Friday, April 13, 2012

Why did you go to law school?

I had been a prosecutor for less than a week and I was standing in front of a jury arguing a DUI case. I had a list of questions on the podium in front of me and a veteran police officer sitting on the witness stand, but I was lost. My mind was racing. “What does actual physical control mean? What is the Baker rule?” I tried to pretend that I was in control.

I’m not sure everything that went through my head at that moment, but one thought must have been, “Why did I go to law school again?”

Why law school?
I didn’t really know any lawyers before I went to law school. There aren’t any in my family. I’m embarrassed to say it now, but one of the big reasons I chose to be a lawyer was that the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) doesn’t have any math on it while the other graduate school tests do. I had a bachelor’s degree in history and I didn’t want to be a history teacher, so graduate school was pretty much a foregone conclusion. It’s sad that my fear of math partially determined my career path.

I guess that I had thought about being a lawyer before my fear of math set in, though. My wife recently found a little journal I kept in elementary school. In it, I said that I was excited for a mock trial project we were doing because I was going to be able to use the Constitution as my “sword and shield” as I argued for my client. Totally embarrassing, but maybe I had a premonition.

So, I must confess that I had stupid reasons for going to law school. Most people probably do. Now I have to decide each day whether I want to keep practicing law.

Why practice law?
I took a weird path to law school and an even weirder path to my current job. I spent less than a year as a real estate litigator, a little over a year as a prosecutor, and now three years as a private attorney in my own small firm. There have been many times when I thought that going to law school might have been a mistake and I have discouraged my brothers from going to law school. But I actually love my job.

It’s corny, but I actually enjoy helping people. Every now and then, one of my criminal clients writes me a thank you note. I keep them all. No criminal defense lawyer wins every case, so some of my clients are mad at me no matter how hard I fight for them. But I do my best to help them and I make a big difference on their cases. I especially love the notes that come from the mothers of my clients.

I do get to use the Constitution in my practice as well and I love that. I majored in history as an undergrad because I loved studying the founding of our country and the wars that tested our commitment to American ideals. Now I get to help people take advantage of the promises in the Constitution. That’s not half bad.

Lawyers aren’t as bad as you think.
Lawyers have a somewhat deservedly bad reputation. There are some jerk lawyers. But there have been some super cool lawyers too. Lincoln was a lawyer. So was John Adams and most of the other delegates to the Constitutional Convention. A lot of the lawyers I work with are great people who want to do what’s best for their clients.

When you understand the legal system, you have power. You can use that power to help people like Abraham Lincoln and John Adams did, or you can use that power to harass and hurt people. Good lawyers are like superheroes. They rescue their clients from disasters and fight for justice. So, I’m glad I went to law school. And if you’re thinking about going, I’d recommend it to you too.

Related post: How can you be a criminal defense lawyer? People ask me that all the time. This post is my answer.


KBaron said...

Inspirational. Zachary has shared some more experiences from his job shadow. Thanks for giving him an insider's view of what you do.

P.S. I love your job too :)

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