All of us are trained for something. We make cappuccinos or hold human hearts in our hands or fix leaky pipes. Well, I happen to be a lawyer.
Having this profession means I’m trained to look at words with a certain critical eye, wondering how sentences back clients into corners, or create paper giants that will take off their straw hats someday when no one expects, when executives have new jobs and children are peacefully sleeping in their beds and the moon is fading next to the morning sun. It’s then when the aggrieved will roar.
I once got a call on a Tuesday afternoon from a heart surgeon with kind wrinkles and silver hair who liked to volunteer at the local community clinic and had a pretty young wife. His voice cracked and his breathing was quick, and I knew. I knew that this highly-educated man, who could remain calm under any form of pressure, was breaking. A life could be on the line and squiggly lines could flatten but this man who would take deep cleansing breaths and call a code and draw from deep immeasurable pools of training and experience was trapped in a world he didn’t understand.
He’d been sued.
And the moment his name was scrawled on bloody paper, the middle initial pierced between the first and last in print before him, the color ran from his face and all he saw was his life’s work twirling like a tornado, flocks of patients running from his office and the medical board digging into his charts like a dog after a meaty bone. A house in the mountains and a Range Rover and kids at Stanford all faded, and all he saw was this. He dialed my number with shaky fingers and said he didn’t understand. He treated the patient’s family for a decade. He was scared to death and swirling. But now? I called my own form of code and took a deep cleansing breath, working to save a different form of life.
I’ve spent a dozen years living this profession. I can’t say I’m the best attorney that’s ever practiced, but I’m not afraid of analyzing a non-compete or looking up an issue I’ve never encountered or going head-to-head with some dude in a suit with an ego problem. I’ve got this. I know this. I’ve grown into these pants. And I realize it’s a mix of talent and determination and a good measure of grit, thankful for the good fortune of having parents who put education a priority and being born in a first-world nation. But mostly I’m just thankful I’ve been given this calling, and this ability to think differently, to help those who need it most. I want to look into this man’s face and hold his hand and tell him that no one has the ability to rip his heritage away. I’ve got this, I tell him. And I mean it.
There are times I want squeeze out of these pants I’ve worn so long. Do something different. Shed the lawyer image. But even if I change into flannel pajamas and surround myself with play dates and grocery store runs, the call of law never really leaves. Because once you know something – when you live it and study it and peel back the onion layers to smell it and cry it and feel it inside – it never goes away. Lawsuits that haven’t occurred yet in the far distant future plague my mind, wedged between actions and limitations, and arguments shuffle in priority order while I’m driving or eating toast or mopping a kitchen floor. My mind’s a domino game of what-ifs and probabilities and percentages of risk, drawing circles around bombs that might never detonate. Protect and secure and make safe. That’s what policeman do and what mothers do and what lawyers do as well, although we get to wear more expensive uniforms and have sexier shoes.
I like to call myself a writer, but much as I want to hide from it, I’m also a lawyer. Because I have spent too many hot showers trying to develop counter arguments that will not fail. I can solve problems others cannot, and respond in the language lawyers understand, and I have the ability to stand in the face of an adversary and say with full confidence that “I do not fear you.” That is power, and something a man who has fixed a hundred leaky hearts cannot do.
So I suppose I’ll always wear these pants, stitched with secret knives to shred all those paper dragons, who may never appear and just might turn out to be crumpled up tissue and sticks. But every once in a while one will emerge large and ominous, and it’s in that moment I realize I’m in my element, and I was born for this, and I’ll never escape. Because I don’t just wear the pants of a lawyer any more. The fabric has soaked into my skin and my own body has absorbed it up, so now it’s just a part of me, walking.