Law School Wanted Me To Be An Asshole For A Reason

Can we talk for a minute about how emotionally draining it can be to be both a good person and a lawyer?

My job as a lawyer has, on more than one occasion, conflicted with my moral desire to help people. I am not a saint by any means. I am a tool. People wield me and my skills in the same way they would wield a mechanic building their car. They aren't looking for the mechanic's personal feelings about their choice in engines. They just want a car fixed.

I practice in estates law. A lot of the time, that means dealing with families who are using someone else's money to air out decades-old family grievances. Nobody wins in these scenarios. Everybody always walks away a little sadder and with their family a little smaller.

My handle has been "Law School Ruined Me" since February of my 1L year. At first it was a bit of a joke - law school had turned my life upside down and was sucking the joy out of reading and writing, two of my favourite activities - but over the years it's just become a truth. Law school fundamentally changed who I was.
I was immunized against dramatic circumstances through tort hypotheticals, criminal law decisions, and the sheer absurdity of the things people will sue over. 
When I got into practice,  three years of law school had taught me that people will sue anyone over anything if they think it will make them money. I didn't blink twice at some of the cases that came across my desk because law school had turned me into a cynical asshole who questioned the collective moral compass of humanity, and took a paycheque for helping people fight professionally.

Estates law is an interesting area of law academically, and from an emotional standpoint, it's often easy to distance yourself. At the end of the day, at least you're fighting over a dead person's money. That person isn't around to see what kind of chaos their financial wealth has created.
Do you hear that? That's the asshole law school created. That's how I sleep at night. "At least they're dead." 
Occasionally, however, I deal with files where the person whose money is being fought about is still alive. Someone who is watching their family tear themselves apart at the seams. And that person who is still me, who is not a lawyer and not someone's tool, just wants to scream out at the absurdity of it all and point out there is a living breathing person you are all missing out on spending time with because of this stupid fight.

And I will lay awake at night. Wondering if I'm part of the problem. If by doing what I was hired to do, I'm aggravating the situation. Wondering if I'm doing right by this other human being who is not my client and who has never met me and will probably never even be able to recognize my face if they saw me in the street. Wondering if just simply by my existence I am detrimental to theirs.

If this ever comes across the desk of some professional responsibility board, I am not saying that people don't deserve lawyers, or that they're wrong in pursuing what they might legally be entitled to. I'm just saying that sometimes advocating for my client makes me feel like a good lawyer and a shitty human being.

But that's my burden to bear. And at least thanks to law school I was already most of the way towards being an asshole who could create cones of silence around the parts of my brain that didn't want to cooperate in the pursuit of my duties as an advocate.

Comments

  1. Hi My name is Daisy and I am a 1L (as in literally started law school about a month ago) I was wondering if you had any advice as to how to choose a field of law where I can support myself financially (and pay off my student loans) while not feeling like a whole garbage bag. For example I would love to work in a DA's office as a prosecutor but working in a field like Worker's Comp, denying benefits, make way more money....

    I imagine being an attorney is super hectic so if you don't have time to respond I totally understand, but any advice is appreciated!!!!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Daisy, I'm a lawyer. I refused job offers to live and work in my "dream" field. After a few years of making no money and almost going bankrupt I caved to my friend's offer of work comp. I have to say, defending large corporations never appealed to me. I actually ended up loving it. Turns out there are lots of liars and exaggerators out there. While there are shady employers as well, I enjoyed my job because 1. if the worker was shady, I could work to keep costs to a minimum and save the company money (companies that save money on litigation can spend more on their employees, hire more people, etc) and 2. if the worker was legit, I could plead their case to the insurance company and sometimes (not always) get them their benefits easier than they otherwise would have received them. There are definitely times where no one listened to me; I was just a tool, as mentioned above. But the point is, if you are in debt and need to pay bills, it's not all bad. You can be doing a good deed on either side of just about any field.

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