On her first day of law school at Harvard, Professor Stromwell advised Elle Woods and her classmates:
“A legal education means you will learn to speak a new language. You will be taught to achieve insight into the world around you, and to sharply question what you know.”
No truer words have been spoken. Before I was an attorney, the world was riddled with rainbows and butterflies. Bad people only lived on Melrose Place and nobody habitually lied or cheated.
Being a lawyer has opened me up to the world of the worst. It’s also been a giant mind game that’s difficult to shake. Every day is mental chess: staying one step ahead of your opponent so you aren’t caught off guard, upset your boss, or worse, the client.
Once you’re a lawyer, being normal and mentally stable is impossible.
1. Putting Everything in Writing. When you’re a lawyer, you send emails, texts, faxes, and letters confirming everything. A paper trail to a layperson is a documentary ultramarathon to an attorney. There’s no such thing as someone’s word or handshake being “good enough,” because when you’re a lawyer, you know it doesn’t count unless it’s in writing. Email to hair stylist you’ve known for 20 years: This is to confirm my cut and blow out for 10 a.m. this Saturday. See you then!
Fax to your husband at work: Touching base to remind you we have a dinner meeting tonight with the accountant. Almost tax day! (Fax is necessary because there’s a confirmation page.)
Text to your own mother: See you on Thursday at 7 p.m., thanks for agreeing to watch the kids, I really appreciate it!
2. Never Putting Anything Damning in Writing. On the other hand, when you’re a lawyer, you use great care to never put anything in writing that could potentially bite you later.
For instance, you ignore the sign-up sheets for the end-of-the-year luncheon because you don’t want to formally commit to bringing homemade cupcakes. This is because you know you’ll probably procrastinate and end up frantically calling Domino’s Pizza at the eleventh hour.
When you’re a lawyer, it blows your mind when someone puts something stupid in writing.
Also noteworthy: during telephone conversations, you ask whether you’re on speaker phone or if anybody else is in the room. Just to make sure you don’t potentially offend a stranger.
3. Conversations Become Interrogations. Lawyers know there are multiple parts, and sometimes even sub-parts, to every question. Normal conversations end up becoming depositions.
The lawyer mindset never “clocks out.”
Attorney to spouse: You’re going to the store? What time? What are you buying? Which store location are you going to? What road are you taking to get there? Where are you parking? In the shade or in the sun? Remember to use the reflector if you’re parking in the sun so you don’t damage the dashboard.
It gets better when you start asking leading questions.
Isn’t it true you just went to the store yesterday?
Isn’t it true you ate all the Triscuits in one sitting and didn’t leave any for me?
Isn’t it true that was rude and inconsiderate?
4. Your Life is a Giant Calendar. The deadline- driven nature of an attorney’s career means everything meant to happen must go on a calendar.
Toddler birthday parties. Paying the mortgage. Getting a haircut. Going to the doctor. Girl Scout events. Church confessions. Dropping something off at, and retrieving it from, the dry-cleaners. The biannual dental appointment. Taking vitamins.
When you’re a lawyer, life is in shambles if your Outlook calendar crashes.
5. The Mindset Everyone is Lying. Being a lawyer means you don’t believe a word of what anyone else says. This is because everyone is a self-serving exaggerator who is full of B.S.
Someone saying they ran an 8-minute mile means it really took them ten.
Someone claiming to make six figures probably makes five.
And you ask for documentary evidence, like pay stubs and last year’s W2. (See Number 1: it’s not true unless it’s in writing.)
The term “there are two sides to every story” is false. When you’re a lawyer, there are five sides.
6. Numbness to Sadness and Tragedy. Before law school, Hallmark commercials and country music made you cry. You loved the nostalgia of your baby blanket and seeing old pictures of you and Great Uncle Albert, who passed away several years ago, wading in the ocean. You considered other people’s feelings before doing something inconsiderate.
Then you became a lawyer and can pragmatically look at photos of a gruesome homicide scene without flinching. You don’t care that a youngster needlessly lost an appendage in a freak accident because you’re too worried about reporting to your client their outrageous damages exposure. You can depose a sobbing plaintiff who is detailing the loss of their spouse through hysterical tears without pause.
Quit crying and keep talking. I’m starving and saw there was a Tijuana Flats down the street. It’s Taco Tuesday.
7. Conversations with Loved Ones are Naturally Adversarial. Lawyers’ spouses routinely remind them the tone of their (one-sided) conversations sound adversarial. When you’re a lawyer, you often use the Federal Rules of Evidence during these conversations, imposing upon your loved ones many “relevance” objections.
You do not always use the “prior bad acts” exclusion when pointing out your spouse’s shortcomings. In discussions with other lawyer friends, you often “impeach” them with prior inconsistent statements.
8. Hypersensitivity to Hazards. When you’re an attorney, you are overly aware of potential hazards. You frequently point them out, and hypothetically muse about the types of injuries people could sustain. Then you ponder how much money the injury would be worth.
Keep your son away from a raised toilet seat if he’s standing up to pee. It could fall down and squish his penis. (This actually happened in one of my colleague’s cases.)
It’s really nice that you’re walking through the meadow of gorgeous wildflowers on some strange dude’s land, but be careful you don’t step into a slightly unelevated ditch and break your ankle. The landowner only has a duty to remove concealed traps which he has actual knowledge.
Don’t let your toddler take gymnastics. She could fall from the beam and suffer major brain damage and have to eat from a feeding tube the rest of her life.
Apparently this thought process is abnormal among non-lawyers.
9. Lifestyle Manipulation. When you’re a lawyer, you encourage your spouse to send you plenty of sweet notes and gifts, and you engage in extravagant displays of affection (on social media and in real life). This way, if you ever died and he or she had to bring a wrongful death claim, their mental anguish and pain and suffering would be easier to prove.
10. Seeing the World in 6-Minute Increments. Time is money, and your time is valuable, Goshdarnit.
Going to the mechanic to address a flat tire just cost you a 1.5 and means you’ll have to work over the weekend. Your colleague’s stupid anecdote about his grandfather visiting from New England just wasted .2 of your time. Having to make a fresh pot of coffee because the jerk before you used the last of it was a solid .1. You don’t know if going on vacation is a good idea because it will hurt your chances of meeting your monthly billable requirements.
11. Everyone Wants Free Advice. When you’re a lawyer, everyone wants free advice. It doesn’t matter that you make it clear that you exclusively handle real estate transactions because someone will, without fail, complain to you about their divorce, ask you about the reasonableness of their alimony payments, or want advice about setting up a (complicated!) trust.
And then they act like you’re an idiot for not knowing the answer.
One can only imagine what physicians go through.
Of course, being an attorney has its perks. I met some of my best friends in law school at the University of Florida. After all, you don’t really know someone unless you’ve suffered with them.
Special thanks to my fellow neurotic lawyers whose input and candor helped make this post possible. You know who you are.