Last updated: July 7, 2013
By Richard Poland, J.D.
During my final two years of high school, I engaged in arguments with my parents on many different occasions and on a multitude of topics. I remember my father saying to me, “You argue about everything with me. Can’t you ever just do what I say without a discussion? You should become a lawyer?” My response was always the same. “I don’t argue with you at all. I always do everything you say. I don’t want to be a lawyer.” Within a decade, I had graduated from college and law school, passed the bar exam, and opened my private practice. Attending law school is a decision which I have never regretted. It was great training for being a college professor.
My father had a point. I have come to believe that the first assessment for becoming a lawyer - or enjoying law school - is whether or not you have a love for the argument itself. Notice that I did not say that you must love to argue. Rather, you must love the process of framing, developing, and stating an argument. You should embrace the argument process regardless of the side of the argument that you support. If you have a love for the argument, you will find that a legal education is a worthwhile and rewarding experience. You will develop skills which will serve you well throughout your life.
There are a few downsides in the legal profession. The negatives are best portrayed by the myriad of lawyer’s jokes which permeate our society. I remember well that day when I was in law school and heard my first lawyer’s joke. I wondered why future barristers would make fun of their chosen profession. Later as I practiced law, what had at first seemed odd and a little humorous, became very hurtful. After all, I had become a lawyer to help people and I viewed these tacky stories as counterproductive. Having your profession be the butt of distasteful jokes and stories does not build a positive self-image.
Whoever said that Americans love to hate every lawyer except their own was exactly right. My clients were no exception to this maxim in that they liked me even though they disliked all the other attorneys in my small town. Interestingly, most of the lawyers I have known are bright, ethical, and well-intentioned people. However, that is not generally the perception portrayed by television and the film industry. Accordingly, the legal profession has a negative image.
Nevertheless, if you choose to use your legal education to become a lawyer, you will have the opportunity to make a difference and to make money. You will have chances to become a leader in your community and beyond. If you choose not to practice law, you can use your legal education to find a rewarding career in politics, government, business, education, journalism, or a number of other careers. The skills you learn in law school are easily transferable. Who knows? You might find yourself teaching at a small liberal arts college in Northeast Florida.