Feb 05 2010
A long time ago I blogged that law school tended to suck the qi (life force inherent in all things) right out of you. Suddenly, happy-go-lucky folks are sulky and serious. Life isn’t all that much fun anymore. And you don’t really notice it because now all your friends are also law students and in much the same predicament as you.
Being a lawyer has pretty much the same effect. I remember those few glorious weeks immediately following the Bar exam. True, I didn’t get so much as a day’s vacation, but in those sunny days after a grueling 3-year “marathon,” followed by a nightmarish 2-month “sprint,” followed by a terrifying 2-day “dive off a cliff hoping there’s very deep water at the bottom,” life seemed glorious. I felt lighter. I smiled brighter. People noticed that I seemed extremely at peace with the world again. Heck, I even fell in love.
But then the rigors of real life set in amidst a bad economy and I did something I always knew I never, ever wanted to do: started my own law firm. And those 90-hour weeks I blogged about in November haven’t gone away. There is really no such thing as a night off or a weekend break. Some days sleep feels akin to malpractice. The stress of being the lead attorney, research assistant, bookkeeper, office manager, paralegal, and receptionist are enough to kill anyone, especially someone who is also the lone bread winner in a household of one.
And in the midst of that kind of stress, it would be easy to assume one’s humanity would start to slide just the way it did in law school. It would be understandable to see how one might see clients as ATM machines designed to pay your bills at all cost. One could rationalize the concept that I’m so busy looking after myself, there is no room left to look after anyone else.
But in the strange world of representing unemployed folks who have lost their benefits amidst an economy reluctant to hand out new jobs (especially to older people), quite the opposite occurred. In the midst of this world of creditors pounding on my clients’ doors, houses threatened with foreclosure, cars threatened with repossession, and 59-year old truck drivers in tears at the conference table, a strange and deep-seeded sense of humanity emerged.
Maybe it was the memory of my own mom fighting for unemployment benefits in the midst of the economic meltdown of the early ’90’s while trying to raise two kids on her own. Maybe it’s the rebirth of blue collar roots (of which I am prodigiously proud). Maybe it’s as simple as the very real issues facing my clients putting my “champagne problems” in perspective.
Whatever the reason, in the midst of a life filled with ridiculous amounts of pressure and stress, a humanity resurfaced in my life much to my own surprise. Raising money and resources for a good cause seemed a good idea recently. Building a house for some very poor folks in another country came to mind. Even simple things like telling my clients the truth about the merits of their cases instead of convincing them to bankrupt themselves for the sake of nothing but my own personal gain. And appreciating once again the reality of the human condition – the real life struggles of real life people who maybe didn’t go to college or maybe didn’t even go to high school, but who work damn hard for damn little and deserve a hand every now and again without going broke to get it.
It’s an odd turn of events to stumble into humanity again after a long time spent obsessing over statutes and loans and licenses. It’s a very nice turn of events. I wonder if my colleagues are experiencing this, too…