- Message From the Executive Committee
- September 4, 2018
This fall my youngest son begins law school at the University of Florida. His Mom and I are proud of him but surprised how many folks respond to our enthusiasm by asking the same question: “You couldn’t talk him out of being a lawyer?”
I usually laugh at this and respond with some variation of “Why would I do that?” Putting aside the goal of most parents to render their kids self sufficient, it never occurred to me to dissuade him. I always wanted to be a lawyer, have always enjoyed being a lawyer and still regard it as a noble profession. Mine are strongly held views, but here is the thing, the more people question your parenting, the more you begin to wonder. Should I have steered him in a different direction?
I did some research and found a number of articles on disaffected lawyers. In one study nearly half of those surveyed indicated they would not choose the profession if they could do it all over and would not recommend it to their children.
How disheartening. What these lawyers expressed is not how I feel nor the way I want smart, industrious people considering a career in law to view their prospects. What I didn’t know was whether, after three decades of practicing law and transitioning into law firm management, I’d become desensitized.
I decided to conduct a poll among lawyers at Marshall Dennehey. I’m not suggesting it was scientific, but the sample did include women and men, associates and shareholders, young and old, different practice groups and different offices. I assured everyone who participated there would be no attribution, and there won’t be. I do, however, want to share with you some of the responses. I found them astute, candid and, most of all, reassuring.
Let’s start with the obvious. Practicing law is not for everyone. It’s a hard job, but then so is being a public school teacher, a police officer or a physician. What distinguishes lawyering from these other vocations is what makes it appealing to some and unpleasant to many. It is an inherently adversarial system in which to work. Unlike most people, lawyers are almost always opposed by their equal whose job it is to challenge, obstruct and undermine whatever it is they are trying to accomplish. That constant pressure to prevail can be both exhilarating and exhausting.
Then there is the resignation the job bears little resemblance to its glamorous portrayal on TV and screen. In reality, lawyers often struggle to achieve work/life balance. The hours are long and the demands of clients, courts and employers impose a lot of stress. No one wants to sacrifice sleep, miss a dinner or cancel a vacation, but these things can occur. When they do, personal lives and health can suffer.
Those of us who have been at this awhile also understand the practice is harder than it used to be. We see a profession struggling to recover from the great recession and realize it is never going to be the same. Clients across all disciplines are striving to reduce legal spend and becoming more demanding consumers of our services. That renders the market, already saturated with lawyers and disrupted by technology, commoditization and alternative legal providers, leaner and more competitive than its ever been.
For younger lawyers there is the added burden of student debt. Law school tuition has for years outpaced inflation and is a big expense to shoulder when embarking on a new career, starting a family and buying a home. I well remember how long it took to pay off.
Add to this, the erosion of civility in our practice and the damage lawyer advertising has brought to its dignity, and you begin to wonder why anyone would want to be a lawyer. That is where the poll responses come in and restore my faith. Let me share with you some of what our lawyers had to say:
“…lawyering requires you to set aside your own interests in favor of those of another. For instance, we are all fighting our own personal battles in life, and in those situations, we are aiming to do what is best for ourselves or those close to us. As lawyers, we are tasked with identifying and hopefully securing results that are best for our clients, regardless of the benefit we derive from the engagement personally. Sure, we get paid, and at the end of the day that is certainly a benefit, but my point is that the profession requires us to set aside our own interests in the pursuit of what is best for others. That experience, to me, has been both humbling and rewarding.”
“I like that lawyers face tough challenges where there are not always easy answers and creativity, patience and resourcefulness are needed.”
“The best part of being a lawyer is working with talented people to solve problems. This is enhanced by the diversity of our work and the opportunity to learn about things that we would never be exposed to otherwise. In the last week, I have handled cases involving welding electrodes, construction defects and birth injuries. While these cases have not taught me to be a welder, a builder, or an obstetrician, its incredible how much substance I’ve had to learn about each of these fields to handle the cases. I don’t think any other walk of life exposes someone to such a diverse array of subjects in such detail. Spending so much time outside of any particular wheelhouse can be daunting, but it also prevents boredom and allows us to constantly learn.”
“During the course of my career, I’ve encountered individuals and businesses paralyzed by fear and intimidated by the legal process. Putting these clients at ease and helping them as only a lawyer can is very satisfying personally.”
“In my four years at the firm, I’ve learned about the photovoltaic industry, the process of transforming Honduran cotton into American sweatshirts, the dangers of electrostatic discharge at gas stations and the operation of elevators in high rises. I have had the opportunity to observe stevedores at work at the port and to tour a chemical plant to learn what goes into manufacturing pharmaceutical drugs. I am enjoying the constant challenge of making myself knowledgeable enough to apply the law and formulate a defense on such a wide variety of subject matter.”
“As much as people like to poke fun at lawyers, it is still a noble and respected profession.”
“Being a lawyer has been one of the great joys of my life because of the many positive relationships I have developed over my career… along with the almost instant respect the title of ‘attorney’ carries with it in most circles.”
“The practice of law is a ‘people business’…”
“…the opportunity to assist people when they are in need of advice and guidance is its own reward.”
I could go on and on but, suffice it to say, that as the firm’s CEO, I could not be prouder of the lawyers I have the privilege of working alongside. Their responses to my informal, unscientific poll revealed a deep commitment to our clients, to persistent learning and to the profession in general.
Without exception, every one of the folks who responded indicated they would choose to be a lawyer if they could do it all over again. While they were cautious in recommending the profession to others, noting:
“It takes a certain type of personality and work ethic to thrive as a lawyer.”
“I would not recommend law school to someone merely seeking an alternative career.”
“…I would explain the realities of the legal profession and the responsibility involved in representing others.”
“I would recommend the profession to family and friends if they have a passion for doing it. Its not an easy job, but it has its rewards.”
Collectively, they offered a more positive view of the profession than prevailing reports. Several of the older respondents noted their own children or extended family had followed in their footsteps and how much they enjoyed that commonality.And so, as my own son embarks on this adventure, I’m comforted by the advice of my colleagues. Ours is a noble and rewarding profession with tremendous capacity to do good. My son is smart, hard working and well informed. Given all that, how could his Dad have steered him wrong?