If, like me, you occasionally complain about your job (okay, maybe more often than occasionally) you will often hear people respond by telling you that “Oh, every job is like that.”
Let me state for the record that while I believe a LOT of things about being a lawyer are the same (marketing, for example, except that lawyers are even more horrible at it: cue up photos of the stern, arms-folded suited lawyers standing back to back) there are a lot of things that are WAY different. Here are a few examples:
1. THE STAKES ARE HIGHER
That’s right. If someone is needs their tree trimmed, or some landscaping, or maybe some funds invested, or, say their teeth cleaned, there are certainly some situations where it’s quite important. It is rare, however, that this is going to be on the same level as someone taking your kids away from you so that you will never see them again. All of the pressure of that sits upon me because while I am dispassionate in my approach, I am passionate in my advocacy and care about my clients, even when quite frankly they care very little about me.
2. WHAT I SELL IS TOTALLY ABSTRACT
At the end of the day there is no wall I can point to that I built, saying “Here is what I did.” My results are not what I sell. When a doctor treats a patient, the patient might get better. They might get sicker. Nobody expects results because they are paying for it. More importantly, the only thing I have to sell is my information and words. When someone calls me up asking for free legal information, gleaned over years of schooling and practice, it’s a real kick in the balls, because it’s the ONLY thing that I sell. To make me feel uncomfortable because I don’t want to give away for free what I do to make a living frankly pisses me off. When you come to someone asking for free stuff, your place is not to act entitled and pissed off because you think I am being stingy.
3. IT’S ACTUALLY REALLY DIFFICULT
The reason the California Bar Exam has the lowest pass rate in the US is because it’s tough. Getting through law school is tough. Passing the bar is tough. The practice is tough. What I need to know on a daily basis just to survive is dramatically more information than a wide variety of jobs. If you don’t believe it, take a look at one of the bar preparation services to see for yourself. I’m not saying it’s rocket science. I’m not even saying I find it particularly intellectually challenging. I’m saying that the volume of information you need to retain and utilize and navigate is a shit-ton, and if everybody could do it, we wouldn’t need lawyers, would we? I recall one conversation where a wanna-be client called up and was explaining to me “No, it’s really simple.” to which I replied “Then why are you calling me?”
4. Finally, there are very few professions where everyone, including some of your own clients, are constantly trying to screw you over and acting like it’s a badge of honor to take advantage of trust. Having to be on constant guard with everyone is no place to be for a person who relies upon trust in their daily interactions (which is most of us) to survive. The added bonus is that dishonest and subterfuge are considered a badge of honor among a subset of sociopaths, and many of them achieve high office as a result of this behavior. Desperate people do desperate things, and when the stakes are high, all bets are off.