Something for law students: theory versus practice

I just read a terrific post by Mirriam Seddiq, an American defence attorney, titled “The Law, a Love Affair of Sorts” about her love affair with the law and the difference between how law students experience legal practice and what it is like when you are actually at the front lines. It is the sort of post law students should read because law school rarely prepares students for what legal practice is like after they graduate. Seddiq writes from the perspective of a criminal defence attorney but her observations are relevant to virtually all areas of legal practice:

But, here’s the part in this post where I tell you what’s different about being a real lawyer and what I wish I had known in law school. Because despite the fact that I was playing lawyer in law school, reality still hit like a ton of bricks. Ready for it? Here’s what was different:

The people. The responsibility for the people. Your clients. Their families. It is, sometimes, overwhelming. When you sign up for this, you sign up for a fight each and every day of your life, whatever side you are on. People, these people, they look to you. You are their soldier.

Library International Law Reading Room, 1964My first experience with commercial legal practice as a candidate attorney was very much behind the scenes preparing documents, running around town delivering and picking up documents and attending meetings with my principal. It was quite a learning curve in those first two years and that learning curve hasn’t flattened out yet after over a decade out of law school in law firms. What I find now is that I am still learning more about how to practice law, develop better relationships with clients (and sometimes how those relationships can be soured) and how to run a better law firm. Oh, there is also all that law which keeps changing, especially in my area of expertise.

It is a stressful career choice and is not at all what I expected it would be when I was working my way through law school, dreaming about what it would be like to be an attorney out in the world. I probably wouldn’t have been quite so arrogant straight out of law school if I had an inkling of what was coming.

Like many lawyers I have often wondered what I did to deserve the stress and angst of this profession and spent many hours in my previous firm looking for a way out of the legal profession. Leaving to start my own firm changed my perspective on legal practice. What I learned as I built up my practice is that although we, as young lawyers, need to be exposed to a broad cross-section of legal work, the ugly and the exciting, we really begin to appreciate why we chose to go to law school when we find an area of work we are passionate about. Like any profession, finding the work you are passionate about makes all the tough stuff worthwhile and your work becomes less of a job and more a part of who you are. It is even possible to look forward to getting back to the office on Monday morning!

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