Law in Contemporary Society

Reflections after a year in law school

-- By ElizabethHayden - 4 June 2018

The kind of lawyer I want to be

I want to be the kind of lawyer who cares about their work, helps people solve their problems, and has a fulfilling personal life that is independent from that work. I need to care about what I’m doing or I won’t want to get up in the morning and I won’t want to go the extra mile. However I know that the best way for me to be happy is to learn how to feel fulfillment and excitement about my work while leaving the stresses of the job at the office, so that I can enjoy other things that I care about and relax after the workday ends. I want to devote my work time to advocating on behalf of individuals who need my help, but I know from my own past work experience that the more I care about my work, the harder it is to disconnect emotionally. Finding the right work-life balance is going to be the biggest and most important challenge for me as a new lawyer. There’s a part of me that likes to fight and work hard, but there’s another part of me that is laid back and wants to avoid stress. The tension between those two parts of myself is why I’m in law school, but is also why I need to be very careful about how I design my career to ensure that I can express both sides of my personality in harmony.

Before I came to law school, I also had a job where I helped people and I found that positively affecting others is a big motivation for me. Hearing a client’s mood change from angry and frustrated to happy and calm just because of what I said to them is incredibly fulfilling. However when I worked in software, the stakes were low. Helping a client meant only meant so much, but if I made a mistake or didn’t come up with a great solution, there wasn’t that much to lose in the grand scheme of things. Moving those skills into a legal context, where someone might go to prison if I don’t perform well enough, is scary. Even worse is knowing that sometimes succeeding in my own job could mean that someone else is harmed. When the stakes are high, I’m sure it feels even better when you make something good happen, but so much worse when you let something bad happen. If I want to do this kind of emotionally charged work, I need to make sure that I’m constantly working on ways to retain control of my emotions so the negative aspects of my job never take over how I feel.

What does it even mean to help people?

I want to be in a position where I can help a lot of people and make some kind of impact that lasts beyond my own career, but I also want to make sure I can see results from the work that I do, and I want to make sure I’m focusing my efforts in the best places. If I work as a public defender, I’ll be able to see positive results in peoples’ lives as a direct result of the work that I do. However I will also be constantly confronted by problems in our criminal justice system that I can’t fix. I’ll be limited in how I can affect the issues as a whole, because my main focus always has to be on my client’s best interests, not necessarily the best interests for all of society. However I truly do believe that protecting the constitutional rights of every person and working to minimize the negative impact of crime on the individual is one way to help the public as a whole, even though there may be times that by helping my client someone else is harmed.

My future path in law school

This past year has been harder than I could have ever expected. I’ve lost so much since coming here, and I will admit to you that I wish every day that I could go home. However, the more people I meet who are doing the work I want to do, the better I feel about the path I’m on. Even though my old career was a lot less stressful, I would look at my coworkers who were 20 years ahead of me and I felt dread about one day being in their position. Now I’m meeting people whose jobs I can actually imagine myself doing one day, and I’m hoping that’s a good sign.

After a year in law school, my plan is still to work towards becoming a public defender. That might shift as I learn more about the work and how it affects the lawyers that do it, but I think that the only way for me to find clarity in what I want to do is to do things and reflect on my experiences. As I start working with real clients, I also need to work on developing strategies for managing the emotional load of the work. As an emotional person I am good at empathizing with others, even flawed people that the rest of society doesn’t want to deal with, but with that comes a vulnerability. I need to learn how to disconnect from my work so that it doesn’t overwhelm me, while gaining confidence in myself as a lawyer and an emotional being so that when my client takes out their anger on me, I can listen to them and help them without letting their actions affect how I feel.


Webs Webs

r3 - 05 Jun 2018 - 00:59:00 - ElizabethHayden
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