Being Disagreeable

Last evening I was at a function with Trevor Taylor, a fantastic lawyer and outstanding professional colleague.

At some point in the conversation, we started talking about teenage daughters – which then led to a conversation about the delicate subject of whether or not to encourage your children to enter the legal profession. Trevor mentioned the same thing that I heard growing up: “You like to argue. You should be a lawyer.” Trevor correctly noted that one of the main problems with our profession is when people seem to recruit you simply for being disagreeable.

As any parent with teens or tweens would know: there is no topic undeserving of a good argument.  Whether the milk should go back in the fridge? That’s good for at least 5 minutes of disagreement.  Whether clearing your plate includes or excludes putting it in the dishwasher? 4 minutes. Whether putting it in the dishwasher necessarily incorporates scraping your plate before putting it in the dishwasher? 8 minutes. If the legal profession simply needed a limitless supply of argument, the best lawyers would have to retire once they were old enough to drive.

As we (attempt) to explain to our kids, people don’t pay us to argue. They can do that for free. The world is full of conflict and fighting and dispute and disagreement outside of the legal profession. If being disagreeable is the only prerequisite for entry in the legal system then the value of lawyers would be less than fast food wages.

Instead, people pay us to resolve arguments – not start them. This is the reason we have value.  Arguing for argument’s sake requires no skill, no expertise, and no formal education. Unfortunately, it is often missing in legal education. We teach law students to advocate in law school, but we rely upon their own instincts to learn how to resolve conflict. Unless a law student chooses to take coursework in mediation he or she will miss one of the most important parts of our profession: making ourselves unnecessary.

Our work, when done well, is to talk people out of filing lawsuits. If the situation can be resolved between the parties it substantially reduces the transaction costs (e.g. legal fees) and results in much greater satisfaction. Otherwise, if you add a pair of disagreeable lawyers to a conflict with a couple of disagreeable parties, what service does the lawyer provide by simply escalating the conflict?

If being disagreeable and getting into conflict is the main interest in practicing law – don’t go to law school.  Haggle for used cars. Write people parking tickets they don’t deserve. Or better yet –  simply come over to our house for dinner tomorrow night and try to negotiate the bedtime routine with our kids.  Take it from two lawyers trying to raise four kids – conflict and argument and disagreement have zero value.

Convincing  a 3 year-old to get in bed on time? Incalculable value.

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