Why Are You a Lawyer?

I decided to go to law school while I was still a teenager. I made the decision after the first time I played the role of a lawyer in a high school mock trial competition. I was sixteen years old and I never looked back. But when I spoke to established attorneys about becoming a lawyer, I was often met with pessimism and self—loathing. It was not an encouraging message. Now I’m about two years into my legal career, and I would still recommend the law to anyone who has a true passion for it. I have this attitude because I went into the profession with a strong desire to practice law and help others. I know why I became a lawyer. So did the LAB members and colleagues I surveyed. Do you?

Learn from Those We Love

John Rothstein, an attorney in Canton, Massachusetts, gave my favorite answer. My grandfather, although he is not a lawyer, is a huge inspiration to me, and it’s nice to see that someone else feels the same way. Rothstein explains that he wanted to love his career as much as his grandfather did:

When I was seven years old, I found myself in jail. No, I had not committed a crime. I was tagging along with my Grandfather who was a criminal defense lawyer (and occasional babysitter) on a late night visit to the Charles Street Jail in Boston. I was lucky enough to have spent a lot of time during summers and school vacations with him, watching him represent clients, interact with law enforcement and court staff, chat with judges, and get up and try cases. I was taken with the profession. Even more important though, he loved what he did and practiced up until the day he died. I decided that I wanted to love what I do as much as he did, so I decided to do what he did. I became a lawyer. Not a criminal defense lawyer, but a civil litigator and business lawyer. And after 18 years practicing law, I can still say that I (usually) love what I do.

A nice part about what Rothstein talks about is that he usually loves what he does. There’s no need to love your job every minute of every day. There are definitely days where I would much rather stay in bed or play Skyrim than go into work.

Help Those in Need

Thomas Howery, a LAB member, became a lawyer because he wanted to help people. Now Howery does consumer side bankruptcy work. That is definitely a great way to help people in need.

Others had the same idea but took a different path. Brian Gorman, a former public defender, wanted to go into public service. Initially he wanted to go into politics to help people on a large scale. When he realized that wasn’t for him, he decided to become a prosecutor. Gorman quickly realized that his views were more in line with the public defender, and he has been a criminal defense lawyer ever since.

Both Howery and Gorman have similar ideals to my own. I got into this business with a passion for the actual practice of law, but my goal has always been to help people. One of my goals for 2012 is to help people more directly by taking on some pro bono work. I’m hoping that the pro bono work will complement my current job with more direct impact on people’s lives.

Shoot for the Stars

One of the most memorable courtroom scenes in any movie is Tom Cruise’s cross examination in A Few Good Men. It had quite the effect on Valerie Antonette, who says she became a lawyer because she “wanted to be like Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men.” In the end, she decided that being a litigator was the second best thing to being an actress, so she went to law school instead of film school.

LAB member Lee King saw the attorneys at a firm where he was a paralegal, and asked himself why he couldn’t do what they were doing. Like Antonette, King saw what he wanted to do and went for it. He became a lawyer a few years later. It’s been thirty years since then, and King still enjoys legal research, writing, and arguing in court.

Had to Do Something

Like many of the people I went to law school with, Lawyerist’s own Sam Glover became a lawyer because he didn’t know what else to do after college. In a similar vein, LAB member Thomas Seeley went to law school after he decided he didn’t want to be a journalist anymore. Both now thoroughly enjoy the practice of law.

For the Sake of Argument

A large part of being a lawyer is winning arguments. Those arguments can take place in court, through written briefs, or across a conference table . Regardless of the forum, the ability to argue is a feather in any lawyer’s cap. Both Elizabeth Ressler and Leslie Ridge wanted to argue for a living. Ressler said that she had always been good at arguing and convincing people of her beliefs, so she decided to do it professionally. Ridge wanted to get paid to do what she loves: argue with people.

On a related note, my bubbie told me when I was very young that I should be a lawyer because I love to argue. I don’t remember arguing much when I was six years old though. Today delivering a strong argument is one of my favorite parts of practicing law.

(photo:http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-1390275600)

  • Jennifer Gumbel

    I wanted to be a teacher, but was lucky enough to spend time with high school students in the classroom while I was in undergrad. I quickly found out that I had little patience for kids who were not as interested in history and current events as I was. I am not cut out to teach teenagers. I then shadowed an attorney in my hometown and found out that much of lawyering is teaching your clients how the law works. Clients will always be more interested in how the law impacts them than even their attorney could be. Being a rural attorney, I’m interacting with clients everyday and teaching them how the law works in their case.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/joshcamson/ Josh Camson

      It’s great to see that you were able to maintain that dream of being a teacher without having to deal with a bunch of high schoolers.

  • John Allison

    I left undergrad as a computer scientist. I wrote scientific software to help other scientists discover new drugs to help humanity. That level of service to others was direct enough. I went to law school to help others. Being an advocate for others makes being a lawyer fantastic. I love my job and wouldn’t want to do anything else.

  • chris

    It’s rather quaint to see inspriational stories of achieving one’s dream, however, what do you do when you find yourself three and four years out of school, in an in-house position you took because you had no other options in your market and were unable to achieve a law firm position??? My dream was to work at a firm, long hours, challenging work, and go home exhausted but proud of a day’s work…

    Now I’m faced with student loans for a private education well in excess of $150,000, legal recruiters, and law firm hiring partners telling me I’m too far out of school to enter a law firm, and a career that is stalled in unrewarding corporate work that makes every 9 hour day feel like a week… How do you “right” a dream that has gone so far off course? The reality is that unless you graduate from a top tier school, your career is already an uphill battle… so brace yourself, rid yourself of the dreams of wealth and carreer success right out of school, and be prepared with a backup plan for career contentment if you are unable to obtain the brass ring…

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      As a practical matter, you decide what is most important to you: stability or your dreams? When you’ve figured out which matters most, start figuring out how you get there.

      Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/joshcamson/ Josh Camson

      This is a very good point Chris. Although I’m not quite as far along, I’m also in the midst of weighing my dreams vs ambitions vs reality. Look for a post on it very soon.