prac·tice ha·cker (be·ta)
hack·er [há·k?r] (see practitioner) one skilled in a profession, subject, or course of action
be·ta [be·ta] new or revised version of a product released for testing
I was talking to my parents the other day and the conversation turned, as it does every time, to the question of why I did not follow in my father's footsteps and become a doctor. My parents see physicians as the top tier of society and believe lawyers rank … well, beneath that. While I have waged this battle my whole life, this time the discussion gave me pause. When all was said and done, was practicing law worth defying my parents and upbringing? Were the rewards proportionate to the effort?
It's not a job, it's a life sentence
The romanticized notion of lawyers as wealthy, dynamic figures counseling the powerful and moving in circles of power lives on in every classroom, TV show, movie, book, and in the public consciousness. So why is the reality of our lives so different? It could be because we are not larger-than-life figures but people trying to get by -- just with far less leeway than that enjoyed by the average person. Unlike the "everyone makes mistakes" attitude enjoyed by the rest of the population, we can be locked away in professional prison, if not solitary confinement or worse, for the smallest infraction. What drives most of us is learning to navigate this fine line while making a living. The irony of course is that being a lawyer is not a job at all but a "calling." Our schools are just dressed-up seminaries; firms are organized more like monasteries than profit-oriented businesses, and courts are the temples of modern life. At least our quest is noble. We seek fair treatment for our clients - even if we can't expect it ourselves.
Moral question? What moral question?
Nowhere is a "zero-tolerance" policy more evident than in our profession. The slightest ethical lapse by any one of us contributes to a climate of hostility and indignation against all of us. The real irony of course is that we lawyers police ourselves more vigorously than any other professional group, and maybe too effectively at that. Consider for instance that our rules require us to betray one another: that failure to report an ethical lapse by a fellow attorney is itself an ethical lapse. Take a moment to think about that, and then recall what has happened historically when governments make citizens inform against one another. That is exactly what we have done to ourselves. So the next time you see your doctor ask them if they would turn in a colleague for gross negligence. Once your physician stops laughing at the very thought, remind them that as a lawyer you are required to do so. Then send them a bill, because you've just educated them.
First prize is a Cadillac. Second prize is you're fired.
The clarion call among clients today is "what have you done for me lately?" Consider the celebrated DuPont Project, in which that company chose to manage costs by making its outside counsel compete with one another. Rates were lowered, promises made, people fired and hired. Now thanks to the Internet this cutthroat competition pervades everyday practice and the smallest of transactions. For instance, it turns out that $300 is too much to charge for a real estate closing because prospective clients can click their way over to a lawyer who claims he will do the job for $150 and throw in a set of steak knives. Compare this ultra-competitive environment to getting a checkup at your family doctor. After filling out a gauntlet of forms and bounding over red tape, get ready to sit in a featureless exam room for a half hour to see the nurse who may tell you what your doctor might think when he returns from the back 9 at Klein Creek. And oh yes, your co-pay is due now.
Hacking the practice back to sanity
As any parent will tell you, all their children are beautiful. And in the end being a lawyer is more a labor of love than anything else. It's not for the money. It's not for the fame. It's not for the social standing. Then what? Let's hack it this way:
1) Remember who your friends are. A little civility goes a long way. Remember that we're all in this together: lawyers, judges, clerks, and all. Clients come and go but you'll probably be seeing the same faces your whole career. Make friends along the way.
2) We are fundamentally good. You read that right. We are fundamentally good and just and honest and maybe a little zealous. In other words, we are the kind of people others want to have in their corner when the chips are down. Which is a good thing after all.
3) Laws are made from people. At the end of the day practicing law involves dealing with people, because the law is all about people. And I can't think of anything more noble and uplifting to do with my time than solving people's problems.
So yes, I guess the practice really is worthwhile. After all it is still the best way in which I can be of service to my community. Experience has taught me that I would be terrible at any number of things, but I am a passable lawyer, and occasionally even a good one. So let's try not to be too hard on people that dismiss our profession or fundamentally misunderstand our role in society - including members of our families, our spouses, our friends, and so on. Turns out they just can't hack it like we can.