I was recounting my horrible public performance fail on Monday to my good friend Nicole, when she used the term “legal anxiety,” (as in, “I think I have a lot of legal anxiety when I present.”) and it got me thinking about how appropriate of a term that really is. I can give a non-legal presentation and not become a stumbling idiot. I’m still nervous and panicky right before, but it’s productive anxiety. There is something about talking to lawyers and law schoolers about law stuff that just creates its own sub-class of stomach-twisting, shit-your-pants-inducing, ovary-exploding fear. I don’t know why I had to bring my ovaries into this. It just felt right.
Wrong kind of “ovary explosion” Google. But I do love me some Charlie Hunnam. Yum.
While thinking about this I realized that the legal profession is a self-conscious one at every level. From the macro the micro. Let me explain.
1. The ABA is always trying to affirmatively state or prove that a JD is the equivalent of any other doctorate, but if you have to make the effort to affirmatively argue that than there must be some sense within the ABA that the other “prestigious” professions don’t see us that way, and that the ABA gives a shit about changing that perception.
2. A professor recently asked my class what “Law” would look like at a party – what it’s characterization would be. Like, for example, if Physics was geeky looking and running around stating that everything comes back to physics, and Music was sitting in a corner getting high with Philosophy or something, how would Law be acting. And the consensus seemed to be that Law would be a loud, slightly arrogant, somewhat personable character interested in ensuring that everyone at the party liked them, but feeling insecure about it the whole time and over-compensating for that fear.
3. In law, communication is everything. Your ability to read and comprehend, to articulate through speech, or writing decides whether or not you win a case at trial, or mediation, or negotiation. If you can’t communicate effectively, you won’t win. A doctor may not have great bedside manner, or interpersonal skills, but that doesn’t matter if she is the one person whose clinical trial could save your life. Doctors have other skills that make them desirable for hire. In law, words are the be all, end all, and so when speaking to someone else in the legal world, the stakes are higher. You can never not know. You can never be inarticulate. We charge for having the right words, and so a simple conversation, is never just a simple conversation.
4. A classmate pointed out to me while talking about this that on top of the fact that our entire skill set rests on an above average ability to communicate, the legal profession is also the most adversarial of the professions. Our profession is the closest it gets to zero sum other than war. In a traditional trial setting, if I win, you necessarily lose. A trial advocacy professor once told me that cross-examination is about domination. You make the hostile witness submit to your characterization of things, and if they try to get cute on the stand, you “teach them a lesson.” I’ve been in tense negotiations that used the same dichotomy. In other professions individuals compete for the best grades, the most publications, the best surgeries, whatever, but they are not similarly pitted against each other like gladiators of justice (a term my classmate awesomely used). We are not only self-conscious because a flub in a conversation might make us appear unable to do exactly what is the basis of our entire profession (communicate), we are self-conscious because every other person is potentially the next person we’ll have to battle, and we have to keep perceptions high.
Of course, add the fact that you’re constantly being video-taped (and forced to re-watch yourself) in these godforsaken classes, and maybe my epic implosion seems a little less pathetic.