Do you ever lie about your profession? Seriously. When someone asks what you do for a living, do you always say “I’m a lawyer”?
I do, of course. And I always sign my name with esquire. Even on checks. And I insist that everyone call me counselor.
Wife: Do you want any more salad, counselor?
Me: Nothing further at this time.
But there was a time when I didn’t want my membership in the bar to be the first thing a stranger learned about me. Often, I’d just as soon downplay my job—though I admit it took me a while to learn how. When I first came out of law school, I’d routinely do this:
Stranger: So, what do you do?
Me: I’m a lawyer. Or attorney. Strictly speaking, the distinction between the terms is disappearing at the present time. Moreover, there are the terms barrister, solicitor, and counselor, inter alia. Nonetheless, any and all of said terms can be utilized by laymen to refer to one who holds, possesses, or retains a juris doctorate.
That usually got a bad reaction.
But it wasn’t just my choice of words. I soon began to realize that as a lawyer, I wasn’t beloved by all. After a few years of law practice, I began to see that people had preconceived notions about lawyers and that telling someone I was a lawyer wasn’t always a good way to start off the relationship. So I fudged.
That was hard to do when I practiced law at a law firm. What could I say? But as a newly trained lawyer, of course, I was able to talk around the truth. That’s what they taught me in law school, right?
Stranger: So, what do you do?
Me: I’m a . . . well . . . what do you do?
Stranger: I’m a nurse. And you?
Me: I’m in finance. . . . I work with banks . . . lending . . . that sort of thing.
That was true, at least partly.
I didn’t say I represented the banks as a lawyer. I didn’t say I sued borrowers. I didn’t say I prepared for filing original petitions directed to defaulting debtors. That could come later, after the stranger had seen I was a decent person.
On the other hand, how decent was it to fudge on the truth in our first conversation? Still, I justified it. It was better than getting the typical reaction—usually something like this:
Stranger: An attorney, huh? My brother-in-law’s an attorney—a real jerk, too.
Stranger: No offense, but I’ve had enough of attorneys for a lifetime. My ex’s attorney was a real jerk.
Yes, the “j” word came up a lot.
So when I got into academia as a legal-writing instructor, I took full advantage of the chance to obscure my profession. I started telling people I taught writing. Just “writing.” Not “legal writing.” That way I could pass myself off as an English teacher. Cool. Besides, try explaining legal writing, and you usually get a snide remark.
Me: I teach legal writing.
Stranger: So you’re the one who teaches them to write like that.
I still had awkward moments and lessons to learn. I found out that fudging about your profession didn’t always go smoothly. Once, I told someone I was a “writing instructor,” but she heard “riding instructor.”
She: Oh, it must be challenging working with those animals.
Me: Yeah . . . I guess . . . .
She: You always have to let them know who’s boss, right? Use the whip if you have to, I suppose?
But I’ve matured. I’ve learned to accept my profession—and to shrug off the critics. Now, in my 23rd year of teaching, I’ve abandoned the equivocating. I’m finally able to tell the truth. I’m proud to be a lawyer—a legal-writing instructor. So when asked, I now say what I feel, from my heart:
Me? I’m a legal-writing instructor. As a field, legal writing comprises drafting, advocacy, and expository analysis, though that three-pronged regime is subject to critique on the ground that it is not comprehensive. Furthermore . . . .