Life as a lawyer…

Many people ask: so how is life as a lawyer? They expect me to say it’s all glamour and gold, but the reality is that that is not always the case. Being a lawyer essentially means solving people’s legal problems. This is not an easy thing to do. Indeed, it is probably the most intellectually stimulating and challenging profession one could aspire for (akin to being a doctor).

People’s legal problems could be very sensitive (e.g. criminal, family, immigration) and hard for people to talk about. If you’ve ever had a legal problem, you know what I’m talking about: you lose sleep, constantly worry, and want everything to be over fast and before your bank account is drained. It’s a very stressful situation.

From the lawyer’s perspective, we generally have some idea of what our clients are going through. We have seen it countless times with other clients. Sure, the problems are not our own. But sometimes we become so caught up in our client’s issues that it can’t help but affect our daily life. Winning their case brings us happiness because we’ve served our clients well and delivered results. Losing a case is devastating for us. It happens – no matter how hard we try and we can’t control everything.

Lawyers are problem solvers. They do not always have the solution right away, but they can find it relatively quickly. We are quick learners. We read massive amounts of text in a short amount of time. We sum up everything and apply it to a new set of facts in order to dispense advice. We may not always be right, but we try to build arguments that will win our case or weaken the other side. We also look at things from the other person’s perspective. This could be a partner in a business, or opposing parties in a lawsuit. We want to plan ahead and strategize in a way that will help give our clients what they want. So we need to think about what arguments could be raised against us.

We research and we prepare. We are trained to do so. We are also trained and gain experience in presenting our arguments in writing or orally. We try to make our statements memorable and convincing to other parties, judges, juries, etc. We study the ways of how to influence others. We learn tips (e.g. be brief and impactful) and avoid traps (don’t be boring or long-winded). We do all of this on a regular basis and that’s why it’s best to use lawyers if you need to. Everyday folk don’t go through the types of negotiations that we go through. They go about their days, but they don’t have people paying them to solve their complex legal problems. We do. And we learn from it. And we apply our knowledge, skills, and experiences to each new case.

So why do we charge the way we do (hundreds of dollars per hour)? It’s a combination of a few things. First, we have to be in business to survive and thrive (we need to make profit). There are overhead costs. There is labour and advertising, etc. So we need to generate revenue to pay for those costs. Then there’s the idea that our skills are very unique and in high demand. It took 7 years of intense university, plus articling, plus passing the bar admissions course to become a lawyer. Many lawyers are still in debt (over $100K) because of all the schooling they did. We constantly study through continuing legal education on how to be better lawyers. Being a lawyer is also expensive: we need to buy books, bookkeeping software, client-management software, hire clerks and bookkeepers, subscribe to expensive legal databases, etc.

We are also professionals and held to higher standards of care than everyday business people. We are put in positions of trust with our clients and their money. We have obligations to them and others (e.g. courts, other lawyers, other parties, the media, etc.). Finally, there is a segment of the population that can afford to pay lawyers and does so. So, if a lawyer is busy serving those who needs them and can afford them, why should they go out of their way to reduce their hourly rates so that more people can simply afford him or her? There is little incentive to do so…unless the lawyer believes that he or she can service enough people in the same amount of time (and with no increase in stress or work) and earn the same amount of money as they would have otherwise. But this is not always easy. It depends on marketing your services to the proper demographic and then being internally set up to handle more volume. Lawyers don’t generally think about these things (they often just take what falls in their lap) and therefore there is no clear strategy to go after this market segment or that…

What about advertising? Well, lawyers are not traditionally the best known for advertising. Park benches, newspaper ads, and TV commercials are often just plain tacky. Only recently have lawyers realized that they can use the Internet as an affordable and effective means of advertising their services. But, since most lawyers get their clients through word-of-mouth referrals, they may not see the benefit of investing in a high quality and regularly updated website. Ah well…that leaves the internet for the Dynamic Legal Forms of the world…

Just a few thoughts on being a lawyer by one who lives that title daily…

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