I recently read the book Sycamore Row by John Grisham. It is the sequel to his famous book A Time To Kill (which was also made famous by the movie of the same name, with the lead character, Jake Brigance, being played by Matthew McConaughey). It was a good book, and I identified with many of the thoughts, struggles, and battles Jake Brigance encounters in both novels. One excerpt written in Sycamore Rowe particularly stood out to me. To help put it in context, Jake Brigance is in the middle of a big trial, and is asked by his wife, Carla, why in the world does he want to be a trial lawyer, given all of the stress and pressure involved with the job. The conversation between the two is summarized below:
- Carla: "Can I ask you something? Here you are in the middle of another big trial. You haven't slept four hours in the past week, and when you are asleep you fidget and have nightmares. You're not eating well. You're losing weight. You're preoccupied, off in la-la land half the time. You're stressed out, jumpy, test, sometimes even nauseous. You wake up every morning with a knot in your stomach."
- Jake: "The question?"
- Carla: "Why in the world do you want to be a trial lawyer?"
- Jake: "This might not be the best time to ask that question."
- Carla: "No, it's the perfect time. How many jury trials have you had in the last ten years?"
- Jake: "Thirty-one."
- Carla: "And you've lose sleep and weight during each one, right?"
- Jake: "I don't think so. Most are not quite so significant, Carla. This is exceptional."
- Carla: "My point is that trial work is so stressful. Why do you want to do it?"
- Jake: "Because I love it. It's what being a lawyer is all about. Being in the courtroom, in front of a jury, is like being in the arena, or on the field. The competition is fierce. The stakes are high. The gamesmanship is intense. There will be a winner and a loser. There is a rush of adrenaline each time the jury is led in and seated."
- Carla: "A lot of ego."
- Jake: "A ton. You'll never meet a successful trial lawyer without an ego. It's a requirement. You gotta have the ego to want the work."
- Carla: "You should do well, then."
- Jake: "Okay, I admit I have the ego, but it might get crushed this week. It might need soothing."
This discourse, from all the legal novels I have read, struck particularly close to home with me. Why? Because I felt like I was reading my own thoughts, instead of those written simply by an author of a fictional book. I often ask myself the same question, why do I want to be a trial lawyer? Why didn't I choose to be a contractual lawyer? A transactional lawyer? A real estate lawyer? Why didn't I choose to do something else as a profession altogether? Something in business? Sales? Teaching? Flipping hamburgers?
When I am trial, I experience an extremely high level of anxiety. I lose sleep, I have to force food down because my appetite is minimal, my stomach being tied up in knots up into a little ball of stress. I can focus on little else going on in my life. Sometimes I wonder, why would anyone put themselves through such rigorous tension? The answer you would think is complex, but it's actually relatively simple. Despite all of the drawbacks, Jack Brigance outlined perfectly the instinct that is embedded in every trial lawyer who never even considers engaging in any other profession in life. The answer is simple, yet strictly defined...it is because you have to love it, as stated perfectly by the remarks made to his wife. There are very few professions in the world where you can actually make a living while having the privilege to compete on such an intense level. Every other job I have ever done has been rote, mundane, and boring. A trial lawyer would never characterize their work as any of those adjectives.
"Because I love it. It's what being a lawyer is all about. Being in the courtroom, in front of a jury, is like being in the arena, or on the field. The competition is fierce. The stakes are high. The gamesmanship is intense. There will be a winner and a loser. There is a rush of adrenaline each time the jury is led in and seated."