To be or not to be (seen as being) a lawyer – that is the question

by Arna Delle-Vergini

It happened innocently enough.

I bought a new car. By ‘new’ I mean, ‘newish’ or ‘pre-loved by someone else but new to me’. People do this all of the time, but readers of my “Glory Days” blog will know – I don’t have a lot of luck with used cars. This time was no different. Somehow, in what seemed to me to be uncannily like déjà vu, I found myself again owning a car with a stuck door. Thankfully, this time it wasn’t the driver’s door. The offending door was the back passenger door but that was bad enough; every parent knows that it is safest for kids to get in and out of the car, curb-side.

Refreshingly, the used-car salesman immediately agreed that the door must be fixed prior to delivery. And I can confirm, that when the car was delivered, the door did actually work. Unfortunately, that was the only time the door worked. After that it would not budge!

From my perspective, I then did what any normal person would do. I rang the dealer, told him I wanted the situation rectified immediately and informed him that I was going to put it all in writing. At my request he gave me his email address but when I sent my letter, it bounced back. Curious! I tried to call him several times to confirm the address but he didn’t answer. Curiouser and Curiouser!  I was not, under any circumstance, going to be left with another car with a stuck door so I went down to the local post office, faxed the letter to him and then, since I was there, and for no other reason really, I sent the original letter via registered post.

Let me be frank, this bloke was going to get my letter even if I had to hire a plane to sky-write it!

It didn’t come to that. The next day I received a call from the salesman and, I think it is safe to say that he was angry. Even, very angry! He could not believe that I had treated him that way. Why could I not have just trusted him – just taken him at his word? What was wrong with me? Don’t I trust anyone? He has never been so humiliated in his life. He felt “demeaned”.  That was the word he used: demeaned. Never before has he received a letter like that from a customer. “You’ve got problems” – he then told me. “You’re not normal. You don’t live in the real world!” Then he told me that I needed “a big cuddle”.

My confusion then turned to chagrin when he suggested at a later stage that I actually go out to dinner with him. Stop it right there! No need to go any further! You had me at “Arna you’re not normal. You don’t belong in the real world”!

Indeed! I am guessing in “the land of “normal people” salesman ask their customers out to dinner all of the time! The very thought of it!

When I was “unpacking” this experience later I consulted two people who I was quite sure would see my side of the story – who would declare me “normal” and “part of the real world”.  One of them, a female colleague, read my letter to the salesman and described it as “positively cheerful – as far as legal letters go”.  My other friend, a psychologist, thought for a moment, nodded his head and then said: “Used car salesmen and lawyers do have a lot in common.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! Did he just compare me out loud to a used car salesman?

(Yes. Yes he did.)

When I had recovered from that comment, my friend went on to explain that people are highly suspicious of used car salesmen, just as they are of lawyers.  We both have experience of belonging to a class of people who are routinely maligned, whether or not there is any truth to it. The salesman felt unfairly maligned by me because I didn’t take him at his word. He felt that I was putting our understanding in writing simply because he was a used car salesman. Actually, I would do the same in any similar situation. From my perspective, I was just doing what I have been trained to do – nothing more or less. I was just being a lawyer!

Now look, I don’t mind telling you this but this is not actually the first time that I have frustrated someone so much that they have wanted to embrace me. In fact, I think I occasionally bring this quality out in people. What I learned through this experience though (and others if I am truthful) – is that our legal training does actually teach us to relate to other people in a certain way, and non-lawyers sometimes find that unusual.

Is it possible that lawyers go through their lives…ho hum…just imagining that their training only comes into play when they are in court or in a legal situation? Do they believe that non-lawyers think, reason and act exactly as they do?  I’m now convinced that lawyers are oblivious to the effects their legal training has had on them and, particularly, their communication styles. I’m also convinced that other people want to cuddle us because they sense very strongly that we are actually oblivious to our own “weirdness” (for want of a better term) and that makes them, frankly, feel very sorry for us (and/or, in my case, on occasion, want to date us).

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! I’ve suddenly realised why lawyers are so sought after in dating circles: we’ve cornered the ‘wealthy but pathetic’ niche (as opposed to the ‘pathetically wealthy’ niche reserved for slightly less irritating professionals).

Someone has to tell lawyers that though they feel normal, other people don’t always experience them that way and this needs to be taken into account when they’re communicating with others. In my case, the salesman’s version of “normal” was perhaps always going to be highly incompatible with mine but the point was still made. I had not intended to upset him and felt that I was just doing what I was trained to do. It made me wonder, when else have I upset people just being my (lawyer)self? When other people have said to me: “stop being such a lawyer, Arna,” is this what they really meant?

I have a friend. She is a lawyer too. Her father was a judge. Whenever she wanted something she had to ‘appear’ before him with a fully formulated argument and she also had to be in a position to defend it or else she did not get what she wanted. Her sister would have to do the same. It was not unusual for them to have to argue against one another either, with the ‘judge’ ultimately making a decision on the basis of the most cogent and persuasive argument presented at the time. She still talks about this as being normal for her family, and yet so very odd.

I rest my case.