United States lawyer Jeena Cho recently published a blog entitled “11 Reasons Why it’s so hard Being a Lawyer.” We can relate to many of the comments she made and we thought we would share some of them with you.
We are your lawyer not your BFF
Cho says that clients do not always understand that we, as your lawyers, must sometimes tell you either that you are wrong or unreasonable.
You won’t always get the answer you want and you may even think we are not on your side. But we would not be doing our job if we didn’t give you that reality check that may make the difference between achieving a tolerable outcome or one that is totally unacceptable. Sometimes you have to accept less than you hope for and the fact that there are no simple answers.
There are no simple answers
Which brings us to Cho’s second reason why it is so hard to be a lawyer. There is no one size fits all solution to legal problems. Nothing is that simple. Everything depends on the circumstances. This is not the answer many clients want to hear to their ‘simple question.’ Sometimes the real issues are not what you think they are.
Our job description is solving other people’s problems
This is one of our own but relates to the above and to many of Cho’s reasons.
We listen to many tales of woe and distress in a day and our job is to find, if not a solution for the problem (some things are not so easy to fix) at least a less painful way of extricating yourself from a sticky situation.
We manage not only our own stress levels but your stress too. We think about your problems, worry about your problems and often dream about them. It often becomes a personal challenge to find a fix.
Not every solution to a problem is a legal one (by this we don’t mean do something illegal). Sometimes commonsense and a practical approach to getting the job done is all that is required. Lawyers are trained to identify issues and can offer a different perspective that makes it easier to address the real issues. But….
We can’t guarantee results
No one can. We are not in control of the outcome and the outcome of each matter will depend on the circumstances. Very often what you may believe is a clear cut case becomes less clear when the other party tells their story. Everyone prefers their own version of events but realistically there are few cases where someone is absolutely right or absolutely wrong. In the end, a fair result is all that should really be expected.
You may win and still be unhappy
Lawyers are competitive and we want to win probably more than you do but it is a rare day when someone gets everything they want from court proceedings.
Going to court is stressful and expensive. Both lawyer and client have a lot of work and preparation to do before the matter can even be heard. And when you get there, it is seldom what you think it will be. Long legal (and boring) arguments and the air-conditioning is always too cold.
Even if you win, the cost to you in stress and time is not compensated.
Lawyers are people and sometimes we cry
We like this one.
Lawyers hear and see many things in a day’s work. Sometimes it is hard to remain detached from your client’s case but empathy is not always a welcome trait in a lawyer. Someone must tell it like it is and be prepared to do what is necessary.
It has been said that qualities such as empathy, authenticity and having a collaborative spirit are liabilities for lawyers. It is hard not to be affected by the things we see and hear but how effective will be if we sympathise with our client to the point where we are not seeing where the real issues lie? Don’t think your lawyer doesn’t like you or is not on your side just because he or she remains businesslike or detached. Sympathy is not an effective legal tool.
It’s not easy. We just make it look easy.
Or we hope we do.
Very often when something goes smoothly we hear clients say that they could have done the job themselves.
If a matter goes smoothly it is usually because it is well done and not necessarily because it is easy to do. Sometimes, when a lawyer is experienced in an area, it requires little time or effort on his or her part to accomplish a task. This does not mean there is less value in the work only that a skilled and experienced practitioner performed the work. Clients often fail to see the value in the work done or object to the way that the work is billed.
One of the hardest things about being a lawyer is that the profession is held to incredibly high standards where mistakes are not tolerated and lawyers live in fear of claims or disciplinary proceedings. Some lawyers (and we confess we have done this on occasion) won’t do anything new without first checking with the Law Society’s ethics department.
By the Way – Not all Lawyers are Rich
Unfortunate but true.
Law is a business like any other business with rent, wages and taxes to pay like any other business. Most lawyers are also paying off huge HECs debts.
Practicing law is a difficult way to earn a living. Billing is always a contentious issue. Sometimes we would rather run a shoe-shop. At least our customers could see what they are getting for their money.
Most legal bills don’t take into account all the time that is spent on a matter. As we mentioned before, we think about your case when driving home from work, when eating dinner, in the shower, during the commercial breaks in My Kitchen Rules and during the night it often keeps us awake.
As in all businesses however, we must offer value for money if we are to be competitive and so a lot of what a lawyer does is not recovered except in the way of goodwill (it is hard to time commercial breaks with any accuracy).
Cho’s posts contain many other examples of why it is hard to be a lawyer. We haven’t included them all here. Australian lawyers don’t seem to complain as much as they do in the United States. We are very well behaved really and you will not see many court room dramas such as you see in those American TV shows on which most people base their expectations of the legal profession. But that is the subject of another post.