Friday, July 2, 2010

Why I Became a Lawyer

I didn't begin my undergraduate studies until I was  25. In the years beforehand, I knew a lot of college graduates with degrees in history, sociology, and psychology (among others) that could not get good jobs. I told myself that if I ever went to college, I wouldn't settle for anything but a professional or advanced degree.

My initial aspirations were to become a heart surgeon. Something about that job appealed to me. When I finally entered community college I took lot of science classes: biology, chemistry, physics, etc.

After a year I transferred to a 4 year university and majored in microbiology. I also got hired to work in a biochemistry lab. When I first started, I was doing grunt work like dishes and preparing growth cultures. Soon, however, I was doing research under the guidance of a graduate student and then on my own.

Looking back at what I knew and what I was studying, I can say I was damn near smart. I was also constantly around brilliant people and that never hurts. I can read things I wrote 10 years ago and not understand the content or how I learned and knew it. It's very scary.

Ultimately, I turned away from medicine. The road seemed too long. 4 years of medical school. 5 years of intern/residency. 2-3 year fellowship. That is a long haul and I seriously doubted my stamina.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I always felt law school was a possibility. I don't really know why, however. I didn't know any lawyers. There were none in my family (nor any college graduates). I was never hooked on courtroom TV dramas or movies (save for limited viewing of Perry Mason).

But I knew that lawyers needed to know how to write and speak. I felt I was ok in those departments. In hindsight, my impression was naive. But I had no way to know what a real lawyer did. And not only that, but I had no idea there were so many areas of law.

I probably based all of my ideas of what a lawyer was and did from watching Perry Mason. Yes, I am serious. While it's true that TV series is much older than myself, my grandfather used to watch it at night. Whenever I spent the night, I watched it too.

Subconsciously, I must have noted that many U.S. Presidents and Congressman were lawyers. Abraham Lincoln is my hometown hero. He was a lawyer. Must be a pretty noble gig.

I wish I could say there was some attorney I met that inspired me, but I cannot. In fact, before I went to law school, I can't think of one lawyer that I knew on a personal level.

When I entered law school, like most 1L's, I envisioned changing the world with my law degree. But I quickly learned that I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. I got my first law clerk job the summer after my 1L year. And from then on, I worked while I was in law school for a few different attorneys.

Only 1 of the 4 attorneys I clerked for did any criminal and it was mostly DUI. None of them went to court on any regular basis. If anything, working during law school exposed me to what some attorneys do. Sadly, it wasn't anything that really interested me. It looked extremely boring, in fact.

But by the time I graduated and was licensed, I wanted any attorney job I could find. I knew fellow classmates that were still unemployed over 6 months after passing the bar exam. That was scary. I jumped at the first job offer I received.

I worked as an associate for 2 firms. I jockeyed a desk and billed hours. I never went to real court, but I did get to draft appellate briefs and even argued one. I learned how to manage a file, write letters (I mean dictate them), review medical records, take depositions, and other civil type duties.

In the past I have written about how I ended up doing criminal defense, so I won't repeat the story. But if you haven't read it, let's just say it happened by complete accident.

My initial push towards being a heart surgeon was based on a desire to help people who need it badly. But if I am being honest, there is some hero factor at play too. Heart surgeons, like other doctors, are respected and looked up to. I imagine some are even admired.

Imagine being near death. A very skilled person takes you under his care. You come away in much better shape with years more to live. That's pretty cool. Are you ever going to forget your surgeon? Hell, no.

Someone in law school who obviously knew me better than I know myself, said I would wear a cape if I could. I didn't understand it then, but it makes me chuckle now. Am I a wanna-be hero?

If wanting to help people that need it and feeling awesome about it when it goes well makes me a wanna-be Marvel Comics character, then so be it. I am ok with that. But sadly, things don't always go well in this business.

I see so much human misery, suffering, fear, regret, confusion, frustration, and desperation. And that's just from the family of my clients. Each case I am hired on is an invitation into the lives of a number of people who are looking at me to, in some cases, be a savior.

That is a very heavy load. And when the outcome is good, it's an amazing feeling. The happy, teary-eyed hugs are the best. But when the outcome is bad, the feeling is terrible. The sad, teary-eyed hugs are the worst.

When something goes right, I think to myself, "yes, this is what I am supposed to be doing." But on the bad days I think, "what the hell am I doing?" This is a very up and down business. There seems to be very little middle ground. My skin grows thicker by the day. But my heart and feelings are still alive. They take a beating regularly.

Why did I become a lawyer? I honestly can't answer that question. There is no answer. It just happened. The career picked me more than I picked it. One one hand this all seems like a huge accident. But on the other, it seems that everything I experienced in life prepared me for the work.

If you really have any clue about my day to day life, that last sentence might be disturbing. I share a lot of my daily experiences here, but no where near everything. What I write may provide some insight, but it's not the same as being here, doing it. I have read a lot of books about WWII and Vietnam, but I wasn't there.

The sounds, the smells, and the scenes cannot be conveyed by words. Or at least not by mine. It's probably better this way.

Someday I may want to forget it all, much like the Claisen condensation.


1 comment:

  1. Very nice post, I really am glad there are people like you in the legal industry. Often it is difficult to follow our dreams and become something, say to help people. Especially with law school its difficult to know where to start. For those interested, I would highly recommend looking at law firms across the board and the kind of work they do see if it interests them.


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