When you think of a lawyer, what comes to mind? Well, when people discover I’m a lawyer, they tend to envision me living a much different life (& lifestyle) than the one I actually led as a practicing attorney.
I get it. Before I passed the bar and started working, I didn’t fully understand what a lawyer’s day consisted of. I had only TV and movies about lawyers to go on. And rarely do lawyers actually ‘work’; instead onscreen shows lawyers going out to power lunches, being involved in nefarious ‘negotiations’ and having affairs.
(As an aside: lawyers were not thought of highly in my house growing up. As a blue-collar family, lawyers didn’t travel in our circles and we didn’t know any personally. My parents tended to buy-in to the stereotype that, for the most part, lawyers were…well, liars. And not to be trusted. I can tell you, firsthand, that while there are a bunch of lawyers that (unfortunately) fit that mold, there also are another bunch of lawyers (like me) who do not:)
Well, in case you’re interested, let me give you the skinny on what a lawyer does on an average day and what her life is really like. (You may be surprised!)
First, the thing lawyers do – more than anything – is think! It’s true. As trial lawyers, we think about the facts. We think about the law at issue. And then we think about how the facts fit the law (the side of the law where our clients win). That may sound boring. But for me, it was absolutely exhilarating. Invigorating. And (believe it or not) downright FUN! (I know, I know….go ahead: call me crazy.) I remember when I first heard a law school professor say “more than anything else, lawyers get paid to think,” I thought to myself: ‘are you kidding me?’ But that turned out to be true. And I was soooooo glad to think (rather than sing…believe me, you do NOT want to hear me sing) for my supper.
Second, lawyers work loooooooooooong hours (especially lowly associates just starting out). Shortly before finishing law school I watched the movie The Firm. It freaked me out! You see, I was blessed to have gotten an offer to work for a large Philadelphia-area firm and I thought: “Oh Lord. Please don’t let me be getting into something like that, being asked to ‘sell my soul’ for the firm.” (If you saw the movie, you know what I mean. If you didn’t, I highly recommend it.) Thankfully my worst fears about lawyers doing criminal activity did not come to fruition. I was, however, expected to work crazy hours, often 60+ hours per week. And, even if not said out loud, somehow it was made clear that ‘the firm’ was to come first. (Well, that never sat right with me and when I got pregnant with my first child in my very first year of practice, I found myself off ‘partnership track’. In other words, I was blackballed. And if prioritizing business over family was what was required to ‘make it’ in the firm environment, getting put on their ‘blackball list’ was just fine with me!)
Third, lawyers don’t make boatloads of money (at least not those fresh out of law school). This one may surprise you, so let me explain. I readily admit that working for a large firm meant I had a decent salary. However (and this is a very big ‘but’), when you divide that salary by the average number of hours worked, my hourly rate was about $20-25. I’m talking about the mid-1990s (and, to be clear, I was beyond grateful for that salary), but I use this real-life example to debunk the myth that all lawyers are millionaires, own several homes and never need to worry about money and making ends meet. The fact is, not only can a lawyer’s ‘hourly rate’ be less than that of fast food or convenience store management, her debt is significantly greater (easily strapped with 6 figure law school debt, resulting in what feels like an additional ‘mortgage payment’)
With all that said, I found working as a lawyer incredibly fulfilling. (I entered the law to ‘fight for the underdog’ and ‘right wrongs’. And that’s exactly what I sought to do, every single day.) I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to work as a lawyer and, every time I walked through the doors of a courthouse, I would literally pinch myself. (Seriously, every time I entered those hallowed halls to advocate for a client, I marveled in disbelief. ‘Wow, I really am a lawyer,’ I would say to myself. “Thank you Jesus!”) My most memorable clients were an immigrant couple who I represented pro bono in a case against a major corporation that was represented by a senior partner in a competing firm. And WE won! Although my clients had very little, they went to the trouble (& expense) to personally deliver the most gorgeous bouquet of flowers along with a heart-felt card expressing their gratitude. (I remember holding back tears as I read their card and gave them each a great big hug…yes, I’m a big hugger.) My best day in court was at a motion hearing, when the words coming out of my mouth were truly those of the Holy Spirit (I don’t think I’ll ever be able to adequately describe that experience).
Yep. Most people may never fully understand what goes on in a lawyer’s life behind the scenes. Or what motivates them to work the way they do. Let me reassure you that there are plenty of lawyers out there who strive not only to win, but do so ethically. To bring honor to God. After all, it’s God who blessed them with the brains and the opportunity to enter that vocation in the first place. And that’s one thing I never forgot.