The Legal Beat
Becoming An Attorney Affects How People Treat You
Posted on Wednesday November 14, 2018
Being a lawyer affects many parts of one’s life. Indeed, having a legal education can influence how you think about policy decisions, especially when those positions are related to the legal arena. In addition, being a lawyer obviously affects the types of jobs you work, the kinds of people you interact with, and a number of other aspects of your life. Of course, you probably fully understood how your life would change in these ways when you decided to attend law school.
However, from my own personal experiences, being a lawyer can also affect the way people treat you. Naturally, there is a general awareness of the fact that many people do not like lawyers, and individuals entering the legal profession probably know that they may face some animosity. However, there are certain tangible changes that I experienced in my interactions with others after I became a lawyer that I did not expect when I decided to enter the legal profession.
The first change in my personal interactions that I noticed was that people were way more CYA (“cover your ass”) around me after I became a lawyer than they were before I was an attorney. Individuals are much more likely to hedge their statements when they talk to me now, which can make it kind of hard to decide upon positions in some cases. For instance, after discovering I was a lawyer, my real estate agent began hedging anything she’d say to me with “to the best of my knowledge” or a similar statement. This made some decisions more difficult for me, since I could never get a firm answer about anything.
Doctors also became a lot more CYA around me after they discovered that I was a lawyer. I don’t blame doctors for being cautious around patients, since many physicians have to deal with malpractice suits. However, I have noticed that doctors are much more likely to recommend additional testing and follow-up visits after they realize I am attorney. Maybe I’m just getting older, or maybe I’m being paranoid, but I think the CYA attitude of some professionals in my life has led me to receive different treatment than a non-lawyer would.
Another way that people treat you differently after you become a lawyer is that individuals will automatically assume that as an attorney, you are wealthy. This belief particularly infuriated me, since I paid for my college and law school expenses all by myself, and I was repaying a boatload of student debt for most of my legal career. In addition, for much of my student debt repayment saga, I was making the salary of an insurance defense lawyer working for a smallish firm. The amount of money I earned, and the amount of cash I was able to save, would have never qualified me as wealthy by any stretch of the imagination.
Nevertheless, people just assumed that I made insane sums of money, likely because fictitious attorneys on TV and in the movies seem like they are well-off (although, shows like Better Call Saul help set the record straight!). Any time I tried to be frugal, I was called cheap by people around me, and it seemed that few people truly understood the financial picture of most lawyers. Unless you are in the small fraction of lawyers who work in Biglaw, or otherwise make the big bucks, becoming an attorney will definitely lead others to make distorted judgments about your finances.
Another way that becoming a lawyer impacts how other people treat you is that many people who interact with you will ask for free legal advice. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing! Interacting with people asking for legal advice could lead lawyers to sign new clients, and I am usually more than happy to offer my opinion on a legal issue that a friend or relative is facing.
However, many people do not understand that lawyers typically specialize in a few areas of the law and do not know much about a variety of legal issues. Individuals usually just assume that when people go to law school and study for the bar exam, they learn vast sums of information about all kinds of legal topics. For this reason, I am usually asked questions related to criminal law, family law, bankruptcies, and areas of the law that I do not know much about.
Of course, attorneys usually hone their expertise in a few areas of the law, and it can be difficult to tell people about the limitations of your legal knowledge. This can create tension with people, since individuals might think you are are trying to duck them or are a bad lawyer because you do not know the intricacies of someone’s legal issue. This lack of understanding can also impact the way people treat you once you become a lawyer.
In the end, everyone probably understands how becoming a lawyer can change someone’s life. Indeed, joining the legal profession impacts the types of work people pursue and a number of other predictable aspects of a lawyer’s life. However, becoming a lawyer can also impact the way people treat you, and affects parts of your life that you might not have considered when deciding to become an attorney.
Jordan Rothman is the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a personal finance website discussing how he paid off all $197,890.20 of his college and law school student loans over 46 months of his late 20s. You can reach him at [email protected].