Lawyering and Shoveling Snow

Sometimes, lawyering can feel like manual labor.

I live in beautiful Western Wisconsin, and last weekend we got our first major snow of the season. My family and I were thrilled as we love to ski, sled, and build snow forts, and of course everyone loves a white Christmas. But before the snow even stopped falling, it occured to me that with snow, as with lawyering, be careful what you wish for. Because you may find yourself feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Big Plans

The snow started falling on Saturday night; the forecast was for between 3 and 7 inches. My plan was to eschew my snowblower and shovel instead. Simpler, a whole lot quieter, and with my extra-wide pusher shovel on my new concrete driveway, great exercise. I was going to get a nice workout and be green to boot. What could go wrong?

When I started law school in 2003, I imagined myself 8 or 9 years down the line as a fearsome and respected trial lawyer. I’d be the guy the other lawyers would not want to have to face. I knew lawyering was going to be a challenge, but believed I’d have a lot of fun and make a decent living. Surely my quick wits and eloquence would set me apart. What could go wrong?

Reality Bites

So, on Sunday morning, out I went to shovel. A few inches had fallen; it was wet and heavy. I got a nice workout. A few hours later, out I went again. 3 more inches had fallen. Another nice workout. My legs and back were sore.

But then the forecast changed. It just kept snowing. And snowing. I realized that I could stick to my shoveling plan, but the result would be exhaustion. I needed to be able to get out of bed on Monday. The snow had lost much of its charm. It was now just an obstacle that had to be overcome.

So I caved. I gassed up the snowblower Sunday night and cleared the driveway. Early Monday morning I did it again so my wife could go to work. At my house we ended up with over a foot of dense, heavy snow. I felt like I conceded. But I knew it was neessary. Not a big deal.

And 9 years after starting law school, I’m not a fearsome litigator. I’m not a litigator at all. I’m very lucky to have the job I have, especially given the market. I work with good people, my boss is a help rather than a hindrance, I’ve learned a lot, and I think I do a good job. But some days, it feels like the snow keeps falling and falling.

But here’s the thing: lawyering, regardless of kind, is often a lot like shoveling snow while it’s still snowing. Even if you love your work, you don’t love all of it. Some of it’s just tedious. Clients have unreasonable expectations. Judges do crazy stuff. Opposing counsel really wants to cut off his nose to spite his face. And sometimes you have to pull out the snowblower. You have to tell your client it’s going to cost more than she thought. You have to work all weekend and don’t get to watch your daughter ride a horse. You have to ask another lawyer to work with you. And so on. But you do it because you can’t give up and let the snow cover you. Because that’s not what lawyers do.

(photo: Man clearing snow from a driveway from Shutterstock)


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  • Noah

    Hi Andy!

    I want to start reading your blog more often. And I’m glad for that, because this post was very amusing and insightful. I really enjoyed how you compared the relentless falling of snow in our winter wonderland of WI to continuously working and doing your best at your job, even if you know that there are always new challenges around the corner. Best just to meet each new challenge as it comes, one thing at a time, just as we have to shovel each new blanketing of snow.