Television shows and movies have stereotyped the practice of law as drama. At the last minute in a courtroom scene, the defense attorney asks the witness a question, causing the witness to confess to the crime. The zealous public defender rescues her client from execution at the last possible minute. Lawyers fight for truth, justice and the American way.
The truth is that much of what you will do as a lawyer is not glamorous. Poring through a fifty-page contract to figure out exactly what the parties intended (or at least memorialized), can be tedious. Reviewing box after box of documents can become mind-numbing. Cleaning up a mess that could have been avoided to begin with can be frustrating. But here's the point.
A wise lawyer I worked with once said: "We worry, so that our clients don't have to." And that statement sums up the essence of a large part of your professional responsibilities. Lawyers focus on the details to make sure that their clients don't inadvertently get into trouble. But you don't get any awards for minding the details. And preventative advice, even if followed, can be forgotten unless a problem arises. So, much of what you will be doing as a lawyer, is at its core about helping people.
And that is what lawyers really do. They help people. It is often not glamorous and may even not be appreciated, but the object of the profession is to help people. And so, my message is this. As you contemplate law school in these turbulent economic times, check your motives for going to law school. If they involve riches, success and fame, you might want to consider another career. IAlthough many lawyers achieve these, I doubt that any of them were the original motive. Instead, they were a by-product. But there are also many fulfilled lawyers who never achieve the trappings of success. And students who enter law school dreaming of this kind of success and incur huge debt can find themselves bitter and disaffected five years later.
On the other hand, I see lawyers every day who find themselves behind the elephant, smiling and just glad to be there. They know that what they are doing, although perhaps unappreciated and definitely not glamorous, is worthwhile and meaningful. These folks don't do it for the glory or money. They do it because they are committed to the practice of law and to their fellow citizens. And if you are fortunate enough to be able to practice law, never forget that it is a privilege. And serving others is the primary objective.
As you consider your future as a lawyer, be sure and read my book, Law School Labyrinth- A Guide to Making the Most of Your Legal Education. (Kaplan Publishing, March 31, 2009).
Best wishes in your legal career.