What part of our job makes us most miserable? What part makes us want to quit? Here’s a hint: It has to do with lawyers.
Tell your non-lawyer friends you’re required to take continuing education classes not on the law but on alcoholism and substance abuse. Add that the divorce rate for lawyers is sky-high and that, of all jobs, according to CNN, lawyers rank fourth in suicide.
Sure, law has its stressors. What job doesn’t? But what uniquely qualifies our profession for heightened misery? Misery to the point where lawyers who’ve left the practice jokingly, yet seriously, brand themselves as “recovering”? Simply put, why do opposing lawyers have such a dreadful time getting along with each other?
Our profession’s disagreeability stems from a shared misconnection, sowing reciprocal misunderstanding, that leads to communal meanness. It’s not a fundamental or anthropological misconception. We’re all just regular people who want to achieve our vision and version of the right thing.
Our professional misconnection centers on that last sentence. Rarely do we appreciate or consider opposing counsel’s vision or version of the right thing. Instead, we routinely misperceive—or outright ignore—their goals, purposes, and motivations. In a world where we selfishly strive to see ourselves as others see us, we often fail to see others as they see themselves.
But if we think about our opponents as our flip side, we can understand that our professional stereotypes aren’t true. We’re all just people. People who have families and mortgages. People who work hard to send our kids to school. People who strive to save for retirement. And we achieve those goals by doing what we think is right—all in the service of our clients.
If we consider this professional and personal overlap, we’ll realize that plaintiffs’ lawyers and defense lawyers are simply people who have committed their professional lives to helping other people solve their problems. That we approach our clients’ shared problems from different entry points and from different perspectives doesn’t mean one approach is right and the other is wrong. It just means those approaches are different.
Lawyers are simply that—lawyers. There’s no need for misery, particularly when considering what’s at the center of our professional charge, which is to help other people. For that reason, every day should invigorate us, as every day carries the prospect of doing something great for someone else.
Our process is an adversarial one. But adversarial need not mean personal. If we keep that in mind and recognize that all of us are the same type of person, just on opposite sides of the “v,” we can begin to recapture the professional civility and consideration that once defined the art of advocacy and the practice of law.
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