“You’re a lawyer?”
This is the point in the conversation where I typically brace myself. A barrage of questions is about to come my way. It comes from a good place, though. People seem genuinely curious, but there is this shroud of mystery around the law.
So, in the spirit of demystifying the profession, I put together a list of 10 questions. Some are questions I get asked all the time. Others get to the heart of what it’s like to be a lawyer. I reached out to a diverse group of lawyers for answers.
I promised anonymity, for candid answers, and I chose responses that were succinct, insightful, or downright amusing. In other words, I created a hybrid of an AskReddit thread and the lawyers’ edition of Family Feud.
Here are answers from real lawyers talking about their job.
So, is your life like the TV show Suits?
- There’s a lot less of the drama and underhanded practices that you see in Suits. Also, there are fewer people dating each other.
- Almost every episode begins with getting a file and concludes with trial—it’s ludicrous speed. And the whole premise is a rainmaker attorney with an extremely lucrative career throws it all on the line to allow some kid who doesn’t have a licence to work at the law firm. The premise is so unbelievable.
- No. I don’t even wear a suit.
Do you defend guilty people?
- Everybody is presumed innocent until proven guilty. And, no, I do civil litigation.
- I do defend guilty people. It’s not about the individual person; it’s about protecting and ensuring we have a functioning justice system. In other places, you hear of wrongful convictions and things of that nature. In Canada, we’re lucky It doesn’t happen as frequently because we have a justice system to allow the accused person to have a fair trial.
- Everyone is entitled to a defence. It’s not my job to judge whether or not a person did it. That’s for the judge or jury.
Do you make a lot of money?
- You can make a lot of money, but it’s proportional to the amount you put into it. It’s not easy money most of the time.
- I do not.
- You can make a lot of money as a lawyer. Seeing as I own my own firm, my goal was always to have a good work-life balance more than earning a ton of money. You may have the capacity to earn a lot of money; you may not want to. Some lawyers are interested in working fewer hours while earning a decent income.
Do you work a lot of hours?
- As much as is needed to take care of the file. A typical day is 11 to 12 hours, but you’ve got complete control of your life, so it doesn’t feel that long. You make it work, and you’re your own boss.
- No, I work a pretty standard work week.
- I usually work 10 hours a day, the occasional weekend, and if there’s something important, like a trial, it could be more. It doesn’t feel like I work a lot, but I know I work a lot.
What’s the "best" depiction of lawyer on TV or in the movies?
- The Good Wife was decent. But they still overdramatize it.
- Better Call Saul.
- Billable Hours.
- My Cousin Vinny—Starting out [in the practice], it’s where you are really just flying by the seat of your pants and figuring it out, because you’ve been thrown into it.
What do you know now that you wish you knew before law school?
- The practice is nothing like school.
- There are a lot of aspects of being a lawyer that are more boring and dry than you would think. It’s not like it is in the TV shows.
- It takes a lot of effort to find work-life balance.
What’s a big myth of the law you can dispel?
- [The myth] that lawyers are corrupt and sleazy. People don’t understand how much we hold ourselves to a high standard of ethics.
- Most people have the conception of lawyers as Type A personalities: confident, outgoing, commanding. That’s not the case for a lot of us. It’s quite the opposite.
- [The myth that] all lawyers make a lot of money.
What’s an underrated quality in a lawyer?
- Being able to listen.
- The ability to empathize with your client and the other side.
- Calmness and the ability to be fairly neutral and reasonable. I find that when a lawyer has appreciation of the strength and weakness of both sides, it makes their own arguments that much more convincing because it’s clear they’ve thought through everything rather than [only] their own client’s position.
What’s the best part of being a lawyer?
- Helping people navigate what oftentimes is a very complicated set of circumstances.
- It’s constantly evolving. The dynamic nature of law keeps the job very interesting.
- How diverse and different each day is.
What comes up when you tell someone you’re a lawyer?
- People come out of the woodwork from your past and ask for advice [and] tell me very personal details, hoping I will magically solve them without me having ever spoken to the person before.
- It’s bizarre when someone says "Congratulations".
- The comment: "Oh, you must like to argue."
Bonus question: What do you think of lawyer jokes?
- I don’t mind them as long as they’re clever.
- They assume lawyers are unethical more often than I’ve found them to be in real life.
- Jokes making fun of lawyers are always funny. Jokes told by a lawyer are often lame.
The writer thanks all those lawyers who participated.
A word of caution: you should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or consult a lawyer.