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April 4, 2014

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Friday 5: Things I’ve Learned About Lawyers as Bar News/NWLawyer Editor

by WSBA
iStock_000012689719Medium8365
Looks like all those lawyer jokes got it wrong.

iStock_000012689719Medium300I’ve dealt with many lawyers in my two-decades-plus practicing law. For the past six years, I also have served as editor of Bar News/NWLawyer, the official WSBA publication that goes out to the bar’s membership. In that capacity, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with hundreds of bar members, most of whom I wouldn’t have known otherwise. This includes WSBA leadership and staff, members of WSBA committees and other law-related organizations, law professors, and lawyers practicing in every imaginable legal and geographic area. This experience has expanded my view of the people who practice our profession, beyond what I would have enjoyed by practicing law alone.

Following are five impressions that have had the most impact on me in working with my fellow lawyers in this role.

1. Most lawyers are not arrogant jackasses. Even before I became one, I did not subscribe to the notion that lawyers are generally despicable human beings. I was a journalist who covered legal cases, and in watching lawyers work and meeting several personally, I found them to be overwhelmingly honest, hard-working, and reasonable. Then and now, I could name some notable exceptions, of course. And when I later became a litigator, I encountered a number peers who had the ability to enrage me. But overall, I am proud to have lawyers as my professional colleagues and friends.

2. Not all lawyers make a lot of money. For the most part, the legal profession isn’t the money-grubbing, dog-eat-dog business it’s portrayed to be in the media. Of course, there’s an element of that in the corridors of Big Law, as well as in some grassroots practice. But a significant proportion of lawyers work in government, nonprofit, and community organizations, and solo/small firms that practice in areas of law that are not inherently lucrative. And with the revolutionary changes under way in the profession, the trend toward more modest compensation may continue. But I have been struck by the realization that most lawyers are not obsessed with how much they make or don’t make, and there is less keeping-up-with-the-Joneses materialism than many non-lawyers probably assume.

3. Nearly all lawyers are glad to help. In all the times I’ve asked a bar member to write an article, edit a manuscript they have submitted, or help with some type of project, I cannot remember anyone refusing or throwing a fit. Whenever I turn down an article or ask a writer to substantially revise their work, I expect a backlash, but I can remember only one time that someone complained at all. Despite our reputation as egomaniacs, I have been amazed at the lack of self-centeredness displayed by those with whom I have worked. I’ve also learned of the astounding amount of pro bono work performed by our members, who expect nothing in return other than the satisfaction of having helped someone out.

4. Most lawyers are commendably ethical and diligent. I am a natural perfectionist, but even I have been impressed with the lengths to which our authors go to ensure that the content they submit is accurate and fair-minded. When they discover a mistake, they admit it without shame and volunteer to do whatever is necessary to correct the error. This is especially remarkable, given that our contributors work for free and have plenty of other responsibilities besides writing for us.

5. Most lawyers are good, if not excellent, writers. Considering the amount and nature of the education required to be a lawyer, it stands to reason that lawyers would be good at writing. Then again, I’ve edited work by well-educated members of other professions and been disappointed at the lack of writing skill. The vast majority of text I receive from lawyers is well-thought-out and clearly written. The improvements I most often suggest or apply myself have to do with writing in “news” style — e.g., summarizing the major points of the article in the first paragraph — and using reader-friendly techniques such as illustrative anecdotes and vivid language. That style isn’t usually emphasized in law school, but most lawyers are able to adopt it once I suggest it to them.

I encourage you to broaden your own professional experience by submitting an article or idea to us at NWLawyer, as well as right here at NWSidebar.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Apr 4 2014

    6. Ultimately, many lawyers would rather be doing something else.

    As a kid I watched my Dad’s peers open restaurants, pizza places, teach, write novels etc. One guy I worked for in Spokane as a young lawyer had a string of beauty parlors, his partner a Llama ranch.

    Today two of my peers, James Shipman and Rebecca Wallick are published authors. While these people are great lawyers, I sometimes get the feeling we do this because it pays the bills, and every now and then we do some good, but ultimately, many lawyers would rather be doing something else.

    Like writing.

    Reply
  2. Michael Heatherly
    Apr 4 2014

    Yes, I’d say a good 50 percent of lawyers are secretly (or not so secretly) dreaming about writing the great American novel.

    Reply

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