I Do Not Like What I Have Become

Every lawyer, whether as a solo practitioner or a corporate cog, must deal with how practicing law sometimes conflicts with his or her value system. You would like to take the high road all of the time. Pragmatically speaking, it is not always up to you. You have bosses and clients to whom you must answer. You do not do anything wrong, but it is not exactly right either. At least not exactly right from the perspective that you grew up with. It is not the big issues. You usually deal with those head on and decide them for yourself. It is the day-to-day stuff that just sort of passes by and mounts up. Like, representing a client who you think has no right to your services. This is, in one way or another, a moral question that you have implicitly decided by your action. Again, pragmatically, it was not really a decision that you sat down and made. It just happens as part of the job. Many attorneys have accepted their powerlessness to decide every issue. They are still good people. Others never really seem to be able to do it and they pay the price.

When I was in law school I was going to save the world when I got out. I love kids, and I became interested in family law as a way to help kids get out of abusive situations. I did some clinic work in law school and enjoyed it. When I got out, I went to work for a firm that does family law work. I thought it would be perfect. Wrong. Family law means divorce work. It is the only way to make any money. Now I am helping guys that cheated on their wives and squirreled away money from them. It's pretty disgusting sometimes. Some of these guys are probably the same ones that have kids that need help. I've ended up on the wrong side. But, as my associates are fond of saying, "Kids don't have any money."
-Associate in a family law practice

The law is a jealous mistress. -Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (American jurist)

The price paid is a loss of a sense of decency and professional pride. You must mechanically react to your client's requests. You, first and foremost, represent your client's interests. Then, after you have done that, and only then, may you try to right the wrongs. All too many times, the wrong just continues. Do not underestimate the sacrifice the profession will demand. Justice Holmes was talking about the time it will take from your life. I will address the voracious time monster shortly. However, his statement is equally appropriate here. For some, the clash between practicing law and their value systems disrupts their entire beings. This disruptive effect causes some attorneys to self-destruct. Do not let yourself be one of them.

[Resources to help cope with stress are found alongside FindLaw's other Law Career Management materials.]

Excerpted from Judgment Reversed by Jeffrey Strausser (Barrons Educational Series, Inc. 1997).