Why I lawyer

by Dean R P Edwards

dean blog

Some sing, some paint, others do data entry, I write.

But I write with some purpose, of course, and there is nothing out of the ordinary in that. In my current situation, I am not, however, just a writer. I am a graduate lawyer by practice, though not necessarily by intention.

Had you asked me four months ago would I have expected myself to be working in a small law firm, enthused to wake up early each day to tackle the daily grind of letters and pleadings and everything in between, I’d have said no.

Simple as that. Not in the widest, chanciest guess would I have entertained an affirmative reply. Yet here I find myself positively enthralled with the daily work I do. I suppose, lawyering or not, I am foremost a writer and there is something to legal language that piques my interest.

I came to the law as a student just over three years ago, at Melbourne Law School. I had previously worked several years in journalism and government service, when I realised that I was just not satisfied with either line of work.

In the case of journalism, that realisation was likely mostly due to the fact that newspapers were a dying industry, and that fact was plainly obvious. I was rather taken in my journalism, which stems from my longtime career in writing for papers and student publications. Writing is in my lifeblood; the love of words and interest in constructing and deciphering text are second nature to me.

But there is only so much my career as a reporter could withstand the near-poverty line wage and substantial student debts. I had to undertake my first career move because of factors outside of my control, in addition to my reluctance to continue writing that just did not reach my personal standard.

Shifting careers caused me to rethink what effect I wanted my writing to have. Journalism is a critical enterprise, but my heart wasn’t in the long hours and low pay. To my chagrin, I never gained the personal courage to write essays in my spare time; what there was of it. Perhaps a more engaged life as a writer would have encouraged me to stay in the profession, notwithstanding the living on the margins as an indebted servant.

By way of friendly connections, I entered several contracts with the U.S. Government in Washington, D.C., and I had my first exposure to working within the behemoth of public service. Now, I will be among the last ones to criticise government service, but it was, for better or worse, just not for me. As I said before, some can crunch data and churn out white papers and memoranda; for me, it was all a tad overwhelming.

Something else was niggling at the back of my mind. I found that, as a government writer, I was a step removed from any actual intellectual role in the work before me. Memoranda went through lawyers for information and refinement; I was a mere assembly line technician. So, to an extent, I told myself, let’s move up a step.

Incidentally, I was also weighing a move back to Australia at that point. That was the major change I was considering to make, a break from my past in the U.S., where I lived for nearly two decades, and a return to my place of birth and early residence. Entering law school was in some respect my excuse for such a daring ploy in my quarter-life crisis, and so when I was admitted to Melbourne Law School, I felt some purpose for finally engaging with the law.

It wasn’t the first time I toyed with the idea of a life in the law. I had participated in Mock Trial during high school and my first couple years of undergrad. But I had dispelled the notion that as a lawyer I could effect the sort of change I sought in society; better I was a journalist or, even more so, a novelist! Everyday concerns and, to be honest, everyday diversions had nonetheless got the better of me.

Now, entering law school at the age of twenty-four, with some years of worldly experience under my belt, I turned my attention to what interests I had in the law.

My political persuasions naturally drew my interest to human rights and humanitarian law, and my previous university training in history led me to investigate legal questions in light of their social and political context. Despite the onslaught of assignments and absolutely, awfully stressful examinations, I made it through law school with some great insights into the human condition and how our society functions. All in all, I consider that worth my while.

In the last couple months of law school, I found myself working on a project for the small firm I incidentally now work for full-time. At the time, I would have had no words to describe my interest in estates and probates, loan agreements and notices of default, even the simplest of client letters! But the law is a ripe venture for a student of language fond of words and meanings, and it took this brief experience in that environment for the light to finally switch on, I’m a lawyer!

So today I consider myself a writer working in the law. A solicitor’s job is frankly not too different from the responsibilities of a good journalist or public servant, or even a good writer, in my opinion: it is to serve the public interest. That public interest is different for each of us, but it is how we conceive of our own roles and our place in society. Our duty demands our attention to the language and procedure of our work; to author and refine beneficial judicial power for the public good, and that takes dedicated writing.

Perhaps somewhere down the line I might just save enough to write that novel, too.

This blog was highly commended in our Bloody Monday’s unpacking a lawyer competition in April.