Lawyers are an odd breed. I mean, really, we are. Have you ever wondered why our profession is filled with such peculiar people?
Now just hold on a second, before you start judging me. I am not excluding myself from this generality. I am, by all accounts, an odd duck. I can emulate some of the worst lawyer traits – just ask my family. I have a warped sense of humor, I have a heart of stone, and I can quash any dream. So, to be clear, I understand that my conclusions about the profession do not exclude me.
But what is it, I wonder, that makes lawyers such an interesting class of people? Are we products of law school and the lawyering process? Or, are we drawn to this profession because of our inherent characteristics? This is a bit like the nature-versus-nurture argument but specifically for lawyers.
Think about that for a second. Consider the traditional traits of lawyers. We’re perfectionists, we’re pessimists, we’re ultra-competitive, and we are typically dispassionate, in relation to the general public. Is it because of those innate traits that we are drawn (or sometimes nudged) into the legal profession? Or is it the process of the competition of law school and the grueling nature of the practice of law that makes us that way?
I would argue that it’s the latter category – that it’s the practice of law, the actual lawyering, that makes us the way we are. Anecdotally, I was more normal 13 years ago, before I started practicing, than I am today.
Think about the highly emotional environment in which most lawyers work. That has to wear on our psyche. Think about the deadlines, think about the fire-spitting, think about the lumps we take from judges, clients, and opposing counsel. Think about the pressure we put on ourselves to “win,” or worse, to not screw up.
It’s the practice of law, the actual lawyering, that makes us the way we are.
When you compile all of those factors, isn’t it inevitable that we develop some not-so-normal social tendencies? Isn’t it natural that we begin to view each opportunity as a new prospect for failure? Isn’t it a foregone conclusion that we would create an outer shell for our emotions? Now that I think about it, it’s probably our natural defense mechanisms at work.
All that said, I don’t want to seem like I don’t like lawyering. Because I do. But I also don’t want to discount what it does to our essence (and, quite frankly, our ability to roam around in the world with other nonlawyers). Instead, I suggest that we need to acknowledge the stressors of our profession and how it can affect our lives and ability to interact with nonlawyers. Not everyone has the “edge” lawyers develop from our work.
Every time I grouse to my husband about the realities of practice, he gently reminds me, “De, you wouldn’t have it any other way.” And he’s right (on this one issue, only, for the record). Part of me loves the fight, the demands, and the total chaos. Maybe I’m an emergency junkie. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t acknowledge the blameworthiness of our profession, as it relates to our spirit.