‘So Why Be A Lawyer? There Are Many Bad Reasons…’

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By David Allen Green on

Ed note: This is the sixth in a series of posts where leading members of the legal profession share their wisdom with the next generation of wannabes. The first five are here. We’ve been featuring one-a-week in the run-up to ‘Legal Cheek at the Google Campus‘ on Wednesday evening.

Nothing quite prepares you for life as a practising lawyer, writes David Allen Green. The various television shows about lawyers will mislead you. And the academic study of law is largely irrelevant to anything which ever goes on in a solicitor’s office or a barrister’s chambers. Even internships and mini-pupillages do not provide any real insight to the daily drudgery of the lawyer’s lot…

That is not to say that there are not occasional sparks of enchantment. A client’s particular demand may require some drafting which means you solve a problem that no one has ever addressed before (or even cared about). You may win some victory in a litigation exchange or in a contractual negotiation, but the “high” you get will last barely longer than your next visit to the coffee machine. Any glamour or intellectual excitement is often only visible to outsiders.

So why be a lawyer? There are many bad reasons. Perhaps you were always expected to be one by pushy parents or well-meaning teachers. If so, they may turn out to be wrong. Perhaps you thought it would be lucrative. Well, it isn’t for most lawyers, and if you want money for boredom then you should try banking instead. Or perhaps you “enjoyed arguing” as a child. However, if that’s the case, you may not enjoy it as an adult, especially if it means you putting the case for the benefit of unreliable and dubious clients.

All that said, there are good reasons to be a lawyer.

The most wonderful thing about lawyering is that you get to work with words, when getting the words right matters. Other jobs involve words, of course, but not in quite the same way. The law is about how words can be used to guide and sometimes coerce other people in real-life situations: words in statutes, contracts, letters and witness statements. Anyone interested in language would do well to become a lawyer.

One other benefit of being a lawyer is its very practicality. Every lawyer has to deal with what actually will work in a given situation – offering merely theoretical advice is not helpful, and it is certainly not asked (or paid) for. This constant need to get things right keeps a lawyer alert, even when the tasks seem dull and repetitive. If you are the sort of person who is constantly thinking things through, then you will probably find law an engaging and fulfilling vocation.

Many people end up in law for the wrong reasons, but few then seem to leave. I think this is partly because the work of the lawyer brings you to the heart of human nature: how people use words and concepts to deal with intense, difficult or life-changing circumstances. This is an inherently interesting way to spend one’s life.

Had I known what lawyers really did before I entered the profession, I would have been even more enthusiastic.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog. He will be speaking at the Legal Cheek at the Google Campus event on Wednesday evening.