Real Life: 11 Ways Being a Lawyer Makes You Crazy


How and why being a lawyer makes you go crazy | The Champagne Supernova

Me and a close friend on law school graduation day in the year 2007 B.N. (Before Neurosis).

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.

After all, you have to pay the mortgage.

Once you’re a lawyer, being normal and mentally stable is impossible.

Here are eleven ways being an attorney makes you go irrevocably crazy.

Pun intended.

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? 

Legally_Blonde

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.

My_Cousin_Vinny

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.

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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.

Lawyer_Free_Advice

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.

Cheers!

    33 Comments on Real Life: 11 Ways Being a Lawyer Makes You Crazy

    1. hook and loop
      October 3, 2017 at 11:15 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Hi, I log on to your blogs regularly. Your story-telling style is witty, keep it up!

      Reply
    2. Ezequiel
      August 4, 2017 at 2:16 pm (3 months ago)

      Good way of explaining, and good post to take
      facts concerning my presentation subject, which i am going to convey in school.

      Reply
      • Ed dalati
        September 3, 2017 at 11:24 am (2 months ago)

        I am a layman 🥜
        Was married to a lawyer 🥜🥜
        For 15 years of marriage I learned nothing.
        Rather. She taught me
        how to digging my own grave.
        I did a fiuken damn job👍
        My inheritant juresprudence-stupidity was good enough.
        I married a lawyer 🏹
        Upon her request i jumped off the cliff.
        I survived, rather. ,damaged,
        However. Nothing I did can be prosecuted
        Closely or remotely In the court of law or in the court of life ,intentional, rather, normally would be considered. Rather. She considered it,
        Crime of first degree. hung ‘m, high.
        Lastly. when I needed someone.
        I called her up and. Asked the last Question and I got the chain-saw along with wood-shredding machine effects.
        Ready, dudes ⚖️
        ” you dug your own grave, get into it,
        I am not going to risk my license for you.
        Please note. I happened to be an ESL.
        But not a son of a pitch 🦇
        Ironically truly. I tend to believe that a world without good lawyers
        Is a world was designed by a stupid engineer
        Just like me.

        Thanks lawyers.

        Reply
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    5. Lindsey
      July 30, 2016 at 10:53 pm (1 year ago)

      Aw man , Jen! #11. In the midst of my 3rd trimester anxiety craze I was totally that person. Sorry girl! =)

      Reply
    6. Helen Leen Miranda
      June 21, 2016 at 12:31 pm (1 year ago)

      Jennifer – I disagree with your assessment. I went straight from college to law school. Then, I passed the Bar. I obtained a position in a law firm and I married my husband shortly thereafter. That was 21 years ago. We have a beautiful family, live comfortably and I feel fulfilled by my marriage, family and my busy law practice. Perhaps this is just not the field for you. But, please, don’t paint all of the distaff side of the legal profession with the same brush. I count among many of my closest friends happy and fulfilled attorneys with a quality life outside of the office.

      Reply
      • jenniferdaku
        June 22, 2016 at 8:34 am (1 year ago)

        Helen- this post was meant to be satirical. Lighten up!

        Reply
    7. Dick Ginkowski
      June 16, 2016 at 7:56 am (1 year ago)

      There are elements of truth in everything you said but it doesn’t have to be so bad! I think a lot depends on your law school education and outlook on life. First day our dean told us not to make this our life — get a hobby. I took a photography class at the community college. I worked. I did not spend until midnight every night in the library and my grades were not appreciably different from those who did (except for the 4.0’s). Lawyers are trained to be anxious. And we train lawyers by removing them from the very communities in which they serve — not a good thing. I think we are much better lawyers when we are better people. In hiring student interns and new lawyers I rarely look at the law school resume — boring! Everyone took con law — geez. I look for other things, like hobbies and where you worked before law school. One applicant was a sports information director, another a pro golfer, another put herself through high school and college working at McD’s (she KNEW what work is!), another worked in the family paintball business, another was a child protective service worker, another held the NCAA three-point record and so on. The best actually turned our to be those who had a life outside of the law because it made them better lawyers.

      Reply
    8. Najia
      June 15, 2016 at 3:09 pm (1 year ago)

      My mom has taken each of my three children at various times to watch me in trial. After my youngest, finickiest eater, went to court, he began adopting legalese. When I told him to eat his vegetables, he sternly said “I object!”and then promptly started negotiations to “settle”. How is it I could persuade jurors to resolve 6 or 7 digit claims in my client’s favor yet be unable to convince my 8 year old to eat his vegetables?

      Reply
    9. Spartan1
      June 7, 2016 at 3:26 pm (1 year ago)

      Jennifer, is Booth correct?
      With all thy getting in the law, it’s important to get a life and live it more abundantly. Just 41 years out of law school, my training helped me raise kids successfully and helps me survive and thrive in the Jurassic Park of life and law. May I suggest reading again the opening paragraph of a Tale of Two Cities. All the best in law and life.

      Reply
    10. David
      June 6, 2016 at 4:54 pm (1 year ago)

      I was a partner at am AmLaw 100 and then an AmLaw 200 firm. Corporate and securities. You get compensated well but it’s the worst possible thing you can do to your brain and your life. The term “recovering lawyer” is apt, because it’s essentially professional ADD — a whole lot of clients with extremely high expectations and keeping it all set up correctly in your head is no small task. You don’t ACCOMPLISH anything. You just expensively stand there collecting fees for this and that while your clients do the actual accomplishing. I ultimately went into business, and it took me a decade to get my brain fully healed. It’s honestly the worst profession you could go into. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy, let alone my kids. Law is for losers and people who don’t have the actual initiative to get out there, take risks, and make it happen. Lawyers have the lamest war stories ever, because it’s all reflected glory. Ugh. Pathetic.

      Reply
    11. STEVE
      June 5, 2016 at 1:11 pm (1 year ago)

      An awful profession riddled with sociopaths, clients and opposing counsel alike.

      Reply
    12. Diane Goldman
      June 3, 2016 at 7:12 pm (1 year ago)

      Absolutely spot on! After proving my mettle for the 1st 20 yrs., I had to spend the next 10 yrs. proving to my friends that I actually have a human core. I think they’re still a little leery when the server approaches the table to take our dinner orders. Your personality as a lawyer is definitely on the PTSD spectrum.

      Reply
    13. Booth
      June 3, 2016 at 2:46 pm (1 year ago)

      Factoring in a few years for her “lawyer behavior” to become ingrained, Jennifer appears to be young enough to have gone right from college to law school and then into practice without gaining any other life experience.

      As someone pushing sixty who has had several careers including military, sales, retail, computing support/network management, business owner and now lawyer, I can tell Jennifer that her experience is not unique. Take away the legal-field jargon and she is just demonstrating that she’s become an adult.

      News flash: The world is full of jerks, and people lie all the time as a matter of course. Pretty much everybody exaggerates the good and downplays the bad.

      And don’t think lawyers are the only ones who get pestered for free advice. My dad was a doctor and couldn’t go out in public without being ambushed for free medical advice. Ditto for me when I was in IT. Everybody wants free advice, then they promptly argue with it or ignores it. And of course they add new facts after every answer.

      Reply
    14. Andy Diamond
      June 3, 2016 at 10:13 am (1 year ago)

      Right on Jennifer. Like you were reading my mind. It’s why I went in-house. And yes, Go Gators !

      Reply
    15. lawyerX
      June 3, 2016 at 8:14 am (1 year ago)

      I could not stop laughing. This is so true for me.

      Reply
    16. Lisa
      May 29, 2016 at 9:48 am (1 year ago)

      Spot on! The author could have also included watching legal dramas on TV and pointing out (to your spouse and anyone else around who doesn’t give a crap) all of the things that never happen in real life. Example: on Law and Order, when the defendant sits, with his or her attorney, answering all of the detectives’ and prosecutor’s questions….It is particularly grating when the in-custody defendant turns to his/her attorney, the lawyer whispers about 8 words into his/her ear, and the defendant then immediately confesses to a homicide.

      Reply
    17. Sandra S
      May 29, 2016 at 8:26 am (1 year ago)

      Great post! I like your blog (thank you Linda Griffin).

      Reply
    18. Fast Eddy
      May 28, 2016 at 4:11 pm (1 year ago)

      Having been an Air Traffic Controller for Twelve years, fired by President Reagen in 1981 I’m still looking for an attorney that gives a shit about their clients.
      Have been working on. Social security case for over four years, after six attorneys have decided to represent my wife. Loved the ten reasons, I could tell you ten more.. My best friend for over 30 years is an attorney and we had a good laugh reading this post.

      Reply
    19. Brian Merrick
      May 28, 2016 at 1:57 pm (1 year ago)

      So true. My wife like to tell the story of me pointing a finger at her during an argument and saying “Retract that!” Retirement is like a 12 Step Lawyer Recovery program.

      Reply
    20. Ashley G
      May 28, 2016 at 6:44 am (1 year ago)

      This had me laughing and nodding my head yes! Especially about getting everything (unless unfavorable to me) in writing! Thank you for putting into words what flashes through my head in a split second.

      Reply
    21. Janet Newburg
      May 27, 2016 at 4:11 pm (1 year ago)

      If you make the mistake of marrying a non-lawyer who secretly (or not so secretly) wishes he/she was a lawyer, you will be constantly explaining concepts like res judicata or the rule of perpetuity or laying a foundation for admitting into evidence non-self-authenticating documents until you are blue in the face. (BTW Go Noles! Law class of 1997)

      Reply
    22. Kathleen at Middletini
      May 27, 2016 at 12:05 pm (1 year ago)

      Very true. I would add #12 – News reporting about legal issues drives you crazy, because they get it so wrong – the procedural status of the case, the nuanced applicability of a ruling, the way a zoning application actually works, etc. Oh, and #13 – Unlike the people in #11, others think that because they saw something on TV and can use Google, they know as much about the law as you do, so they dismiss your advice.

      Reply
      • Mary Kilgus, Esq.
        June 1, 2016 at 4:05 pm (1 year ago)

        You have that correct, Kathleen. I have a coffee cup that says, “Google does not replace my law degree). LOL

        Reply
    23. Elizabeth
      May 27, 2016 at 11:48 am (1 year ago)

      Just wait until your kids get older…I can’t tell you how many times I have had to say things like “I am a benevolent dictator!” “This is not a negotiation!” “You have no due process!” Just because they have two litigators as parents, my kids think that everything is up for discussion or negotiation.

      Reply
    24. Brook (Matt5verse6)
      May 27, 2016 at 11:48 am (1 year ago)

      This is great! First of all, GO GATORS! Secondly, I am preparing to go to law school and this was an interesting, and fun, read! Thank you.

      Best wishes.

      Reply
      • Steve
        June 3, 2016 at 9:25 am (1 year ago)

        Yes, GO GATORS! These points are one reason I became a patent attorney after clerking (in ‘general law’) at a national law firm.

        Reply
    25. Kelly
      May 27, 2016 at 11:01 am (1 year ago)

      so true Jen – Tyler often reminds me a) he doesn’t work for me (a la adversarial conversations) but also b) law school is a great dating service 🙂 At least he knew what he got himself into!

      Reply
    26. Lori Duff
      May 27, 2016 at 9:02 am (1 year ago)

      This is so very brilliant and absolutely one hundred percent true. I have to stop myself from cross-examining my family. It’s fun for me — it’s not for them.

      Reply
    27. Jessica Dareneau
      May 27, 2016 at 6:33 am (1 year ago)

      These are so true. My sister just told me about a friend whose father is very sick with cancer that has come back a second time. She told me how the dr didn’t do chemo the first time. My immediate response was an angry “so are they going to sue?!” My sisters response: “Jessica. Normal people would never say or even think that. What is wrong with you.”

      Reply

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