lawtechTalk Episode #5-Cloud Computing and Your Law Practice
Creating an Effective Online Presence for Lawyers, Part 1

Live and Let Live.

Drlogo11

This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Live and let live."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Live and let live

“You can checkout any time you like,
But you can never leave!”


–FROM HOTEL CALIFORNIA BY THE EAGLES


For the most part, lawyers are not a happy bunch.

Our profession’s depression rates are amongst the highest, as are our rates of drug and alcohol abuse.

The practice of law can be a thankless job, the hours are long, and attorneys are subject to arbitrary, unpredictable court schedules and judge’s whims.

Clients, the very heart of our business and without whom we would have no income, can make our job all the more frustrating. In many cases, however, the high frustration levels are not the fault of our clients, rather they arise out of the circumstances that lead those clients to retain us in the first place.

One of my favorite lawyer jokes highlights the phenomenon:

George and Harry set out in a hot air balloon, soon realizing they were lost.

“We had better lose some altitude Harry so we can see exactly where we are.”

Harry lets some hot air out of the balloon, and it begins to slowly descend below the cloud cover.

He yells down to a stranger on the ground, “Hey, Mister can you tell us where we are?”

“You’re in a balloon about 100 feet up in the air,” came the reply.

“You must be a lawyer,” replied George. “The advice you just gave us is 100 percent accurate and totally useless!”

“You must be a client,” the man on the ground yelled back, “You don’t know where you are, you got into your predicament through a lack of planning, which could have been avoided by asking for help before you acted and you expect me to provide an instant remedy. You’re in the exact same position you were in before we met, but somehow it’s now my fault.”

The moral of the story? It’s not easy being a lawyer.

For that reason, a number of lawyers, when learning of my  intent to attend law school after college, advised me not to do it, citing many of the reasons I discussed above.

Interestingly, many of those very same lawyers were quite vocal in their condemnation of my decision to take a hiatus from the legal field after having my first child.

At the time, I was disillusioned with my career choice, overwhelmed with work/life balance issues and ready for a change. A brief hiatus seemed like the perfect opportunity to clear my head and find a new career path.

I was surprised at the vehement disagreement other attorneys expressed regarding my decision. It was as though my personal decision was an act of betrayal. I chose to be inducted into this suicide-pact and leaving it was not an acceptable choice.

My subsequent return to the practice of law on a less-than-full-time basis, and my decision to write and consult about legal technology issues, also met with derision, albeit this time from lawyers online whom I’ve not yet had the pleasure to meet in person.

For some strange reason I cannot quite comprehend, my personal and career choices somehow have disrupted the force and resulted in unrelenting scrutiny.

I knowingly turned my back on the unhappy fraternity we call the legal profession and defied the norm by returning to the legal field in a non-traditional manner.

Now, I realize other attorneys’ criticism of my choices is inevitable. 

I reluctantly accept the phenomenon. It’s the unfortunate price I must pay for forging my own path to happiness.

Comments

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twitter.com/nancymyrland

Unfortunate indeed Niki. I've been around law firms and legal professionals for 12 years, and find it disappointing that you have been confronted with this type of behavior. It's time to accept there are many non-traditional roles lawyers can play, particuarly in this non-traditional era in which we live. To find one's sweet spot within one's profession is a true gift. I don't know if I count, but I am very happy for you, and am happy to know you via Twitter! Thanks for your wisdom.

twitter.com/AgriLawyer

Nikki,

It seems that law career typically has a perceived natural path that many warn any aspiring lawyer of entering, but will be looked upon with disdain or shock if that a lawyer deviates from the path.

The path: Enter law school (top one that you can obtain admission); aim for first in class (study countless hours); law review/moot court; First year internship or Europe; Second year participate in moot court/law review/ solidify spot in class; On-Campus Interview; 2nd year summer internship at big law firm; Come back for third year (coast/Drink); Graduate;; clerkship; Work for job of second year; Pass bar; Associate for a ridiculous amount of hours taking on a ton of work in hopes of golden ring of Partnership in 5-8 years; Get partner or go in-house or go off the radar to teaching law. There can be a few other steps depending on politics, government work, or judicial selection, but I would say the general envisioned path is the one above.

Most lawyers that went down this path feel this is the only way you can do it to gain some magical free time when they are 50 years old. By then, many are in few workaholic mode and do not actually "slow down" until their first maybe second heart attack. This is not to say that this path is bad for everyone, but it is to say it is not good for everyone.

When i practiced in Knoxville, a group of people met in the back of a cafe to just enjoy lunch twice a month. The group was called the lonely hearts club and touted about 30 members, of which about 20 members were lawyers. The initiation was to have lived through a heart attack, and it had members as young as 36. I sat in on one lunch with a older lawyer (dear friend of mine) and realized that what I do "for a living" was not going to be the thing that kills me.

There is a way to practice, be dedicated to, and have a passion for a law profession and helping people without letting the it consume you. I'm glad you learned to forge your own way.

NBlack

Thank you both so much for your insightful, supportive comments. It really means a lot to me and I do appreciate it.

I struggled greatly with my decision to take a hiatus from the legal field. Criminal law has always been my passion, and leaving it, even for only just a brief while, was difficult.

I am so much happier now that I've managed to strike a balance in my life and my career.

I practice criminal law on a part-time basis, performing research and writing for my firm, and co-author a West treatise on substantive criminal law for New York attorneys. I also write about criminal law issues for my Daily Record column.

Accordingly, a good percentage of my "legal" thought processes are devoted to criminal law issues.

I've never been happier in that regard. I continue to "fight the good fight," preserving our constitutional rights (and help other attorneys do the same via my West treatise), which has always been a passion of mine.

I'm also able to pursue another passion of mine--technology--as it relates to lawyers. My consulting business at lawtechTalk allows me to explore that passion by educating attorneys about emerging online legal technologies.

I'm using my law degree in ways I never envisioned would be possible when I entered law school.

I truly hope that other attorneys are able to find their own paths as well. Obtaining a law degree should not sentence you to a life of unhappiness. Rather, it should provide you with opportunities and happiness.

Leanna

It reminds me of this quote:
"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
- Howard Thurman

Does the world need you to be sitting in an office 10 hours a day because that's what a lawyer is "supposed" to do?

No, the world needs a Niki who is doing exactly what she wants to do, working on the things she wants, where she wants, and then giving us all fantastic ideas about what to have for dinner.

John Knutton

What an interesting article. As a 3L who is going to graduate in the spring of 2010, I'm nervous about what my career has ahead. I really enjoyed your take on things though, and enjoyed the joke!!!

I'm a research assistant for Professor Leonard Birdsong at Barry University School of Law in Orlando Florida, and would love it if you could visit his blog. http://birdsongslaw.com

Thanks!

Susan Cartier Liebel

Wow, Niki. Just caught this post and I can totally relate to what you are doing as clearly I'm doing the exact same thing...a non-traditional use of my degree.

I never did face the same type of criticism from other lawyers when I stopped practicing. But I[m sure I have my critics in the ether somewhere. Just haven't turned up the volume on their chatter.

But this is your life, not theirs. They've made their choices and you have the right to make yours. And to those critics who hide behind 140 characters...they should be given no more than 140 characters worth of response...if that.

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