Need help desensitizing myself to, or taking less personally, the conduct of other lawyers.
March 17, 2011 3:43 AM   Subscribe

How to feel less depressed about the conduct of other lawyers. Need help desensitizing myself to it, or taking such behaviour less personally.

I've been in the legal profession for about a year -- not long, considering that this includes my formal legal training which began almost immediately after graduation -- and though I'm very inexperienced, through luck and hard work I've had the chance to do some eye-opening legal work, follow around senior lawyers, meet clients, go to court (to the extent that the law allows me until I'm a full-blown licensed lawyer) and the like.

I enjoy my work, and the challenging legal aspects of it -- even where you have to stay back late nights to get things done. It feels productive, and it feels great because I know I'm earning my keep.

However, this is what gets me: I'm a bit (and I realize that this is a strong word, but I fully mean it) depressed when it comes to how other lawyers act.

I've had lawyers calling over the phone, brazenly asking to prolong certain court procedures "so that we can bill the clients more" (as he laughs, while I frown deeply on the other end of the line); lawyers who, when fired by their clients for their severe negligence, go to the opposing counsel's firm to reveal their former client's details, out of spite; lawyers who literally shout in court that our client is a "liar" with a smile, though they know their client is in the wrong and against whom our side has solid documentary evidence as proof of their misdeeds; lawyers who argue like sharks in front of the client as to who gets to represent him because of the pending big fees involved; lawyers who refuse to answer correspondences, or who settle agreements among beneficiaries outside court without involving our client who's already a legally-appointed executor; lawyers who apply incorrect legal procedure, get unfair and heavy costs imposed on their clients, then when asked, respond, "Oh we just tried that one out," instead of taking the initiative to discuss legal steps with other lawyers beforehand, and which would have prevented such a financial burden upon their clients; etc.

And all this in only a year.

All of the above, among other things, somewhat compels me to leave the legal profession. I can of course understand if such hanky-panky were to happen in other industries -- say, frauds in the financial world -- but those industries are not really concerned with the business of justice, or of being fair to everyone involved. Furthermore, when a lawyer calls my client a "liar", though he knows in his heart that that's not the case -- that isn't defending his client anymore, that's just being unfairly antagonistic, isn't it? I don't know how his conscience can allow him to sleep at night.

To be honest, I feel so strongly about this that, even as I did some basic transcription work of court proceedings, I felt angry just watching the video of the opposing counsel who spoke accusingly against my client (though it's a clear-cut case, my client wasn't paid for work done, and it was work done properly too) while sucking up to the judge in a very sycophantic tone.

I realize that this is already personal. And that's just dangerous.

I realize also that my youth (I'm 24) is probably why I'm extremely sensitive to all this, so I'm asking for advice on how I can possibly desensitize myself to these feelings. Or at least, how to take it less personally. I can almost feel myself growing more cynical by the day, but I don't want this to be the case. (I'm not ultra-optimistic; I'm quite a realistic person, but I don't want to become cold and calculating and cynical and jaded in my old age either.)

P/S: Anyone who in your professional careers have had similar personal conflicts, and solved them, please chip in as well.
posted by wz to Work & Money (30 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Unfortunately, the proper response to a lot of legal proceedings is to become jaded. I work for an insurance defense firm and have had the opportunity to see a number of plaintiffs' attorneys in action, and lemme tell you, the vast majority of the cases we get are crap, and everybody except the plaintiff knows it. I do, the judge does, and plaintiff's counsel does too. We live in a litigious society, and a lot of this really is just a game.

For example, I've been to a number of mediations now, and in every case the partner with whom I was going knew to the dollar how much the case was going to settle for. So did the mediator. The guy even knew what our offers were going to be before we made them. How? Because everyone had done this a hundred times before, and they know how it goes. Mediation is really just a way of getting the plaintiff to accept reality. Sometimes that involves some showmanship on the part of plaintiff's counsel, and while defense counsel tends to find that pretty annoying, we understand that it's part of the game and are okay getting bitched out if that's what it takes to get the plaintiff to play ball. If they're convinced by the dog and pony show put on by their lawyer that he's taking their case seriously, they'll be more likely to accept a reasonable settlement.

I've got two suggestions though, one of which is easier than the other.

First, the best way to deal with opposing counsel who are being jerkasses is just to beat them. Consistently, and with a minimum of fuss, just pound them into the ground by being a better lawyer. If someone is pulling shenanigans, be on your toes enough to call them on it. There's little more satisfying that seeing some blowhard bastard make a huge scene in court and then calmly, competently, tearing him limb from limb.

Quite a number of the more demonstrative attorneys I've seen in action tend to be covering up for substantive inadequacies, so this isn't as hard as it looks. This involves not only knowing the law, but understanding how to maneuver yourself tactically. If you can tell opposing counsel is grandstanding, I guarantee that other people in the room can too, sometimes even the jury. Take advantage of that. Instead of looking at this as you being abused by opposing counsel, start treating it as rope they're giving you with which to hang them.

Second, I can't tell where you are from your profile, but that really does make a difference. State court judges vary fairly drastically in quality, within but especially between jurisdictions, and it sounds like you're in a county where the judiciary doesn't bother to keep a very tight rein on things. If an attorney tried some of the stunts you describe in the courthouse in my county, the judges would nail him to the floor before they could sit down. You might consider moving.

I've got some other questions I'll send you via MeMail later today. Hang in there.
posted by valkyryn at 4:02 AM on March 17, 2011 [14 favorites]

I don't work in your fields but think I've often felt somewhat similarly about things I've seen in the few industries I have worked in. I'm sure there are a few legal types here that will be able to direct some specific advice at you.

You're still relatively green, and your skin will toughen up as you go along. If you continue to work in your field this shit will come up enough that it won't bother you so much. Simple exposure therapy.

That doesn't mean that these guys you see aren't assholes and what they are doing isn't immoral. Life is pretty disturbing sometimes. The best you can do is work within your means to make things better.

Pick your battles. Learn to recognize the things you can change versus the things you can't. Act with integrity and you will do alright!

I think it is incredibly important to have people like you in the profession. You sound compassionate and honest. Consider what would happen if every other person in your position bailed. We the people would have no one but assholes to represent us. Then we'd really be fucked.
posted by grizzly at 4:11 AM on March 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

the proper response to a lot of legal proceedings is to become jaded.
That is flat out wrong. The proper response is to become objective and dis-passionate. Not Jaded!!
posted by Flood at 4:59 AM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

It's not just the legal profession wz. You will see corrupt and unethical business practices in every industry.
posted by three blind mice at 5:00 AM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Work hard in law school and get good enough grades so that you can stay away from these low life's. They get fewer as you deal with more sophisticated firms, corporate lawyers etc.
posted by caddis at 5:03 AM on March 17, 2011

I think the OP is probably not from the US, for what it's worth.
posted by chinston at 5:05 AM on March 17, 2011

The proper response is to become objective and dis-passionate. Not Jaded!!

Potatoes, potahtoes.
posted by valkyryn at 5:13 AM on March 17, 2011

It's an adversarial process. Opposing counsel isn't on the side of what's right and fair and just; opposing counsel is on the side of the other party. Your job is to make sure your client's story gets told, and then, theoretically, the judge or jury is supposed to find the truth in that and reach the right answer.

I think this speaks to your concerns about opposing counsel speaking accusingly against your client, etc. Intentionally divulging client details that aren't supposed to be shared is unethical, obviously, and can lead to serious sanctions.

Saying that financial fraud proceedings have nothing to do with the business of justice but that whatever field you're in does displays a pretty naive outlook. I don't know if this has to do with your age or the fact that you just haven't seen enough, but honestly, the longer you hang in there the less naive you will be and the less personally you will take affronts to justice.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:21 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Would see fewer billing issues (and maybe some of the other issues you mention) if you worked for the District Attorney's office?
posted by Houstonian at 5:37 AM on March 17, 2011

Seconding Houstonian. Based on my experience, not everything at a DA's office is perfect, but at least a lot of the issues you describe wouldn't happen there.
posted by mlle valentine at 6:07 AM on March 17, 2011

You may want to look into a different practice area.

valkyryn has it. I derive significant pleasure from smashing bad or unethical lawyers while keeping my cool. I also, however, love that my area of law (family law) has a number of great lawyers working in it, and is generally people-centered rather than money-centered. I also hear every day that friends couldn't do what I do for more than a day, because in exchange for down and dirty litigation strategy, I get personal drama. You need to find the area that will best use your skills and feed your needs, whether those needs are problem solving or defending your constitution or helping people. And within that field, get to know the lawyers you can respect, and who can provide you with an example for your own practice.

I also agree that your jurisdiction sounds like a bit of a nightmare. I have no way of knowing whether this has to do with the legal system of your country, or whether you should just practice more in a different county or specialty.

Law is a profession like any other, it has its assets and its sources of frustration -- there is work suited to you out there, there are good lawyers out there. Keep looking for the work and the colleagues that bring you satisfaction. I really believe that every good lawyer, whoever they represent, is a point on the side of good and justice. So your ability to recognize the shady operators and do your bit to keep them from winning means that you are fighting the good fight. You will lose some battles that deserve to be won, but in the end you will be bringing more justice into the world.
posted by freshwater at 6:14 AM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also, some lawyers need to be grieved. Once someone crosses a particular line (based on your local rules of professional conduct as well as your own sense of what goes too far), you may be ethically or legally required to report their behavior. You don't want to build a reputation for grieving everyone you go against, but law is a self-regulating profession (at least where I live), and some of what you describe would definitely get me making some calls.
posted by freshwater at 6:18 AM on March 17, 2011

The proper response is to become objective and dis-passionate. Not Jaded!!

Potatoes, potahtoes.

This is a bit of a derail, but I emphatically reject this attitude. I work in a very different field (academia), but we have our share of time wasters, egomaniacs, grandstanders, etc. Not every professor is like this, but enough to make life seriously unpleasant at times. If you let them get to you, they "win." If you ignore them, they "get away with it." The solution is not to be jaded -- which sets you up to become them given long enough -- but to be passionate and professional and objective. Do your best job. Endure them when you must, avoid them when possible, beat them when you can. Learn to diffuse and redirect them. Make allies that will help you work around them. The rest of valkyryn's advice is good, though -- if you have noticed this, others have, too; you are likely not alone.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:20 AM on March 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

I worked with lawyers the first 3 years of my professional life while considering Law School, I took the LSAT and almost decided to go to law school if I hadn't be so turned off by the profession. My moral compass just could not stand the type of work I would have to do if I wanted to be successful on that industry and I knew that sooner or later I would have to do it.

My advice would be to find the type of law that is rewarding and which people are not generally assholes or a-moral, I am guessing you have a whole bunch of loans to pay so that will not be an immediate thing for you to do but perhaps four or five years from now could you switch to work with non-profits?
posted by The1andonly at 6:26 AM on March 17, 2011

Once someone crosses a particular line (based on your local rules of professional conduct as well as your own sense of what goes too far), you may be ethically or legally required to report their behavior.

Seconding this. Once an attorney does something questionable, start taking notes about anything else they do. If they cross an ethical line, you may have a duty to report them for it. In the US, some of what you described (e.g. divulging former client secrets to opposing counsel) would get the attorney in pretty serious trouble.
posted by jedicus at 6:28 AM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am not a lawyer, but I do have a little experience tangential to the profession. Like many of the classic "professions", people become lawyers for different reasons. Some of them do it because they are assholes and figured lawyerin' was the best way to practice the craft of assholery.

The people who do things like "how about we do X so we can bill more" are scumbags. They know it, and they are trying to recruit you into the ranks of scumbag. The proper response is "what the hell is the matter with you?" And dropping a dime on them.

That is one of the nice things about the law- everything is written down. If a lawyer violates written ethical rules, he or she DOES know better, and you owe it to your profession to bring it to light. If only because (I think) your ethics require it just as much as his should have prevented him from stopping it. If you become known as "the new kid who reports violations", that's a GOOD thing. People will not act unethically around you.

When you are confronted with these short term disappointments, try to widen your scope into the bigger picture. Lawyers are important to maintaining a just society. You can't fight everyone, but you CAN be on the side of justice when unjust events and people come across your path.

(And I agree: experienced and dispassionate is not the same thing as jaded. Jaded is being beaten. Dispassionate is accepting that losing a battle is not the same thing as losing a war.)
posted by gjc at 6:36 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Writing this, and reading all of your comments, made me feel a lot better. Thank you, guys.

@ Valkyrn: Thanks for sharing! Here though the quality of lawyers vary, even among senior lawyers. And where I live (explained further down in my reply to chinston), the judges, even those who've been in service for a while, are susceptible to flattery, as far as I've seen. It's just... a cultural thing here. Of course, the more honest judges see right through you (and I've seen how unnerving it is for a lawyer who's trying to suck up to a judge to not have the judge mirroring his words or gestures) but there aren't many of them anymore. More often than not, judges here do get swayed by flattery. Also, I'll be waiting for your MeMail -- thanks!

@ Grizzly: Thank you. I try to be honest; my conscience lets me rest better that way.

@ three_blind_mice: True. But to see these kinds of corrupt practices among men whose trade is the law saddens me.

@ chinston: Yup. For what it's worth, I'll just say that I'm from a former English colony. We practise a hybrid system of English and local laws, and it's served us well (though our judges and counsel seem to delight in tearing it apart especially when there are political interests at stake.)

@ J. Wilson: I don't mean that financial fraud proceedings have nothing to do with justice; I was referring to practices in the financial industry, frauds among them, whose chief aim is profit. I compare this against, say, ourselves as lawyers: though we'd like to be paid duly for our services and make enough money to prosper, ultimately our aim is to ensure that our clients get justice (if they deserve it). Profit-seeking, though fair, shouldn't be the sole basis of our trade as lawyers, compared to those in businesses and industries. (Probably a bad example: Doctors are expected to make good money for their work, but no one likes a doctor who's a doctor just so that he can be rich. His ultimate aim shouldn't be profit.)

@ Houstonian: I've been thinking of a government-based legal job, but... to be honest, from what I read it's much less rosy than the experience of working in a DA's office in the US. Merit and hard work isn't recognized, plus you're expected to work long hours doing rote jobs that you don't learn much from, and then you have to be careful to tiptoe around the whims and fancies of bosses. Plus, there's politicking to be done if you want to move up, which I'm very bad at. (Source: Friends working in the departments, and older lawyers who've toiled there in their early days.)

@ freshwater: That's some really good advice. Thank you. Also, we do have a self-regulating national legal council that governs the conduct of lawyers, their registrations/discipline/dismissals, etc. But the reporting only goes so far, and even when you do report those things you'd need proof -- telephone conversations, court misconduct, inethical behaviour, etc -- which are kind of hard to prove, compared to more explicit events like breach of trust or account mishandlings, etc. We've made a couple of reports, of course, but then it's up to the council to do its job -- and, as far as we've heard, the big fishes still get to swim free from the nets sometimes, because some of them are part of the council too.

@ The1andonly: I'd love to work with non-profits. But I'd like to be a bit more financially stable in life first, because at least that would give me the freedom of mind to help others.

@ jedicus: It was quite serious, actually. The former lawyer actually helped his client fake an address (the client didn't know about it) so that he could file the matter within a different court's jurisdiction. When the client moved to my firm (because he was unhappy with how immensely lazy his former lawyer was), said lawyer headed to our opposing counsel's firm and divulged the fake address to him, an opportunity which the counsel promptly pounced on. (Note to all evil people: please don't attempt to sleep with your legal assistants when they refuse you -- your LAs might be watching who comes in and out of your office. In fact, it was the opposing counsel's LA, who has quit, who told us about their clandestine meeting. No, we didn't even ask.)
posted by wz at 7:25 AM on March 17, 2011

Thirding Houstonian. I'm only a 3L, so I have limited practical experience. But I have some basis for comparison, having spent two summers at private firms doing civil litigation and most of my 3L year at a clinic at a local DA's office.

Last summer, a partner at my firm, who had been an AUSA for several years before joining the firm, told me that she found relationships between prosecutors and defense attorneys to be infinitely more collegial than those between opposing civil attorneys. Her view was echoed by a former colleague of hers who had been in private practice and at the AUSA's office and was now a federal magistrate judge.

My experience has been consistent with their observations. I think there are a few reasons for the difference:

(1) The fact that someone's liberty is at stake adds an element of gravity to criminal cases that seems to encourage good behavior.

(2) Everyone's a repeat actor. The same few defense attorneys and the same few prosecutors will try dozens and dozens of cases together. Familiarity encourages collegiality and there's a strong incentive to avoid earning a bad reputation.

(3) It's still an adversarial process, but the prosecutor's duty is not to win at all costs. His duty is to do justice. In other words, as a prosecutor, your sense of fair play doesn't have to be balanced against an ethical duty to be a zealous advocate for an individual client.

(4) This doesn't relate to inter-lawyer collegiality, but not having to bill hours is *fantastic.*
posted by ewiar at 7:30 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

First, the best way to deal with opposing counsel who are being jerkasses is just to beat them. Consistently, and with a minimum of fuss, just pound them into the ground by being a better lawyer. If someone is pulling shenanigans, be on your toes enough to call them on it. There's little more satisfying that seeing some blowhard bastard make a huge scene in court and then calmly, competently, tearing him limb from limb.

This is exactly the right answer! The way to deal with bad lawyers on the other side is to beat them. And don't forget that the bad lawyer's antics are all fodder for amusement, too. There can be a kind of gallows humor to it -- I can't tell you how much joy my colleagues and I would get out of running to each other's offices to say, "Can you BELIEVE that asshole?" We'd get months and months of mileage out of particularly bad incidents.

Another thing to remember is that lawyering is a game that people play with many different styles and tactics. Some lawyers think that being an asshole is the way to get the job done. Other lawyers will be all business and believe that negotiating a settlement quickly is the way to go. Some lawyers will be sickly nice to you, but then use every piece of leverage they possibly can when it comes down to it. And sometimes, lawyers are being assholes because their clients have instructed them to do so.

Ultimately, the truly skillful lawyer knows that there's a season for every style -- a time to be an asshole, a time to suck up; a time to yell, a time to cry; a time to get drunk with the opposing counsel. Turn, turn, turn ...

So, leaving aside the truly unethical incidents you've seen, I suggest that you try to depersonalize this and observe how the senior lawyers around you conduct themselves. It sounds like you're in a pretty unique position to do so, so take advantage of it! Pretty soon, you'll start to understand when somebody is being an asshole for some purpose, whether his conduct achieves that purpose, or whether another course of action would be better. You'll also learn to tell the difference between a lawyer who is just a jerk as a person; and a lawyer who is just BEING a jerk to get something accomplished.
posted by yarly at 7:33 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I work in health care, and the consequences of other peoples shoddy professionalism are very serious. It also hurts me, personally, so I get that.

The only answer is to be better, yourself. Work harder, be a better lawyer. Lead by example. Report what you need to report. Document everything.

Please do keep going. People need people like you.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 8:29 AM on March 17, 2011

1. If you decide to practice law, you must surround yourself with ethical, talented lawyers. Working with people you trust and know are ethical is key. At least then you only have to worry about opposing counsel.

2. Opposing counsel has screamed at me, has lied to me, has called me names. Even co-counsel has tried to undermine me to save face . None of it bothers me because I have only one goal and that is to obtain my client's goals.

3. Act ethically and responsibly and you will be rewarded and other lawyers will act ethically and responsibly. I have a difficult case with a lot of money involved and it has very unsettled law both myself and the other lawyer focused on the law and the facts in making our cases. We didn't take pot shots at each other. Wedidn't call each other names... And you know what? At both the trial and the appellate level the judges actually thanked us for not being vitriolic and for helping them grapple with a difficult issue...I watched two days of oral argument and I didn't see the judge thank anybody else. And if you continue to act ethically and get good results for your clients eventually you'll build a good relationship with the judges and opposing counsel.
posted by bananafish at 8:38 AM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Remind yourself of the good you can do in this profession. If the pressure of the system forced you to behave contrary to your moral compass then that would be a stronger reason to leave. This way, each of these negative experiences can remind you of what you are trying to achieve. Your work matters, particularly given the bad behaviour of others in your field.
posted by Omnomnom at 9:13 AM on March 17, 2011

First, the best way to deal with opposing counsel who are being jerkasses is just to beat them. Consistently, and with a minimum of fuss, just pound them into the ground by being a better lawyer. If someone is pulling shenanigans, be on your toes enough to call them on it. There's little more satisfying that seeing some blowhard bastard make a huge scene in court and then calmly, competently, tearing him limb from limb.

I occasionally deal with opposing counsel who are jerks and bullies. Often (though not always) it is a way of covering up a lack of skill or knowledge of the facts or law with bluster and aggression. Some lawyers act that way because it makes opposing counsel not want to litigate against them (It is an effective tactic; I worked for a woman like this and plaintiffs would drop cases to avoid going against her not because she was good (she was) but because she was absolutely awful to deal with). Sometimes, opposing counsel are really just assholes. In any case, Valkyryn's answer is the correct answer: be better, know more. It can be really satisfying and that's what fixes the problem in the long run. If you're not able to do that, you need to let someone else handle the case.

I don't agree with grieving anyone unless the behavior is clearly unethical, but that's mostly because in my jurisdiction, doing so would instantly get me a grievance in response, and that's not a headache I want to deal with. However, I'd be compelled to grieve this in my jurisdiction, OP: lawyers who, when fired by their clients for their severe negligence, go to the opposing counsel's firm to reveal their former client's details, out of spite.

OP, you write Furthermore, when a lawyer calls my client a "liar", though he knows in his heart that that's not the case -- that isn't defending his client anymore, that's just being unfairly antagonistic, isn't it? I don't know how his conscience can allow him to sleep at night.

This is within the scope of aggressive and zealous defense in my jurisdiction (and you don't know what opposing counsel knows in his heart). It's unpleasant, but common, and you'll get used to this sort of thing with experience (which doesn't mean that you should do it yourself!)
posted by seventyfour at 9:16 AM on March 17, 2011

Also, this is very dependent on your jurisdiction. I've practiced law (mostly litigation) for 11 years in major cities in Texas and over that entire time, I haven't seen even half of the conduct you site in the OP.
posted by seventyfour at 9:21 AM on March 17, 2011

Nthing Valkyrn. I'm a lawyer in the US. As we speak, I'm embroiled in a case with a shyster whose case is entirely built on either outright fraud or his stupidity. (Not sure which.) On top of it, he is severly lacking in good moral character. I feel your pain.

But I'd hang on to some of the anger in your case, especially when the system is, as you describe, lacking. Specifically, hang on to your moral sensibilities because they do you credit. Just be honest in your dealings with others, including opposing counsel, your clients and the tribunal. I also strongly encourage you to learn to be political. It is a skill like any other, and developing this skill could be helpful in the long term.

Specifically, I'd encourage you to find other lawyers like yourself, and perhaps organize a local bar association (if there isn't one). With any luck, lawyers like you will be future judges of your jurisdiction., and if there's enough of you, perhaps the number of bad lawyers will decrease.
posted by Hylas at 10:50 AM on March 17, 2011

It's possible to be both a good lawyer and a good person. It's even possible to be both simultaneously. The better a lawyer you are, as valkyrn notes, the more likely you are to be both simultaneously. When you meet those people, treat them like colleagues, ask their advice, try to develop on-going relationships with them: either professional or social. It will be a light in the darkness. If there is a public interest bar association in your jurisdiction, join it. if you've got time to do pro bono work, do it. You'll start meeting the good ones.

One of my proudest moments as a practicing lawyer was, at the conclusion of a bench trial, having the judge say to me and opposing counsel "I want to commend you both for your behavior during this case. Your professionalism and manners have been welcome." That said, I quit that job as soon as humanly possible because the attorneys I worked for were bastards of the highest order. I couldn't sleep and couldn't eat and behaved generally like someone suffering from PTSD by the time I finally got out of that job. I finally got out of that job because the aforementioned opposing counsel recommended me for my current job.

There is, unfortunately, a lot of really shitty behavior that falls within the letter of ethical behavior, even when it is far far outside the spirit of ethical behavior. You probably will become jaded to it, if you don't burn out first. Be better than it, however, and as you move up through the organizations or firms you work for, you can demand that the people you work with are better than it, as well. Good luck.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:59 PM on March 17, 2011

A bit of perspective as a non-lawyer engaged in another profession that gets a lot of bad press as being unethical - sales and marketing.

Everyone has an opportunity to be ethical or unethical in how they do their job, and to be pleasant or unpleasant, professional or unprofessional. Since lawyers (like sales and marketing types) do more of their job in written and spoken form, perhaps it's a bit more obvious. Since more is generally at stake in the law profession, it has more scope to be discouraging.

But it's still a mistake to treat law as some kind of special case, and to think you can avoid these kinds of dilemmas by going into another profession. I once took a part-time job taking tickets at a ballpark and had to deal with the ethical issues of my coworkers and their tendency to allow their buddies into the ballpark without tickets (or without taking passes which were supposed to be one use only). If it can happen in that low-level job, it can happen anywhere.

I would also agree with the advice that you will find this gets better as you gain experience and get to work with higher level colleagues.
posted by randomkeystrike at 4:40 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

wz - you mention your country's national legal council. Have you thought about working for this organization, or working your way into that possibility?
posted by birdsquared at 6:29 PM on March 17, 2011

Not an attorney here, but I've heard this from several people just out of law school. And now I don't hear it from them, or much less often. Now it's treated more with "one of those asshole XYZ attorneys" eyerolling rather than a reason for questioning the career path. Hang in there!
posted by salvia at 1:23 AM on March 20, 2011

Response by poster: @ birdsquared: Sorry for the late reply! No, I have no plans to join the national legal council, as it's only a semi-private, semi-government body, with little power and few duties beyond supervision over the legal fraternity. (I'd probably attempt the judiciary or a governmental post if I wanted to leave private practice.) Plus, there's little to learn there if I join.

@ Everyone: Thanks for your advice! I feel much better, and I'll try my best to keep to my principles (or leave if I can't).
posted by wz at 6:55 AM on March 21, 2011

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