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Why Are You A Lawyer?

By Linda Green Pierce

Regardless of how far you’ve risen in your legal career, it’s important to regularly revisit the reasons you chose law as a profession and why you think the practice of law is important. When you think something is important, you put a value on it. Not only is this a good exercise for your soul, but if you are looking to change positions, knowing your first principles and values helps orient your thinking and demonstrates that you are a person of real substance. I’ve also observed that interviewers are increasingly asking open-ended questions designed to see how a candidate thinks, but also how he expresses himself on career progress and path.

What I offer below is a motivational inventory of a baker’s dozen of basic values and motivations lawyers hold. Doubtless you can think of more. If you’ve strayed from your personal path and don’t recognize yourself as a lawyer any longer, maybe this list will help.

  1. Technician. You like solving legal problems and never tire of them. Technicians just like the thing for the thing’s sake.
  2. Social Engineer. You want to right what you view as society's wrongs and to get people to behave differently. You use the law as a tool to perform social engineering.
  3. Policy Maker. You want to influence policy decisions, at any level.
  4. Generalist, aka Gym Rat. You’re naturally curious and just about any area of the law interests you. You like variety, exploring new areas, and finding new solutions to old problems. In the best sense of the word, you are a dilettante.
  5. Specialist. You want to go deep and narrow and get really good at one area. Within the larger legal community, you are looked upon as an expert. Within your specialty, you find the competition among other specialists exhilarating.
  6. Craftsman. Drafting legal documents with attention to argument, detail, style, and accuracy has always been your passion. You like to create a highly polished work product.
  7. Advocate. You find your calling in life to be the ability to take on another’s position and persuade others of the value of that position.
  8. Money Maker. A lot of lawyers went to law school because they knew the potential was there to make, if not a lot of money, at least a good and secure living. Although it’s not unheard of and has happened, you typically don’t hear about lawyers getting laid off.
  9. Respect. Start counting the number of times someone asks you for free legal advice or your opinion as a lawyer. The nature of your profession engenders respect and makes you feel good about what you do.
  10. Stepping stone. The practice of law is just a means to an endto the executive suite, the governor’s mansion, the Oval Officeor directing a nonprofit. Whatever that thing is, being a lawyer opens doors.
  11. Family Business. The practice of law runs in your family, and you can’t imagine doing anything different. Or you’re taking over your family’s practice.
  12. Helper. Law school and the practice of law have given you the analytical tools to help people solve their problems, whatever they may be.
  13. Justice seeker. You have respect for the rule of law and you want to keep the system moving in a smooth and just way.

Regardless of what specifically motivates you, I like to believe most lawyers are lawyers because they want to make a difference. Part of making a difference is having a passion for what that difference is. It’s hard to be a lawyer and not be passionate about seeking justice. You can’t work up any client’s case without developing a sense of the relative rightness of your positionthat is passion, from the Latin, passio, to suffer. Practicing without this passion is what leaves lawyers feeling drained and miserable, a suffering of a different kind, an anti-passion.

Whether completely satisfied with your current position or contemplating a new one -- demonstrate that passion and just see how others are drawn to you.