I recently heard a story on NPR about primary care physicians and how their patients and the public are unaware of how much work they do behind the scenes (reading test results, returning phone calls, calling in prescriptions and dealing with the health care bureaucracy). It made me think of the fact that most people are unaware of what lawyers do behind the scenes. I remember the idyllic view of what a law practice must be like I had while I was in law school. I thought lawyers sat around on the phone all day long, being smart and getting paid.
Basically, for starters, what we do is read. We read contracts, motions, cases, statutes and e-mails. There is also a lot of proofreading and editing the endless trail of paper we seem to generate. A lot of work goes into worrying and trying to get the best results for our clients. There’s also a lot of waiting involved. Waiting to hear from clients. Waiting to hear from opposing counsel. And judges. And clerks. And, of course, waiting to get paid. When you can organize your time well and the stars align, this sometimes works rather seamlessly. When it does not work, though, the whole system can collapse in failure.
None of this is meant to sound like a complaint. Hearing that story about primary health care physicians made me appreciate my own doctor more (especially when he gives me his cell number). It also makes me realize that as lawyers, we can try to do a better job of explaining to clients what we actually do for them, and how the process actually unfolds.