Lawyers and the Unnamed Force

I am humbled by the invitation to join the illustrious team that has turned Slaw.Ca into Canada’s leading legal group blog. It’s a great site and I hope that I can contribute in a positive way. My day job is privacy and technology law, with a little bit of related blogging on the side at the Canadian Privacy Law Blog. I’m pleased to have an opportunity to write a bit about “things legal” that are not necessarily about privacy or technology. (Although I’ve come to think everything is about privacy and technology.)

If I sound like I enjoy what I’m doing, it’s absolutely true. I have to confess I am one of the happiest lawyers I know. The legal media (including legal blogs) are full of stories of high levels of attrition, lawyer burn-out, and general malaise in the profession, but I do not think it is entirely pervasive. (I know a few other lawyers who happen to love what they are doing, too, but many more who are carriers of this malaise.)

There may be some prophylaxis for this chronic condition.

My first week of law school, which wasn’t that long ago, was filled with anxiety and new faces but each conversation with each new person started with “why’d you choose to go to law school.” My memory may be getting hazy at this point, but I seem to recall that most of the answers were along the lines of: “I did well on the LSAT, so I’m here”, “I have a poli sci degree”, “I didn’t get into dental school.” I was surprised that the students seemed to be drawn by an irresistible force and little free will was involved.

While there, I thought of law school as a factory, with a large conveyor belt that was moving through and ultimately delivering students at the door of large law firms. For many, the conveyor belt continues at the door of the firm and takes them to burnout or retirement. I remember interview week when everyone was so keen at getting interviews with just the right firms and then hoping for offers. Few people shopped around for firms or acted as though they may be making among the most important decisions of their lives. That firm is the best or the biggest and therefore you must want to work there. So after practicing for a few weeks, the look up from their desks and realize they’ve made a big mistake. Just because securities/tax/M&A/etc. was the most sought after position doesn’t mean it’s the job for you. But by the time the realization hits, inertia or student loans keep you there. Or they pay you enough to suck it up.

Maybe I am completely naïve, but I don’t think it needs to be that way. The problem seems to be, to me at least, that students taking the LSAT have no idea what they’re getting themselves in for. They look out and see an endless horizon, but this unnamed force draws them to the professions. Do they know what a lawyer does? They’ve almost certainly seen them on TV, but most lawyers will tell you that the practice of law is nothing like its depiction on the other side of the tube. Most of them have skills that will make them good law students (at least that’s what the LSAT is telling them), but does that mean they will enjoy being a lawyer? Not necessarily. My completely unscientific polling methodology leads me to conclude that people rarely love what they are doing if they realize they got where they are by default (or the unnamed force).

What’s the answer? I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until next week (or you can offer your own answers in the comments below). Have a great long weekend.

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