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Law As A Career Essay

Cover Story

Why I Love Being a Lawyer

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Photo illustration by Nilsz

We’ve all seen the downbeat headlines—surveys show as many as half of all lawyers wouldn’t enter the profession if they had it to do over, wouldn’t recommend their children become lawyers, would rather be digging ditches or breaking rocks. As the profession struggles to recover from the Great Recession, it’s certainly not easy being an attorney.

But what about the other half of the profession—the half that doesn’t grab the headlines, that finds satisfaction in their jobs? There’s still much to recommend the practice of law, starting with serving clients and the public good. This story is a valentine to the profession, reminding us—in the words of ordinary lawyers from across the nation—why being a lawyer can be an extraordinary calling.

Plus:New ABA Journal Section Debuts in March



I knew nothing about criminal law and said as much to a California federal court judge who wanted to appoint me to represent a woman facing forgery charges. I was a business and tax attorney in court that day for a calendar call. The judge saw my name on a pleading and appointed me.

The woman was about to plead guilty to 22 counts of forging signatures on Social Security checks. Her hearing was scheduled for 2 p.m. The judge told me to educate myself and if I needed more time, he could continue the case for a week.

I introduced myself to the defendant. She told me that she was guilty, and I asked her why she had forged the checks. “Because he told me to” was her answer. The “he” turned out to be the woman’s husband, a Social Security recipient who was hospitalized in Texas. She handed me a letter her husband had written directing her to sign the checks and deposit them in their bank account.

Relying on what I learned in bills and notes class, I told her that an authorized signature wasn’t forgery. At the 2 p.m. hearing I moved to vacate the woman’s plea, offering her husband’s letter as evidence. The government acquiesced and the case was dismissed.

It was at that precise moment of dismissal that I realized being a lawyer was about helping people who needed help. And I felt that I had found my calling in life.

Jay Foonberg
Beverly Hills, Calif.


Photo by Thinkstock Images

I love being a lawyer because when I stand up before a jury and thank my clients for the privilege of representing them (and I usually feel pretty emotional whenever I say that, with chills) I realize I am being trusted to pre sent them, what they feel, what they believe. And I take that very seriously.

Anthony Minchella
Middlebury, Conn.


What I like about being a lawyer: being self-employed.

I feel so much more adult. No one writes me up if I get caught in traffic and walk in the door 15 seconds late in my own office. I don’t have to ask if I can change my lunch time. I get to sit by the window, and if I want vacation time I can just plan it without having to ask the boss.

Diane Stamler Oraif
Tuscaloosa, Ala.


Best job in the world: I get paid to read, write, think, talk and argue—all things I would do anyway.

Rick Ball
Chicago


I love being a lawyer because I can make a difference in someone’s life. I help people live debt-free. I’ve had clients tell me it’s changed their life for the better, that they can sleep at night and stop fighting with their spouse about money. How awesome is that?

Jeena Cho
San Francisco


Being a lawyer is the quintessential culmination of my previous work experience at shoveling horse manure, herding stubborn animals, sitting on my brains all day as an over-the-road truck driver, and putting together foolproof solutions as a software engineer—only to discover a new and improved fool. The fun part about being a lawyer is meeting other lawyers who have suffered even more than I have.

Why do I love being a lawyer? Because, once in a while, you get the opportunity to help someone who desperately needs your help. It feels good to be that person.

D.A. “Duke” Drouillard
Omaha, Neb.


I love the creativity involved with handling virtually every case or matter. Law is a thinking profession, not just a doing job.

Shell Bleiweiss
Chicago


When I was an assistant state’s attorney in Cook County and first assigned to handle felonies, I was given a dog of a case with stale evidence. The case involved a rape in a Chicago neighborhood known for prostitution. For various reasons the police had not worked up the case with the fervor of most serious criminal cases.

The victim claimed she had been raped by a taxicab driver who, after she got into his cab, drove into an alley, pulled up next to the wall and locked the doors— which had no inside handles. She claimed that he then slithered between bucket seats and, using a knife to threaten her, sexually assaulted her.

This rape in question occurred in the mid-1980s, and taxicabs with bucket seats were rare at the time. My trial partner and I investigated the case, and we found three men who witnessed the victim walking away naked from the alley wrapped only in a trash bag. She was bruised, crying and traumatized. We verified the taxi with bucket seats. At trial, we admitted into evidence a knife that was found at the scene of the defendant’s arrest.

As it turned out, one juror convinced the 11 others that my partner and I had not proven our case because we had failed to provide fingerprints on the knife.

Feeling defeated, my partner and I turned to the victim with our sincerest apologies. But she wasn’t upset. She hugged us both and thanked us profusely for believing in her and for fighting as hard as we had.

I knew then that I loved being a lawyer. I loved protecting people in a court of law. I loved the feeling of accomplishment I get from helping others fight—win or lose.

Patricia Brown Holmes
Chicago


Photo by Ferdinand Daniel

I get to think through problems every day for people I really like.

Lisa Babcock
East Lansing, Mich.


I love being a lawyer because it gives me the opportunity to use the law to make someone’s life better. To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” it affords me a chance to accommodate my contrarian nature by confronting those who think they understand my duty better than I. I could not ask for more.

Joseph J. Levin Jr.
Montgomery, Ala.


One thing I love about being a lawyer is beating up on bad guys. And I take the biblical injunction to “protect widows and orphans” seriously.

I’ve had several cases where elderly people were duped into signing over deeds to their houses to relatives. One involved a recent widower who was blind. A relative took the man to the bank on the pretense of helping him get his bank accounts in order after his wife’s death.

A couple of weeks later the widower’s step-granddaughter came by his house and asked, “Pops, why’s there a ‘for sale’ sign on your front lawn?”

Because the gentleman was blind, he was unaware of the for-sale sign. But the man soon learned that his relative had tricked him into signing a quitclaim deed for the property. The relative promptly recorded the deed and then contracted with a real estate agent to sell the house without the client knowing.

I filed suit, served the step-grandson and was able to strong-arm him into signing the deed back to the grandparent. There’s nothing like being served a complaint and being told you have 20 days to file a response. What can they say? “I tricked Grandpa into giving his house to me, and I should be able to keep it because I’m so smart and my grandfather trusted me?”

Ronald Jones
Summerfield, Fla.


America is a society based on law and justice. I love the fact that I have a role in making this ideal a reality, however small.

Richard Granat
Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


I love that the law never sleeps and doesn’t require that all be done 9 to 5.

I could spend the morning as an attorney guardian ad litem representing kids who were in foster care, the afternoon as a mom with my kids and then the evening into the wee hours of the morning tackling esoteric legal issues arising from complex commercial litigation.

Jennifer Schrack Dempsey
Boise, Idaho


What I love the most about being a lawyer is freedom. In 35 years, I have had three different careers in law, and even within those careers, I have been free to pursue my own professional desires.

Lee Nation
Prescott, Ariz.


My first job was doing collections, and I took to it like a duck takes to water. If someone doesn’t have the money to pay their debt in full, I work hard to resolve the situation to everyone’s satisfaction. If someone does have the money and is trying to hide it, it’s the art of getting the money and being creative that makes this job fun. I enjoy the fine art of garnishment, and I don’t mean food preparation.

Robert Markoff
Chicago


I knew I was extremely glad I was a lawyer on Dec. 10, 2009. That day the Inter-American Court of Human Rights sanctioned the nation of Mexico for the torture and killing of women in Ciudad Juárez in what has become known as the “cotton field case.” It was the first time that the Mexican government was held accountable for not offering guarantees to protect the lives and physical well-being of these women. The court’s decision was groundbreaking because its context was based on gender violence. I filed a brief pro bono on behalf of Amnesty International and more than 50 other human rights organizations. The court referred to my amicus brief in its decision. The decision turned out to be one of the most important international women’s rights decisions in decades. The case also reinforced the importance of the rule of law and of standing up for what is right, just, fair and humane, even if you are not sure whether what you are doing will actually result in any change at all. I remember thinking that I could retire after this decision and still have had a completely satisfying legal career.

Mary-Christine Sungaila
Costa Mesa, Calif.


I was a practicing civil attorney for 57 years. I loved my profession because it gave me an opportunity to be of service. I always asked myself one question:What can I do to help the client? What advice can I provide that will be of some benefit? If you provide real and meaningful legal services, you will be properly compensated. I enjoyed every day and pursued my work with passion.

Dempsey Prappas
Houston


When I opened my first-year property law casebook and read the first case, I knew right then that I had made the right decision to become a lawyer. I still have that same feeling of excitement whenever I sit down to read a brief or an opinion of the Supreme Court. I just find the intellectual side of the law deeply satisfying. Add to that a chance to help clients solve very difficult problems and to argue before the Supreme Court on a regular basis, and I often have to pinch myself to convince me it is real.

Carter Phillips
Washington, D.C.


What I love most about being a lawyer is that it never has to be boring. As a lawyer, you always have the opportunity to redesign your practice to accomplish different goals. In 30 years of practice I have seen the way in which law is practiced change radically and rapidly. I hope it keeps on changing.

Howard Finkelstein
Brooklyn, N.Y.


Sidebar

New ABA Journal Section Debuts in March

Your ABA Journal, at the request of ABA leadership, is undertaking an initiative to recognize and highlight the service of lawyers who volunteer for the benefit of their communities. Every day, lawyers contribute their time, energy and expertise to help individuals and nonprofit organizations.

Our goal is to showcase this dedicated service that often gets little attention, and we’re asking for your assistance.

We invite you to send photographs of lawyers you know who contribute volunteer service to others. If selected, your photograph(s) will be featured in the ABA Journal’s monthly segment, “Lawyers Giving Back.” Photos should include your name and those of the lawyer(s) involved, a short description of the service or project, and where it takes place. We particularly ask that photos showcase lawyers in action volunteering on service-oriented projects.

Our new feature on volunteers will debut in the March 2011 edition of the ABA Journal. Please e-mail your photos and descriptions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Volunteering is an essential part of American culture. It plays a significant role in who we are as a nation, and defines who we are as lawyers. We look forward to hearing from you!


Sample Law School Application Essay - Before

For as long as I can remember, I've never been complacent with the knowledge I possess. Constantly setting new goals that will stretch my mind into something that it was not the day before and allowing every experience to shape me, while never loosing a handle on my own personal convictions and what I have learned along the way, has always been a way of life for me. For me, pursuing a legal education is not a terminal accomplishment, nor will obtaining a legal degree quench this ongoing thirst for knowledge that I have always had; I don't want it to. I constantly need to be in pursuit of challenging goals that that require considerable mind expansion and personal reflection. The experiences and knowledge that I will acquire in attending law school will stretch my mind to think in ways that I never have, allowing me to face future intellectual, professional, and academic goals with confidence and enthusiasm.

Mid way through my senior year, the University of Arizona choose me to be their undergraduate representative at the "Arizona First" town hall meeting, a three day, bipartisan conference focus on shaping legislation that will bring economic growth and prosperity to AZ. During this three day conference I worked closely with Arizona state representatives and senators, the majority of whom where lawyers, in proposing new legislation with the potential of bringing new job opportunities, more commerce, and an overall better standard of living to the state. It was one of the first time in my life when textbooks no longer mattered, and the weight of reality stared face to face with idealism and hope for a better tomorrow. As the conference progressed, I began to notice the group who's knowledge seemed to fair the stormy debates and arguments the best where the lawyers, but not because of superior information or inside knowledge. As each new issue emerged, the lawyers just seemed to have an inherent way of balancing the weight of difficult situations, interactions, and dilemmas in ways others could not. The experiences I took away from the conference provided me with a new way of looking at problems: placing more emphasis on the approach one uses in handling conflicts that involve personal interaction. As I interacted and spoke with more lawyers, I began to reflect on my own situation and life goals, and more importantly the best means to obtain them. It was at this point in time that the desire to embark on a legal career started to take shape.

In my last year of college I realized the true rewards of challenging myself academically, and intellectually. I could have graduated in four and a half years with a concentration in finance and called it quits, but I didn't. I stayed the extra semester to obtain my second concentration in accounting; a decision I will never regret. The abstract nature of finance and seemingly concrete precepts of accounting have provided me with a wealth of knowledge and tools for looking at situations from many angles and the ability to bridge the mental gaps between these two ways of thinking. Distinguishing myself in both programs also provided me with the opportunity to become a professor's assistant. Becoming a PA introduced me to the extremely rewarding challenge of teaching students who were in need of special assistance, and it allowed me to exercise my newly acquired personal interaction skill I had learned from the conference. The sense of fulfillment I recieve from seeing the bulb light up in someone's head and the joy it brings to them upon understanding a previously foreign concept is priceless. I hope to use this form of the abilities I acquired through this teaching program through my roles as council in my legal career. My experiences as a PA also instilled in me the desire to return to academia after my professional goals have been reached, and having a legal degree will make that vision possible.

Joining a fraternity in college was another rewarding adventure that challenged me in ways I never thought it could. In my third year of college I was elected the president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, assuming the full responsibility of the chapter as the youngest president in our chapters history. Running meetings, representing the fraternity on the university level, and being the fraternity's spokesman in the community helped me refine my leadership, organizational, and speaking skills. Under my guidance as president, our fraternity went from 7th place out of 8 fraternities scholastically, to 2nd in my last semester, and 1st in the following semester. Upon fulfilling my vision of having a chapter free of any financial and scholastic probations, I was recognized with the "Order of the Phoenix," the highest national award that can be give to a brother from exemplary leadership and zeal.

Leaving academia and entering into the professional world has been full of challenges. In my short time at Pricewaterhouse, I have been given tremendous personal responsibilities and chances to excel personally and as part of a team. Due to the knowledge that I gained in my summer internship with the firm, on my first engagement at Matrix Financial Services, I was given senior responsibilities to perform an audit and supervise the work of my assistants, a responsibility typically reserved for those accountants who have been with the firm for two or more years. Learning the skills necessary to plan and perform an audit has given me tremendous experience in researching difficult issues and practicing critical thinking on a professional level.

Despite the professionally rewarding responsibilities and chances for achievement that Pricewaterhouse has offered me, staying in an accounting firm in the capacity in which I serve will not allow me to reach my full potential intellectually, academically, or professionally. Public accounting is a noble profession, and obtaining my CPA certification this year will provide me with invaluable skills when dealing with business clients. But by nature of the profession, I find myself in an adversarial role with the clients I am engaged with. Serving the adversarial role is in constant conflict with my advocate personality. Leaving public accounting to obtain a legal degree will be a challenging, yet exciting switch to a profession more consistent with my personality traits: loyalty, fidelity, and personal servitude.

The decision to pursue a legal education has come after long personal deliberation. But every personal reflection points me in the direction of law school. The chance to challenge myself and realize my full potential is the ultimate goal in attending law school. Having the experiences and the opened mindset that law school will provide with me, I can set even higher academic, professional, and intellectual goals and pursue them with steadfast determination, perseverance, excitement and self-assurance like never before.

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