My work is important to me – probably too important but that’s a problem for later. I could not survive this version of my life if I did not believe deeply in what I do. The hours are too long, and the emotional investment is too great. But that’s a choice. I think it’s critical for young lawyers to understand that you have to make active choices. You’re not a passenger in your own life.
I fully acknowledge that, particularly coming out of law school, there can be less of an ability to choose. There are loans to pay, and your career has to start somewhere. However, if you’re not interested in or proud of the work you’re performing in that role, you should immediately be thinking about your exit strategy. That should include doing the best job you can in your current position to increase your experience and marketability. It should also include financially planning to give yourself options.
Even when you’re in the job you want, you may find yourself in representations that are unpopular or don’t sit well with your own personal value system. Ideally, you can pass on such a representation all together. No client is well served by an attorney just going through the motions. Circumstances are not always ideal, however.
If you feel compelled to provide a representation you’re not thrilled about, find the strongest connection you can to the case. For example, maybe your criminal case is really more about government overreach than the serious crime your client is accused of committing. Maybe there’s an employee of the company you’re representing who you can personally relate to and could be impacted by the litigation. Perhaps there’s a matter of legal importance which could impact others, even if you aren’t particularly fond of your own client. One way or the other, you should find some reason to care that’s hopefully not just your own ego.
While I recognize that attorneys may need to take cases they would prefer not to take, I don’t think that absolves attorneys of all moral responsibility for any representation. In every single case we take, we make a choice to provide that representation. Some of us may be in a position to be choosier, but it’s still a choice. If we choose to put our time, efforts, and talents into any representation, we need to own it and find a good reason to do so.