I am supposedly on vacation this week. However, most of us know that “vacation” is a relative term, and that it is highly rare that one actually unplugs from work 100%. Yesterday morning I was listening to talk radio (ugh!) and the host went on a rant about the unimportance of lawyers, and the “racket” that we have set up for ourselves by allowing only a select few (admitted attorneys) to practice law. He was referring to the 15 months in jail that a small town judge received by appearing in Family Court without a current license. The issue of whether her punishment is deserved or not is perhaps for another column. But, the radio blatherer’s take offended me. I would argue that lawyers are a societal necessity, and the lay public would suffer greatly without the expertise that attorneys provide. Just watch a pro se litigant go up against a seasoned litigator.
To the outside observer of courtroom proceedings, it all may seem so easy — you appear, you give your name and you argue. Just like callers to talk radio programs. But it is the minutiae that lawyers are trained to expose that makes the difference. The term of art is “attention to detail” at which we are expert. We are supposed to be able to find the holes in written documents to exploit them for our client’s advantage. We are expected to write with perfection — without a single mistake. We are pressured to win at all costs within the bounds of the law and ethics. Lay people who think we have it easy, are sorely misinformed…
The rigors of law school teach one to think through an argument that one would otherwise not make or see. (I am all for two-year law schools, and third year apprenticeships). The thinking process of trained attorneys is different from the childish “uh-uh”/“uh-huh” of playground level argument and advocacy. I am not claiming in any way that such arguments do not devolve out of heated advocacy by lesser attorneys, just that we are held to a higher expectation, and the nobility in our profession is that more often than not, we strive to attain such goals.
The question becomes whether someone off the street could do my job? I suppose with a modicum of training, yes. However, doing a job and excelling at a profession are two different things entirely. I have said before that we don’t save lives for a living, and that much is true. Sometimes it appears that our profession is solely about the almighty dollar, and attaining as many dollars as possible in the shortest amount of time. But we all know that the real money is in banking, and none of us would choose document review over the outsized bonuses that I-bankers receive. We work for the people holding the money — and I assure you newbies out there that regardless of the wood paneling in your offices, we are not the ones in control. You’ll figure it out soon enough, and the honeymoon will end — but you’ll stay with law. It is a calling, and it is a form of empowerment that allows us to advocate for others zealously and in an educated fashion. Knowledge is power, and the longer you practice, the more knowledge you acquire. At least, that’s how it is supposed to work.
As we speed toward Labor Day, and the attorneys of the next class are about to start their journeys, I wish you all Godspeed. Remember that you’re working for folks who were just like the gunners in law school who drove you crazy; that most of them have no “management” skills whatsoever, and you’ll soon get it. It may not be the best job, but it’s our job. I’m going to try and float upon the waves of the rest of my vacation, and I hope you do the same.