You’re Not A Real Lawyer If….

That caught your eye?  It catches my eye constantly when I see factions in the legal community measure every other lawyer’s passion for the law or time spent per week practicing law as a barometer for whether or not they are a ‘real’ lawyer.

Some of the popular challenges to ‘real’ status:

  • You have additional streams of income, whether law related or not
  • You write a book on 1) ways to help your colleagues with a particular issue or 2) unrelated to law entirely
  • You don’t practice 100 hours per week, or even 60 or 40
  • You blog about other interests
  • You take a break from the practice of law for any number of reasons including, family illness, child birth, a trip around the world, another graduate degree
  • You’ve practiced for twenty years and then decide to create a service for lawyers to help with systems processing, or pricing strategies, or worse – do both simultaneously!
  • Your clients are exclusively other lawyers so you don’t have any ‘real’ clients
  • etc., etc., etc.

The only exception: you can do any of this if your colleagues like you. Then you remain a ‘real’ lawyer in their eyes.

The unvarnished truth is all of these people are ‘real’ lawyers who are practicing (or have practiced) in various degrees. They are choosing to branch out or evolve in ways which work for them.

Those who proclaim ‘real’ lawyers as only those who live and breathe the law – well this tragic stereotyped lawyer is often the one pictured as working 100 hours per week forgoing their families, their health, and other personal or business interests.  This scary ‘real’ lawyer is the one most prone to falling into disabling depression, life-altering addiction,  deliberately committing egregious acts to get disbarred because they can’t voluntarily slow down or admit they don’t want law to consume their souls anymore or the pressure to sustain the ‘image’ is no longer bearable.

‘Real’ lawyers come in all shapes and sizes and flavors.

There is no guru on any hill anywhere I know of who has been universally recognized and authorized to determine who has the requisite amount of passion and purpose, the right blend of hours worked and the perfect balance of all of life’s activities to call one lawyer over another a ‘real lawyer’… except the bar commissioners who give (or take away) a legal license based upon your ability to do your job and your other activities within ethical boundaries.

As long as a barred lawyer in good standing  has the ability to take on a client, he or she is a  ‘real’ lawyer. Whether they choose to practice is another matter altogether.

What do you think?

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24 comments on “You’re Not A Real Lawyer If….

  • Where do I buy my “fake lawyer” t-shirt that I can wear with pride? I have found the people who go around saying “you aren’t a real lawyer” are actually quite miserable, and often wear their misery as another badge of the “real lawyer.”

    Now, if you’ll pardon me I don’t go into the office on Fridays, I’m off to yoga and to then blog about hiking.


  • I agree 100%. An attorney need only be licensed in good standing to be a “real” lawyer.

    It’s funny, though, I find that the majority of time the “real lawyer” zings come from litigators–who seem to be of the impression that they are more “real lawyer” than we transactional plebeians even though my clients pay me good money to keep them *out* of court!

  • Susan,

    You left out the “you don’t have a full-time, real-world office located in a business tower etc. ” argument.

    I’m a lawyer who answers ‘yes’ to nearly all of the “challenges” you’ve listed. I have other “irons in the fire”, and I make some of my living from things other than the practice of law… but I’m still very much a lawyer… my clients pay me handsomely for my advice and assistance with matters (both legal and not).

    So, the folks who argue that I’m NOT a lawyer, are mostly, I think, other lawyers whose jealousy has gotten the better of them. They, it’s likely, are simply too entrenched in the “traditional” practice of law, to take a leap and do things in a more life-friendly way. Or maybe they’re just scared, Change is threatening to their way of doing things.

    Perhaps they’re headed the way of the dodo?

    The new, MODERN lawyer is mobile, agile, adaptive, and most of all, BALANCED… It’s OK to have a life, and still practice law, isn’t it?

  • Way to rally the clientless lawyers who use their moniker to sell their wares to desperate lawyers looking to build their practices.

    “This scary ‘real’ lawyer is the one most prone to falling into disabling depression, life-altering addiction, deliberately committing egregious acts to get disbarred because they can’t voluntarily slow down or admit they don’t want law to consume their souls anymore or the pressure to sustain the ‘image’ is no longer bearable.”

    Really Susan? Or are you just looking to be head cheerleader for those who have used tech and social media to hide from real practice? I have a full time practice, a family, am involved in bar associations, and love what I do. I would hate to use my degree to sell advice to desperate lawyers who are looking to get to the first page of Google or learn how to better play with toys beginning with the letter “i” I”m not prone to anything but succes, but I guess you can’t understand that.

    I use the term “real lawyers” every day. Real lawyers are those with clients. Their clients may be people, corporations, other entities, and yes, like me, other lawyers.

    You know that my criticism is of those who try to convince other lawyers that because they practiced for 5 minutes, they are “just like you.” How dare a lawyer advise other lawyers on using cloud computing in practice, when they don’t use it, for anytthing. I’ve done my part exposing the liars, the disbarred that parade themselves as “former lawyers” without disclosing their prior theft, and the resume builders.

    I have no problem with a lawyer who doesn’t practice – many of them have done great things in the world. My problem is with former lawyers who claim to practice, but don’t, and those that claim to be able to give advice on how to practice and make rain, when they don’t

    So you continue to be their hero and let them applaud you. I’ll continue to trumpet the real lawyers.

    • Wow, Brian. How did this post become a ‘Misguided Opinion of Brian Tannebaum?’ Please read the comments posted already. This is a universal theme. There are many lawyers in this world who have gone through this experience who don’t know who you are :-)

      This post is about all the lawyers who get told they are not real lawyers because:
      1. They have a home office
      2. They practice part-time or practice part-time while maintaining another paid position.
      3. They took a year off to do something else
      4. They reduced their practice to develop another interest
      5. When not working they wrote a screenplay
      6. They close up shop early (male or female) to pick their kids up from school or only open for business three days a week to be home with their kids.
      7. They don’t make six figures so they can’t be a ‘real’ lawyer

      That you would assume incorrectly that this post is about you is kind of strange and a little egomaniacal.

      But if you feel the need to defend yourself, then please stay on point.

      There are many lawyers who don’t practice until they drop or practice well and then leave the practice but attached to the profession by helping other lawyers and they get belittled by other lawyers for not being ‘real lawyers’.

      (Outing people for misrepresenting themselves is not the topic of this post.)

      There are lawyers who take on only a few clients and represent them well but do so because they want balance in their lives. They are told they are not ‘real’ lawyers.

      It is this belittling mindset that is addressed in this post. If you share that mindset, then this post IS about you in a generalized sense. If you don’t feel this way, then it’s not.

      Don’t defend against what you’re not accused of…unless you are the perpetrator.

  • Great post Susan. You’re not the only one who thinks the definition of lawyer is changing. In fact, as I explained in a recent article, the New York State Bar Association recently reached just the same conclusion:

    The New York State Bar Association is concerned about the future of the legal profession. So concerned that it commissioned a report on this very issue that was released earlier this month during the NYSBA’s annual meeting in Manhattan.

    The 109-page report (which can be accessed through the state bar association’s website, was drafted by a special subcommittee appointed by the NYSBA’s president. The subcommittee concluded that lawyers are facing increasing global competition in a depressed economy, leading to job burnout and a growing sense of frustra- tion for many lawyers across the state.

    In other words, “the profession has changed in its demands of lawyers and how they provide their services. And it will continue to change, as adaptation feeds back against economic and social shifts already taking place.”

    One of the more interesting predictions in the report was that due to the recent economic and social shifts, the concept of what it means to be a lawyer is in flux and will continue to change in the near future.

    The subcommittee explained that “the role of a lawyer will likely broaden from what it is today into other areas of responsibility, opening up career opportunities for lawyers with expertise in new processes and suggesting both a broader scope of services, and narrower specialization…”

    For example:

    (T)here may be opportunities:

    • To assist in systematizing legal processes, working on their own or with software developers to create more automated legal solutions.

    • To create project plans, manage, or train lawyers to handle mas-
    sive legal projects.

    • To specialize in finding, managing, and applying information or
    work product culled from the Internet or from law firm knowledge bases.

    • To structure virtual teams of firms that provide highly competitive services or who can create viable offshore substantive service providers.

    •There will continue to be opportunities for lawyers working for legal
    publishers or other types of substantive service companies to create packaged research, forms and other solutions to be used by otherlawyers. And there will be more opportunities for lawyers who want the flexibility of contract or freelance work and pro bono opportunities to create processes and systems to serve a larger base of clients than can be served, one at a time, in the traditional manner.

    The NYSBA’s recognition of this emerging trend, and its acknowledgement that the idea of what constitutes a “lawyer” is expanding, is good news and offers hope to laid off attorneys, unemployed recent graduates and lawyers who have left the legal field in pursuit of greener pastures. A law degree continues to have value even if you’re not practicing law and it turns out that the experience gained over the course of a legal career is not wasted time after all.


    Niki Black (the author of a book to be published by the ABA in May about cloud computing for lawyers and someone who uses cloud computing applications on a daily basis–but, like the vast majority of lawyers, does not use a cloud computing application for billing purposes)

    • Niki, can you ever write anything anywhere without pimping a recent article” you wrote? By the way, you don’t use cloud computing applications in law practice, everyone knows that. I bet you haven’t done a stich of legal work in at least months. It’s a disgrace that you are the one speaking and writing on cloud computing for “real” lawyers. Now go make dinner and tweet about it.

  • Brian is making me laugh b/c he sounds like a miserable partner I was unfortunate enough to train under as a first year associate. Rather than being able to say that another perspective might actually have merit, he just had to be right, right, right and any question or perceived opposition was a serious threat to his infantile ego.

    Oh well. I wouldn’t sweat Brian. Just be glad you’re not him and that you don’t have to work with him. Relief, indeed.

    I liked this post. I’m one of these attorneys. Currently working part-time as I try to fulfill a dream in the poker arena. I’m doing this by having a home office and doing transactional work with a core of 4 clients, all of whom I’ve had for more than 8 years. It is because I do have clients that I tweet under this moniker anonymously.

    Lastly, seriously – Brian and his ilk is a major reason why I love the way I’m practicing law. I would really almost rather cut off a limb than ever have to work with the likes of him again.

    • Still trying to figure out why you think this post is about you.

      So, I went back over your tweets and now I understand why you think it’s about you. But, it’s not. Nor is it about the subject(s) of your tweets. The timing is coincidental. It’s about ‘real’ lawyers with clients, whether 1 or 100, who practice law (or practiced law) and do other things in conjunction, who work in a home office or from a laptop in Belize or a virtual practice or a network of lawyers, who all qualify as ‘real’ lawyers in my book.

      I’ve seen them knocked, told their not “real’ lawyers and a lot of nasty things because their practices are not second wave while still serving their clients well. They don’t accept the ‘all in’ or ‘all out’ mentality or the ‘there’s only one way to practice law’ mantra. Nor should they.

      I have no tolerance for professional smugness or condescension from anyone no matter their credentials. Everyone gets to make their choice how to use their law license as long as they are committed to their clients, the clients are happy and it’s done ethically.

  • Brian’s rant reminds me to re-read Robert Sutton’s book. He is only a professor of management at Stanford, but his wife is a practicing lawyer.

    As for me, I don’t have an office. I work from home. I rarely directly meet with my clients. But, I am active in the Bar, I speak with a lot of lawyers about alternatives practices. I also represent a lot of clients and have a very active litigation practice, successful collaborative law firm, and utilize effective, low cost cloud computing (mainly because of Niki’s advice). And, although I thought Brian’s comment to Niki was unbelievably sexist and meant to be demeaning, I am prone to tweet about these issues as well.

    Brian, give Charlie Sheen my best.

    Susan, I say you give Brian his money back and let him go hang out where he is happy.

  • Um, Poker Lawyer, my office number is 305 374 7850, feel free to call, use some other anonymous name to protect yourself and ask any of the lawyers or staff what it’s like to work there, and don’t cry when you get the answer.

    And Chucky, I know, we all know, youre a Niki groupie. She helped you hide in your house and practice without having to go in to the light.

    All the typical responses are here. “Brian’s mean, and miserable, and we hate him because he’s mean and doesn’t kiss the ass of the marketers and former lawyers who claim some knowledge of things with on off switches, we’re all on the path to being stellar lawyers. I know, it all makes you feel better, and that’s ok.

  • Wow. I seriously never thought I’d read an Above the Law style war on this blog. I don’t know anything about Brian and, though he seems kind of mean (seriously, how can someone bash Niki Black who, by all accounts, is one of the truly nice people?), but I do think the legal consultant thing is getting out of hand. Not because people don’t need help – if they didn’t need it no one would be willing to spend $85 for one of those ridiculous, content-thin, 150 page books published by the ABA – but because so few consultants are any good. Theoretically, you pay for a consultant rather than taking a lawyer buddy to lunch because that consultant is interesting, clear, and dropping content left and right. I can’t afford SPU so I can’t speak to the quality, but very few of the CLEs I’ve seen or ABA books I have read have been any good. Ron Baker’s book Firm of the Future is one of few exceptions because it is interesting, clear, and full of content. So I agree with Brian inasmuch as we are limiting the critique to bad consultants (which most are) rather than to the idea of consultants (which are apparently needed).

  • While I have no idea what it means to be a “real lawyer,” the discussion is interesting in terms of what it says about the future of the legal profession.

    If there is such a thing as a “real lawyer,” being human has to be part of the equation. Overworked and depressed lawyers who have no perspective and no appreciation for the challenges their clients face do not serve those clients well. Just because it’s always been done one way doesn’t mean it can’t be done far more effectively — and ethically — another way.

    Law firms who are stuck to the traditional way of doing things are missing out on an enormous amount of talent out there. There are, for example, many extremely talented lawyers who took themselves out of the workforce to care for children or elderly parents or whatever and who are now interested in returning to work. Some of these people may still require some type of accommodation, as, for example, through more flexible work hours. You can say, well, that’s too bad for you, you’ve made your bed, now you need to lie in it. Or, taking advantage of the latest in technology, you can capitalize on this talent on terms that work for everyone involved.

    I know of at least one law firm that is doing this extremely effectively. In fact, the head of this firm is only too pleased to take advantage of all the talent out there that others – people who are too wedded to the old way of doing things – fail to notice. And there is no question of meeting client needs this way. For example, a client who is sitting in jail doesn’t care if you have a fancy law office and a receptionist. All the client cares about is whether or not he can reach you.

    I am no big fan of all the hucksters out there trying to sell products or services we don’t need. But we are adults. We are savvy. We can figure out for ourselves what works and what doesn’t.

    All of that said, and because these discussions often deteriorate into ad hominem attacks, I should add that I am a practicing criminal defense attorney with a full list of clients and a bricks-and-mortar office. I guess that makes me a “real lawyer.”

    • Jamison,

      Thank you. You clearly got the point of the post. How often and/or how you deliver services isn’t the variable that determines whether you are a ‘real’ or ‘fake’ lawyer. (misrepresentation or lapse in ethics is a whole other issue unrelated to this post.)

  • Very interesting post and comments. As a lawyer who firmly has a foot both in practice (in-house corporate) and consulting on Web tools, I am very sympathetic to the freedom that should be afforded anyone who makes it through law school to define their own career and be given the right and opportunity to label that career as they see fit (within ethical bounds). That said, a lawyer who is happy about how they have framed their own practice, their own career should be self-satisfied and not be too worried about how someone else views them or their work. If you are being paid to do what you love, then you are successful by any definition I can think of. And, if you are being paid, then there clearly is a need for your service. Our economics are changing: if you wish to ignore those changes, that’s fine, but hopefully you are secure enough not to begrudge anyone else’s choices in that regard. My guess is that the market weeds out the charlatans in any trade, whether it is a traditional legal practice or a novel mashup of law and some other field.

    Susan, I have always admired Solo Practice U – keep up the great work!

    • Martha, you haven’t commented in awhile! Glad you jumped in today because you said it very well. It’s just hard for people to be happy with their decisions when there’s a running dialogue from people they want to respect who don’t respect them and their choices. (One would rather fly with a tail-wind then a headwind, right?) Self-satisfaction is, I believe, a close cousin to self-actualization on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Pretty hard to get there at age 26 or 46, for that matter yet we persevere. Thanks for these words of encouragement to all who read this blog!

  • I’m not a lawyer, and like the vast majority of the populace, I tend to be more than just a little unflattering to the profession. My main gripe right now is the whole lawyer business model. What happened to the days where you had a personal lawyer, you just called them up and said File an action here and do this, and they just did it and earned their money. I have had attorneys who were (supposedly) licensed to practice, but told me things like “I don’t handle auto (lien) lawsuits, or I don’t do this or that” Either you’re a lawyer and can practice, or your not. As an engineer, if somebody can pay for it I’m damned well going to try to do it. I’d love to find a hungry, recent graduate that behaved like a “real” lawyer and just helped me.

  • Hallelujah – after going to another site, I found that there is now a movement to outsource legal services overseas at a fraction of the price! At last, lawyers will have to put up with what manufacturing and engineering have had to deal with! I want to shout this to the world! And I can just hire one by the hour (at apparently 1/100th the price).

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