Vol 11, Issue 8
I’m writing this to my future self, and the message is simple: remember why you’re doing this.
You’re doing this because you want to wear your underpants on the outside.
That’s what your philosophy prof said with a sardonic smile, as pint in hand you were spilling your guts about your future.
He nailed it. If you were in this for pleasure, you’d have stayed working with computers up North. Half the money, but one quarter the hours and one tenth the stress. You’re doing this because you want to be a hero.
And you’re going to have to hold onto that, because things are about to get hard.
Right now, clerkships, jobs, any kind of work experience – it all seems impossible. That’s okay, you’ll get through that with courage and perseverance. It’ll seem like it was a doddle on the other side. After that it gets tougher: an office run by severe women and alpha men with no time for failures. There’ll be long hours and the struggle to keep energy enough for Melissa and the kids. You know you have what it takes; the danger is who you’ll be tempted to become. You’re not an alpha man with no time for failures. You’ve always had time for failures, that’s why you’re doing this, remember.
But after the baptism of fire, once the long first few years of becoming a lawyer with some value are done, that’s where the real temptation begins, and you know what it looks like: the big house in the expensive suburb; the VW bus and Tesla Model S in the driveway; kids at Scotch; photos of European holidays filling your Facebook wall and all your school chums seeing that you’re a rich lawyer and you’re a big man and you made it. In a word, success.
Also, debt, mountains of it. And 60 hour weeks. And soulless corporate work. And your kids growing up mostly without you.
So, remember why you’re doing this. And remember the lawyers you’ve seen who’ve really made it.
No, not the Senior partners. The ones who really made it.
The lawyer who was only pulling $90k working for herself – remember the fire in her eyes when she took on yet another pro bono because some poor soul had been truly screwed at work.
The semi-retired lawyer who still worked to bring conciliation rather than acrimony in his clients’ divorces because it genuinely wasn’t about the money.
The lawyer who worked three days making big bucks doing corporate so he could work two days helping abuse victims seek justice without having to charge them.
Remember them, because each time you met them you knew that this is who you wanted to become. You wanted to look into the eyes of the mistreated employee or the abuse survivor and say, ‘what happened to you was wrong, it was unlawful, and they’re not going to get away with it.’ You wanted to look into the eyes of the divorcee in anguish or the bewildered accused in the cell and say, ‘it’s okay, I can help, you’re going to make it through this.’
The saying goes: ‘always be yourself, unless you can be Batman, in which case be Batman.’ You’ve chosen a life where sometimes you get to be Batman. After all the workaday office crap and money work that making a living demands, there will be times when you get to kick some arse and do some justice. Forget being Bruce Wayne. Be Batman. You’re in this to wear your underpants on the outside.
Ben Wilson is a third-year JD student
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