I have always hated lawyers’ jokes.
I have been the butt of lawyer jokes since the day I began law school. Some smartass has always found it funny to tell me a joke about lawyers that diminishes the profession and assumes all lawyers are crooks, heartless, or just plain corrupt and soul-less. To my astonishment, the people who tell me these jokes always feel insulted when I don’t laugh at their cruel jokes and just give them a blank stare in response. They usually just say something that sounds like: “Lighten up!” or “I don’t mean YOU” or “Oh come on, it is funny.”
To me these jokes have never been funny; they are insulting and I will never like them because if you are a good lawyer, then you are firm and seem dispassionate because you cannot and do not let your feelings come in the way while arguing or defending cases that could cost many people their jobs. Being emotional sometimes makes us lose sight of the key issues that can help win cases for the very people who make jokes about lawyers.
One of the worst comparisons I’ve ever heard about lawyers is that we are like dogs, mostly trained dogs. While I despise the comparison, it does give me a perfect example to make a point about lawyers’ jokes and the fact that people perceive us as cruel or compassionless. What is the main difference between a pet and a trained dog? Well, the pet dog is a companion and the trained dog -while also being a companion- knows and has been trained to defend the owner (or the owner’s properties). They are both dogs, cute furry animals who like to play and be loved, one would bark at the presence of an intruder or any sign of danger to the master, the other would stand up for his master and defend him. Both dogs are decent creatures; both with the same instinct, one trained to defend, that is all. If you had an intruder at night in your house, who would you rather have, the cute little Pug or the trained Rottweiler? The trained dog looks better, right?
So, having the training that lets a person hold his nerves, put his feelings aside and think of the better position for his client is not so terrible. We do not use these lawyer skills in all aspects of our life, just when we defend our clients, so why do we have to put up with the insulting jokes? And why, why do we have to be branded as compassionless human beings? And worse, can “compassionless” human beings ever teach their children to be compassionate? This thought haunted me ever since I got pregnant.
When I was pregnant with my first child I wondered if I could ever teach her to be a good person. I guess all parents wonder the same thing at some point. Can I raise a good person – someone who cares enough about other people to take care of them when they are feeling down? Because, let’s be honest, providing for a child to grow healthy and educated is hard enough; but raising a decent, caring human being is another level of work altogether.
I am sure that many people who we now consider as jerks grew up healthy, had good education and (some) even have proper manners, but they somehow missed that part of being a good and decent human being. I always wondered, being a lawyer, if I could teach my daughter to be compassionate and care for other people’s lives and feelings. I wondered whether having a mom in the legal profession would have a profound (negative) impact on her. If looking up to a mom who has to remove compassion from her everyday life in order to survive among the corporate sharks, would prevent my child from seeing the compassion that was within me. While my husband reassured me time and time again that my girl would be a good person, the fear still lingered in the back of my mind.
As my daughter grew older and I went back to the law firm, the fear dissipated and I saw a gentle happy child growing up, that is until I was pulled in to the deal from hell. The deal from hell took about 7 months and sucked dry all the passion I had for my profession. Everything seemed to take a turn for the worse every single week and I started working crazy hours, running from the office to our home at late hours of the evening just to kiss my little girl good night and put her to bed and then immediately fire up my laptop at home or drive back to the office; and all this while trying to keep myself healthy because I was pregnant with my second girl. Even some of the people involved with the deal were terrible, I had never dealt with people as crude and as vicious as some of them. I felt the hours drag every day; exhaustion set in and I would stare at the calendar wishing the closing date would arrive soon.
I missed my daughter terribly and cursed under my breath every time the meeting would stretch longer than scheduled. I felt they were robbing me of my precious time with her; time that would never come back. Nevertheless, I soldiered on as the lawyer in me blocked the emotions and tiredness and I threw myself with all the energy I could gather into the piles of documents, meetings and conference calls with my best poker face. I used all the training I knew and shot down any kindness in me in order to get the deal closed. At home I tried to turn the lawyer off, but it was hard. If I let the guard down, all the stress and craziness at the office would come tumbling down and I would break, and I just could not afford to break…or could I? In the meantime, the feeling that I was teaching my child to be a cold, calculating human being crept up from the back of my mind and kept me awake. I tried my best to be nice at home, but the stress and pressure of the deal would always make my plan to relax and just be myself and her mom at home, backfire. I grew cold and would not enjoy her little progress and baby antics fully, I was always preoccupied and I hated myself for missing her play time.
The answer came in the manner of a crashing server on the due date of my part of the deal. I woke up the morning of the due date feeling like I was going to leave prison. I even took time and didn’t rush out from home that morning. When I arrived to the office I put in the last touches to my document and was getting ready to send it. While trying to attach the documents, the server of the firm crashed hard! I did not panic at first, since I had seen the server crash and come back to life within a few minutes. I thought maybe this would give me some time to review the documents one last time and send them calmly. And then time started passing. First it was an hour, then two, then the IT guy told me it could take all morning…still no panic, I had until 6 p.m. to send the document. At 6 it was clear that the server was beyond repair and I was without access to the documents. The IT guy gave me a pained look and told me it would not be possible to retrieve the documents until the next morning. I thanked him and left his office, I felt my cheeks hot and the tears pooling in my eyes, I felt defeated, even when I had nothing to do with the crashing of the server. I swallowed hard and call the client to let them know that I could not deliver. In all honesty, the client was more than understanding and reassured me that it was all good and next morning was just fine. Still the feeling of defeat, the anger at failure made me pick up my stuff and head home.
I held the tears on the ride back home and promised myself I would not shed a tear for something so insignificant. But here’s the thing, it was significant. I had invested so many hours, sacrificed the time with my daughter, husband, family, friends to get it done in time. All the time in front of the computer and all the effort gone to hell due to a technical failure that had nothing to do with me. The frustration, exhaustion and bottled up feelings started running amok inside me. Even my unborn baby began to move furiously as I reached the door to our apartment. I sat in the couch and let all the tears out, my daughter was already asleep (or so I thought) and my husband had not arrived yet.
I was crying when I heard my girl’s voice: “Mommy you are good?”
I looked up and found myself in front of the little bright-eyed face with a mess of curls looking at me. “Yes honey, Mommy is good”
“I’m ok,” I replied.
“Did you hit you?”
“Something like it sweetie, don’t worry”
“Tell me where, and I kiss your boo boo.”
That was it – that tender loving kiss of caring. With that simple gesture a wave of relief washed over me. I hugged her with all my love and let her give me kiss on my finger where she had decided my boo boo was located.
I carried her back to bed, tucked her in and read her stories until she was fast asleep.
As I left her room, I realized my fears about my child had been completely unfounded. My child was a compassionate and decent human being. She understood that everyone, even those who we think will never break, sometimes need someone to kiss their boo-boos away.