I AM THE LAW! What I Wish I Knew Before I Went to Law School

Daily tasks that resemble homework? Check! Endless hours of reading inscrutable, arcane texts that aren’t magic spells? Check! Dealing with other people’s problems on a daily basis? And check!

Welcome to the legal profession!

But I come not to praise or bury the legal profession, but to explain it. And what I hope to convey, based on my own experience, is who I think the profession is well suited to.

This is for anyone thinking of entering into the field, or for those who are just morbidly curious.

I’ve written about the law before, the good and the bad, but I don’t think I’ve really ever gotten into the nitty gritty.

Maybe this will all sound great. Maybe it will jibe with you. Fantastic. I just hope you take me seriously because law school is a challenge.

Here are two of the biggest things I wish I understood about the legal profession before going to law school:

1. Rules

If you are into rules, their construction, following them, and how to slip past them, the law is for you.

If you are the kind of person who like to be creative in solving problems, or who likes to get things done with minimum fuss and wasted time, perhaps a different career is in order.

In law, a “creative” solution is usually a different way of saying “kind of shady, but technically ‘legal.'”

Everybody says they go to law school to “help people” (sheepishly raises hand). The truth is, most go because they don’t know what else to do. They also don’t realize you help people, but generally not in a way you see on TV. You’re usually helping your boss.

It is not a glamorous profession. But to some people, it’s really interesting. I met a guy who said that, ever since high school, he knew he wanted to be a member of the NTSB. That’s great! I am glad there are people like that in this world.

Listen: Some people love rules and advising how best to follow them. Maybe you do too.  

2. Ambiguity

If you’re into stuff like straight answers, might I suggest a career in math or engineering?

Language is used to convey ideas. We all know that. Or think we know that. Or think that.

But we all also know language can be used to obscure, to obfuscate, not only to make the abstract concrete, but the concrete liquid.

The legal profession–and by extension, government–is quite possibly the best example of this, hands down.

A lawyer trades in words, but the amazing thing is that a feature of the profession is making sure not to say anything in absolute terms.

If you’re into certainty, this is not the profession for you.

Even saying what one party will do needs to be riddled with caveats and exceptions. It’s almost as if each party to a contract not only expects the other side to renege, but expects to renege themselves.

I think this is what people mean when they talk about “legalese” or “lawyer talk”: “What do you really mean?”

I am in this world, and yet still find it stunning. Sometimes you want something to say what it means, but then are asked to make it not quite mean that. Or leave things open-ended. Or “open to interpretation.”

There is merit to being flexible, as rigidity can bee stifling and dangerous in its own right. But there is also something to be said for certainty.

Absolutes are not always the enemy. Sometimes they can be a bulwark against chaos.

If the sand is always shifting, what kind of foundation have you really built?

And unfortunately it’s in these margins where a lot of the unsavory stuff happens. Stuff that’s not technically illegal, but just seems wrong. 

Words do matter. And though the smart set might view ambiguity as a sign of sophistication, I still think it’s better to say what you mean and mean what you say.

Wow I got a little esoteric here at the end. But this more philosophical stuff is a huge part of any career, since this is what you will spend most of your adult life doing. So whatever you do, make sure you think about it.

And as with any kind of training or formal education, law school is great if you know what you want out of it and have realistic expectations.

In that, it’s no different than anything else.

And now you know!

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