As I travel across the U.S., connecting with lawyers to talk about self-care, wellness, and mindfulness, lawyers often tell me how difficult it is to be a lawyer. I asked them to share what they wished non-lawyers understood about us lawyers, as well as what it is about being a lawyer that’s so difficult. Here are the 11 most common responses.
1. We’re Your Lawyer. Not Your BFF.
Sometimes, clients don’t understand the role we must play as a lawyer, which often involves telling the client he or she is totally wrong or what the client wants isn’t possible. Clients who don’t get the answer they want will often think the attorney is acting against the client’s interest. Also, clients sometimes have wildly unrealistic expectations from their lawyers, for example, wanting the lawyer to hate the ex-spouse as much as the client does. Or thinking that the attorney’s colluding with the prosecutor when the client sees the attorney speaking with the prosecutor in any other tone aside from contempt.
“Giving an answer you do not like is not taking a position against you. It’s like the difference of being a parent versus a friend.” ~Paul Kavanaugh
“An act of stupidity on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” ~Lora McCollom
2. There Are No “Simple” Answers.
Many lawyers complained about clients who just need a “quick answer” to their “simple question.” Then the potential client gets frustrated when the answer is inevitably “it depends.” Of course, we lawyers know that “there’s usually not ‘an’ answer. We’re not being argumentative or wishy-washy when we won’t give a definitive ‘answer.’” ~Pamela Parker
3. Being The Bearer of Our Clients’ Secrets.
“The level of stress that accumulates from managing others’ stress and problems and not being at liberty to talk about it. It’s a low hum even when it’s not obvious that takes developing a tremendous level of detachment and conflict management skills.” ~Rebecca Prien Weatherby
4. You May Win, And Still Be Unhappy.
Several attorneys shared this sentiment that litigation is generally a lose-lose proposition. As attorney Kimberly Graham puts it, “There is no ‘winning.’ Litigation takes a negative toll on the people involved, regardless of the outcome.”
“We want to win just as much as you do.” ~Emilie Fairbanks
“We often want to win even more than the client. We see the bigger picture, law, precedent, our reputation, plus all of the work that we put into their case. I think I’ve cared about most of my cases far more than my clients cared about their own case.” ~Michael Halbfish
“Going to trial and/or having your day in court is not as wonderful as the client imagines. First, it is shockingly expensive to prepare for trial, and preparation is required. Clients do not understand the long hours and work in preparation for pleadings, briefs, mediation, hearings, trials. Secondly, that day in court is rarely as invigorating and cleansing as they expect. Usually, it is painful, exhausting, hurtful, and ugly. And afterward, you feel dirty, regardless of the outcome.” ~Tc Langford
5. We Can’t Guarantee Results. And Each Case is Different.
“We can’t deliver outcomes on demand.” ~Glenn Meier
We’ve all had clients that say they want the result that so-and-so got.
“Just because your friend got one result does not mean that you will get the same result. The little facts actually do make a difference.” ~Mitchell Goldstein
6. Being a Lawyer Is Dangerous to a Lawyer’s Personal Life.
It’s hard to be a lawyer and not constantly walk around with the lawyer brain and mindset. (Law school has ruined any hopes of having a normally functioning brain.)
“We think differently and are always issue spotting, even in our personal lives.” ~Sarah Poriss
“Lawyers are the one profession in which pessimists outperform optimists.” ~Ross Guberman
“The hardest thing for me about being a lawyer is the nagging voice that is constantly telling me that around every corner lurks a bar complaint or a malpractice claim. I’m not suggesting we can be loosey-goosey with the law, client files, trust records, etc., but still. Having to be perfect, or at least thinking you can’t make a mistake OR ELSE, is a crappy way to make a living.” ~Barry Kaufman
This article previously appeared on Above the Law.