To Err is Human, But Not Lawyer
Fancy suits, briefcases and an air of professionalism. At first sight, it appears that all lawyers do is argue and walk about looking important. However, there is much more to being a lawyer than meets the eye. They are always required to conduct their practice to a certain degree of professionalism, regardless of their chosen field or what they are going through personally. Championing for a client’s cause requires thorough preparation, a lot of time, and lack of a moral compass, in some cases. These are only a few of the challenges faced by lawyers on a regular basis.
Building a reputation
Firstly, developing a business and getting a steady flow of clients and leads can be difficult, since most lawyers are not well versed in the areas of marketing and business growth. Unless they are able to secure a position at a corporate law firm, it might be difficult to get cases if it is not a well reputed LLP. Building a reputation takes time, and takes constant effort to build a good one. A lawyer’s reputation starts building on the first day of law school for as long as they are in this career. It is therefore advisable to be aware of it, since day one. Every case is important, as every case will contribute to building a reputation.
The work is challenging, and no amount of schooling can prepare one for the actual court environment. The deadlines are much stricter as a lot more is at stake. In law school it was possible to get an extension upon failure to meet a deadline, but the professional life demands that deadlines be strictly adhered to. This is especially true when millions of dollars, client’s custody for their child, or someone’s life is on the line.
Time is money
For beginning attorneys keeping accurate track of their time is essential, as a professional as well as for the purposes of billing the client. It is however, difficult to get into the habit of incorporating timestamps into their work. Many attorneys, especially beginning attorneys, under report their time for the fear that they spent more time on a case than they should have. This is folly, as in this case the client is undercharged and the number of hours the attorney actually worked is undercounted. Time is money. A healthy respect for clients’ as well as their own time goes a long way.
Know everything, backwards
Attorneys, even beginning attorneys, are expected to be acutely aware of the rules of the court. A lot of the time attorneys are afraid to ask questions when they do not understand something. In the beginning especially, attorneys fear that their colleagues will think that they do not know anything. Quite to the contrary, asking questions creates the impression that the attorney is eager to learn. It is much worse to wrongly assume to know something than to not know at all. Lawyers are expected to know everything about their case and they must, in order to effectively advocate for their client’s cause.
Walking on a tightrope
Trodding on the border between empathizing with their clients and distancing themselves from it is professional hazard lawyers face on a regular basis. On the one hand, they need to empathize with the client so they can effectively advocate for their cause. On the other hand however, they cannot let themselves be affected by their clients’ pains. Lawyers often see and hear about unimaginable sufferings of their client- child abuse, broken marriages, murder, assault and much more. What they see in one case is more than what a general person sees during their lifetime. Vicarious trauma is a professional hazard for all attorneys, and it can heavily influence their perception of the world.
Lawyers are also professional jugglers
Being a full time lawyer is very time demanding. It is exactly that- full-time. Lawyers often stay back in the office, late into the night in order to meet the closing dates. Sometimes they stay back several nights at a stretch, with little or no sleep. This puts severe strain on their mental state. Lawyers have very little opportunity for a social life. Juggling work and social life is a challenge of any profession. It is hard having to keep working when friends and family are free and want to spend time with you. Having a family and working as a full time attorney can be especially challenging. Imagine coming home to an exhausted spouse after having closed a difficult case, handing you the baby saying “your turn.” It is not uncommon for lawyers to be overwhelmed by the time demands and deciding to switch to a different profession. After all, who would choose to spend days and nights locked up in an office going through the details of a case over taking peaceful evening walks on the beach during the summer?
Fake it till you make it
People make mistakes, and it is perfectly understandable. Lawyers do not have that privilege. Their work is expected to be meticulous and perfect. They often spend long hours poring over a case trying to make it perfect. A single mistake can cost them dearly. Perfectionism is a personality trait often found among lawyers. They must inspire supreme confidence, and not appear weak. “Clients are not interested in whether we are stressed or fearful. They need confidence in us,” says Deborah Glatter, Cassels Brock’s director of professional development. This is why most attorneys despise appearing weak, especially veteran ones. They grew up during a time when mental health was not an issue that most people were aware of. Therefore, they are reluctant to ask for help. Dealing with stress and anxiety for years without seeking help on how to combat it effectively can lead to depression and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Criminal lawyer Gerald Chan explains “The gravity of the cases can wear on you. The client’s freedom is at stake. You need to look and act strong to carry the client’s worries and anxieties. You want to be a hero, come in and save the day – it can keep you up at night, worrying about whether you’ve done everything you can.” Clients place all their trust and hope on the attorney and expect them to be nothing less than Superman.
Even Superman needs rescuing sometimes
At the end of the day, lawyers are after all, human beings. They are not impervious to the stresses, and even trauma, that the job entails. Even they need help and support sometimes. They can and should ask for help, when they feel alone and helpless, professional or otherwise. You might think “Who wants to hear me complain about my job?” but that is what friends are for, and they will probably be sympathetic. The Members Association Program (MAP) at Homewood Health also provides professional advice as well as counselling services for lawyers who suffer from mental health issues.