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The practice of law is hard, except when it isn’t

“The practice of law is hard.” These were the parting words my law professor gave to my class during our last lecture in law school.

The remarks evoked a collective eye roll from the class. Her statement seemed self-evident. We’d just trudged through three grueling years of law school – enduring sleepless nights, overbearing law professors, and anxiety-inducing final exams – all to prepare us for what we fully expected to be a difficult and challenging profession.

My professor’s final remarks didn’t initially seem to add a whole lot to those expectations.

However, when a student pressed her on the statement, she explained, “No one likes calling their lawyer, especially when it’s going to cost them hundreds of dollars an hour.” She continued, “Lawyers only get the call once all other avenues have been exhausted; when no one else can find the answer or solution to the problem. There are no professors to ask questions, or past exams to consult. Once the problem makes its way up the ladder to your desk, there’s no one left to pass the buck to.”

Put simply, lawyers are tasked with solving their client’s toughest problems, and are generally expected to do so as quickly and efficiently as possible. The explanation seemed to have a sobering effect on the class.

Those not so distant sentiments are echoing in my mind, as I’m currently in the midst of a particularly stressful few months in my own practice.

I’m representing several clients in large, complicated, and highly contentious transactions. My days are consumed in fierce negotiations with sophisticated opposing counsel, followed by multi-hour client strategy and drafting sessions lasting well into the night. The meetings are typically tense, as the stakes are high and the slightest misstep could lead to catastrophic repercussions.

It’s during times like these I think about my professor’s parting words. If I run into her again, though, I think I’ll (respectfully) offer a minor modification to her phrase: “The practice of law is hard and, at times, it can be downright brutal.”

Of course, the rigors of practicing law are part of why I love what I do. I am lucky to have a job that’s meaningful and intellectually stimulating. That said, it sure might be nice to get an “easy” case every once and awhile.

I’m not a criminal attorney, but am nevertheless jealous of just such an “easy” case that recently landed upon the desk of an assistant district attorney in Santa Clara, California. The Bay Area news station KRON4 reported that a couple of thieves were arrested for stealing hundreds of rectangular plastic devices from a Silicon Valley start-up tech company.

It just so happens those devices – which apparently could have been mistaken for cell phone batteries – were actually GPS devices. The loot was a bag of cutting-edge location technology equipment that the company was set to introduce into the market.

Once the tech firm realized the devices had been swiped, it took the simple step of activating the GPS tracking system. The loot led the police directly to the criminals’ hideout. Lo and behold, the storage locker where the devices were being hidden contained drugs and other stolen property, including a photo album containing irreplaceable photos from World War II.

I presume the criminal complaint will take mere minutes for the prosecutor to draft, finalize and file. But, in case the prosecutors’ office needed any additional evidence to bolster its case, one of the bumbling burglars cut himself during the heist while grabbing a beer out of the company’s refrigerator. He left fingerprint and blood evidence everywhere.

In my first few years of practice, not unlike the rest of us, I have become accustomed to handling difficult cases. For the most part, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them.

The theory, of course, is they have helped me grow and develop my skills. Which reminds me of a famous quote by the Swiss moral philosopher and poet, Henri-Frederic Amiel: “Conquering any difficulty always gives one a secret joy, for it means pushing back a boundary-line and adding to one’s liberty.”

That being said, if anyone out there has an easy case like the one just handed to the Santa Clara prosecutor, my door is always open.

Patrick Berry

Patrick Berry

© 2017 Under Analysis, LLC. Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Patrick Berry practices primarily in the area of business law at Boardman & Clark. Contact Under Analysis by e-mail at comments@levisongroup.com.

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