The Mentality and Attitudes of Lawyers

Living La Vida Loca (Stressed Out in the Legal World)

I like being retired. I really do. But someone called a pandemic and everyone showed up.

My plans to travel the world have been on hold for a while. So, now and then I get bored. When that happens, I think about whether I should go back to work. Thankfully, the thought usually passes quickly.

What I do find interesting though, is that when I think about returning to the workforce, I also ponder what type of job I may be interested in doing. It is never practicing law.

I wonder if that is a bit strange. I practiced law for almost 40 years. I wasn’t too bad at it. I enjoyed very many aspects of it. And yet, I would never do it again.

When people used to ask me whether I liked being a lawyer, my answer was always the same: “I like what I do. I hate the pressure that I do it under.”  Nothing ever changed in that regard. I liked the law. I liked many of the people I worked with. I enjoyed helping the clients. Promoting business was fun. The money was good. But I absolutely hated the legal world that I lived in for so long.

So, what is it about the legal world that bothered me so much? Mainly it was the stress.

Lawyers are trained to look for the risk in every situation. Most of us are not ‘half glass full’ type of people. If we see a glass that is three quarters full, we want to know exactly what was in the glass, whose fault it is that a quarter of the liquid is missing, and what we can do about it (assuming that we have a client with the funds to pursue the matter.)

It is possible that I worried more than other lawyers, but I am inclined to think that many of us are the same in this regard. For example:

  1. If a client called to say that they wanted to speak about an old file, my first thought was that something must have gone wrong. Perhaps a mistake had been made. Maybe I made it.
  2. When my client emailed to say that they were having a problem with their business partner that they wanted to discuss, I prayed: “let there be no mistake in the shareholders agreement, and if there is one, I hope that someone else drafted it.”
  3. An envelope arrived from the Law Society. It was probably advertising an educational program, but my first thought was “I hope it is not a client complaint.”
  4. An envelope arrived from the Law Society Insurer. It could be anything, but my first thought was ‘negligence claim.’   I only had one of those in 40 years (and the claimant was unsuccessful), but I received many envelopes that triggered me.
  5. A client would call for a fee estimate. There were three things to worry about now: The estimate may be too high and the client would go elsewhere. Or we could get the work and find out that we estimated too low and we are losing money on the project. Or maybe the estimate would be fine, we would get the work, but I would have to work evenings and weekends to meet the deadline.
  6. A talented young female associate entered my office. She said that she wanted to talk to me and closed the door. I knew that she was either quitting (Oh my God, what am I going to do without her?) or telling me she is pregnant (Oh my God, what am I going to do without her for a year?) or telling me that she made a mistake on a file (Oh my God, are we going to get sued or lose a client?) 
  7. I was working on a transaction. I always had to be sure that I was on top of everything. It is like a game of musical chairs. While the music is playing, everyone works on the deal. Suddenly the music stops because it is time for closing or because someone is walking away from the deal. Now I have to be able to show that I have done everything that I was supposed to do, that I had advised the client, my associates, my law clerks, the other side and third parties in writing about every item that they needed to do, and that I had followed up with everyone appropriately. If the deal was not going to close, I had to be in a position to demonstrate that it was someone else’s fault, I had done everything necessary to allow my client to hold onto a deposit, sue for damages, recover a deposit, or defend a claim for damages. And if the deal did not close, I had to be able to convince the client that since it was not my fault, my bill should be paid. Every day, for months on end, I would have to think about whether the music was likely to stop soon and whether I would be ready if it did.
  8. I used to say that I constantly lived in one of two worlds: Either it was ‘I am so swamped; I don’t know how I am going to meet all of my deadlines’ or ‘I have nothing to do. Will I ever see another file again?’

I figure that there are two possibilities here. The first one is that I am crazy and most lawyers are relaxed and happy, and do not think this way. The second possibility is that this is just the way that it rolls in the legal profession. My best guess is that the answer is a little of both. I am crazy and this is the way it works in the legal profession. The more interesting question is what came first? Crazy or the law?

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