Is being a lawyer what I expected it to be?
It is a question that, at first glance, seems that it should be answered without hesitation – with a simple “yes” or “no” answer and some reason why. But – the question causes me to smile, pause and reflect. Why?
To answer, I need to remind myself what I thought being a lawyer was all about, before I became a lawyer or even went to law school. Growing up, I didn’t have any lawyers in the family. I think, like most people without any formal legal training, my impression of a lawyer’s job came almost entirely from movies and TV shows. A client hires a lawyer with an unwinnable case. Almost immediately, the lawyer identifies the problem and finds a solution. A trial ensues. While cross-examining a key witness, the lawyer uses his or her sharp wit to uncover the “truth” and theatrically persuades the judge and jury that the client’s version of the facts is the right one. The gavel slams. The crown applauds. The camera pans out while the lawyer and client leave the courthouse victorious.
In reality, legal proceedings are not always so simple and straightforward.
The law is complicated. It has grey areas – and there are more than 50 shades of grey. To complicate matters further, people have complex legal issues. Most of the time, the facts are not straightforward, unknown or are in dispute. This is precisely one of the reasons that lawyers are needed.
When a client consults with me or retains me, they expect me to find a solution to their legal issue, represent their best interests and advocate on their behalf. This, of course, is what I am tasked to do and what I carry out on behalf of all my clients.
The difficult part is – for me and my client – that it takes time, for a variety of reasons. The law may require some time to pass before the case can be properly assessed. The court system is backlogged. There are many steps in a case that need to occur before a trial. This requires an enormous amount of scheduling, preparation and research.
The client needs to be educated about the process. For many of my clients, this is the first time they are involved in a personal injury lawsuit or any lawsuit for that matter. It is important to help the client understand from the outset what they can expect. For instance, clients involved in a motor vehicle accident are almost always surprised to learn that their case will likely take two to three years before it settles or even longer if it goes to trial. It is also as important to continue to communicate with the client along the way and provide them with updates as necessary. It is too easy to forget that it is the client’s first time – and it may require multiple explanations at different times for them to grasp what is going on with their case.
The challenging part is that we, as lawyers, handle more than one client’s case at any time. And while one client may be more “hands off”, there are some clients that need more “hand holding”. It is my job to recognize that while one explanation may work for one client, it may not work for another. Or while I may be able to email one client about some legal issue, another client may require a telephone call or in-person meeting for me to accomplish the same thing. This is all part of being a lawyer and communicating effectively with your client – something that I definitely did not think about before becoming a lawyer.
Clients also need to be educated about the law. In the context of my personal injury practice, many of my clients are surprised to learn that their claims are subject to a threshold or deductible or some defence. They may have ideas, from friends or popular culture, which are simply not a reality in law. And to no fault of their own – because I may have had similar ideas before I became a practicing personal injury lawyer.
Law, or litigation specifically, is not for the faint of heart. After all, it is an adversarial system. It requires diligence and hard work. It requires proper communication with your client, opposing counsel and some of the other players in the system. And sometimes – even when you have done everything within your power, the result is not what you had hoped to achieve for your client or your client is not satisfied with the result. In other words, it is a challenge.
That said, after working on a case for some time, and you achieve a good result for your client because of the hard work you put into it – there is no greater satisfaction as a lawyer.
Perhaps, if I can summarize, the thing that I did not realize or appreciate before becoming a lawyer is that advocating for and representing your client is the result of hard work, preparation and a lot of time and energy. It does not happen in 20 minutes or even in a few days. It does not happen by chance. But – when all is said and done – I am helping my clients achieve a result or find a solution to something that they would not be able to do on their own. I am helping people. And that is what I expected to be doing as a lawyer – and why I continue doing what I am doing.