A recent article covered dealing with career setbacks. It includes an honest assessment of practicing law:
Let’s start with a basic truth: The law is a very difficult profession. Few clients visit a law office to share happy news. Inevitably, most clients come with bad news, and it’s the lawyer’s job to clean up the mess. Lawyers also are given very few tools to manage these difficulties. To top it off, most lawyers got to where they are because they’re smart, dedicated, and good at what they do.
It’s simply not possible to never fail as a lawyer. Not if we’re applying ourselves and doing our job. The practice of law is just that: a lifelong practice. It’s not something we’ll ever perfect, or master. Of course, we will get better with practice, as with anything. But the constant challenge is also what keeps many lawyers in the game. We enjoy the intellectual challenge, and it satisfies our curiosity.
The article goes on the make ten suggestions for dealing with setbacks.
One disheartening aspect of practicing law in the form that I do is that most of the time, I can’t clean up the mess that a potential client brings me. This was a big adjustment from my big firm defense lawyer days.
In my big firm days, all cases were good cases. If a client or potential client was sued, we could help. What exactly the help would be varied from case to case.
Sometimes the best you could do was pay a large settlement. But that still helped the client deal with a messy case and get it behind them.
These days, most of my calls come from people who have suffered a loss that they would like to address in the judicial system. Sometimes, but not often, the people are crack-pots who really don’t have a legitimate beef. Most of the time, the people have a legitimate beef, but I can’t help them.
I am up front with potential clients that the economics of a case will be a huge factor in whether I will take the case. I’m not going to take a case that would require $15,000 in expenses and the maximum recovery is, for example, no more than $30,000. That doesn’t work economically.
This means that people who are out no more than a few thousand dollars are out of luck. That’s reality, right? But try explaining that to people over and over for years on end. Try accepting that yourself.
I promise you, if you have a heart, it will impact how you view the judicial system. Lawyers start their careers idealistically thinking that lawyers and the judicial system can fix any mess. The sad reality is that we can’t fix the vast majority of messes. And that’s not fixable.
So what’s a street lawyer to do? The ten suggestions in this article are probably a good start. But I’m not here with a solution. I’m still coming to grips with the problem.
Losing is another animal. I once wrote a post titled Losing Sucks. I got a lot of positive feedback from it.
I was listening to an audio recording of a Rick Friedman CLE presentation. He rhetorically asked what the number one obstacle to lawyers trying more cases was? When no one answered, he gave the response himself: losing. It was funny the way he told it.