Monday, November 8, 2010

The Street Lawyer: Smile, It’s Good for what Ails Ya’

The Street Lawyer is the Cultured Barrister’s necessary counterpart. Offering a viewpoint sometimes at odds with CB’s, the Street Lawyer takes a no-nonsense approach to the realities of law practice. Sometimes cynical, usually irreverent, and occasionally serious, the Street Lawyer welcomes your feedback.

As I sit here enjoying a lukewarm bowl of ramen noodles and a cold Fresca at ten in the evening, I am struck with a nagging thought: What the hell have I done with my life?

This is a recurring theme. I have these sorts of thoughts at various times, sometimes more than once a day. For example, I might have this thought when my client—the one with 4 DUIs, a couple sexual assault convictions, an arson conviction, and more minor infractions than I can count without an abacus—wants to know why I have not made any headway on his latest charges. “What ‘m I payin’ you for, boss?” he might ask.

At this point, I gently remind my client that he has never actually paid me; I am his assigned counsel. But that, of course, is beside the point. In fact, I am not entirely sure what my point is. I suppose it is that I do not always feel that I made the “right” career choice. Why did I spend a gazillion dollars to become a lawyer in the first place? I could have been something fun, like a tugboat captain or a fry cook. The most “fun” thing about being a lawyer is that there is an entire category of humor dedicated to making fun of us—and some of those jokes are damned funny (though completely off the mark, right?).

At any rate, I am not a walking ad for Zoloft or some other antidepressant. I just have these thoughts—on occasion—that bother me. Surely, others have these thoughts as well. For the most part, I am happy with my station in life. Sometimes it takes a little effort to get there, though. And so I write for you, my dear choking-but-only-a-little-bit-on-the-bitter-pill-of-life reader. As lawyers, we have enormous potential to do good. Like superheroes wielding hand-knit ties or silk blouses and briefcases, we can fight injustice, right wrongs, and stand up for the little guy. We can do it all while making a decent living and, if we are lucky, paying off our student loans. Not only that, we get to look good doing it.

Perhaps it is life in Vermont. Unlike our more blessed peers in the city, Vermont is not exactly a place to make your fortune. It is a place to ski, go hiking, and enjoy the quality of life that comes from low population density and the absence of box stores. But here is the catch: most of us never get to enjoy the “lifestyle” of Vermont because we are at the office until 9 p.m. trying to prep our cases, complete the paperwork for the refinancing closing, or catch up on motions that came in during the day. Try taking the day off to go snowshoeing when you have fifteen open files, each of them crying out “Work me!  Work me!” If the guilt does not get you, the fear of malpractice will. We are taunted on a daily basis as friends who work less stressful jobs head out with their kayaks. Meanwhile we trudge home for the aforementioned ramen and Fresca buffet.  It seems a waste to work harder than anyone around you while taking home the same or less pay.

I could get frustrated at this, but to what end? Life is a lot easier when you adopt a positive attitude. As lawyers, we see the gutters of life frequently; some of us more or less live in them. When we have depressing thoughts, we need to count our blessings. Drowning our sorrows rarely works. Best case, you end up with a raging headache and the same problems the next day. Worst case, you get to sit in the other chair at the defense table—the one nobody wants to sit in (save perhaps, the aforementioned fictional client). If counting your blessings does not do the trick, then get involved in your community, take your significant other out for dinner, or just do something you enjoy for a few minutes (perhaps listen to some jazz). Find a way to focus on what you have to be happy about, do something nice for someone else, and I guarantee your day will get a little brighter instantly. Focus on the negative, and you will end up like Charlie Sheen on a bad day—and that, my friend, is bad.

If all else fails, you can always get some guilty pleasure from that picture you kept of the Good Witch of the South that for some reason always ends up in the bathroom. That is just so screwed up that you have to smile at the thought. Now go do good—and let the SL know how you handle the stress and pressure of practicing law in the Green Mountains.

—The Street Lawyer

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