offensive to most. I’ve learned to thank them and move on. It usually means I won’t give in to their demands and they are feeling very frustrated. (Winner winner chicken dinner!). Oh, yes, it is a FUN job.
I find these days I’m often on call 24/7 although I post my hours as Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Cell phones, social media, and getting trapped in the hair dresser’s chair, or cornered at the grocery store, church, or parking lot, make it difficult to dodge that inquisitive individual who just needs to “ask me a question.” (Ummm…that is actually called legal advice. It’s what I charge and get paid for providing. Crazy, I know. This is not conversation. This is work). For the most part I don’t mind. It’s the nature of the beast. It comes with the territory, this I understand. But, then there are THOSE days where if the phone rings or the e-mail pings just ONE.MORE.TIME… Running away into the woods and never coming back is now my frequent, reoccurring fantasy.
I go through periods of burnout (Really? You guessed that? You’re a quick study). I imagine all people do at some point in their careers. I have to dig DEEP inside to remind myself of just why I started this journey in the first place. The older I get the more difficult this process of pulling me back from the abyss seems to become, yet, here I am. Ready and willing to fight another day. The wheels of justice will continue to turn whether I participate or not. Not all wounds are visible.
It’s not all bad, though. There are bright spots that make it all worth it… er… some of it worth it… er a sliver of it worth it…. Okay! FINE! That makes it ALL worth it. I’ve lost cases I never thought I could lose, and likewise, I’ve won cases I never thought I would win. I’ve meet a lot of really incredible people along this journey. I’ve received hugs and cards of thanks from grateful clients. Several of my clients I am blessed to now call friend. That, in and of itself, is by far the greatest benefit of this crazy career.