Rather be an Oscar Mayer lawyer? | Marcel Strigberger

By Marcel Strigberger

Law360 Canada (March 31, 2023, 2:51 PM EDT) --
Marcel Strigberger
Marcel Strigberger
Hey lawyers! Is everybody happy? Many of our colleagues are not exactly thrilled practising law. As Nanki Poo in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado might say, in describing their joys of law practice, “modified rapture.”  

I Googled “unhappy lawyers” and my search showed about 20,000,000 results. 

There are headings such as “I hate being a lawyer,” “Why lawyers are unhappy,” and “7 reasons why lawyers are unhappy,” One comment even read, “Practice of law is the opposite of sex. Even when it’s good, it’s lousy.” I’m glad I did not conduct this research during my 40-plus years in the trenches.

Then again I got called to the bar in 1974 B.C. (before computers).  

In fact one major reason for melancholy is technology.

Our work then seemed less rushed. We would get a nasty letter from some colleague who no doubt was a cross between a pit bull and Captain Bligh. We would ponder and leisurely dictate a reply, then cool down, read the draft letter, and mail out a more civil and effective response, leaving out what we thought of the opponent or his client.

My being a technophobe had its advantages. I moved very slowly. I was even suspicious of the stickie note.

And being on call with emails or texts 24/7 can certainly tilt one’s work/life balance.

Long hours are another major cause of dissatisfaction. This problem is especially prevalent in Big Law firms, where associates push themselves hoping to become partners. But once they achieve this status, are they happy? One lawyer did not think so, saying, “Being a partner means I have a bigger share of the pie. And where does this leave me? With more pie.”

Another issue for dissatisfaction is a common stigma, namely that many lawyers are crooked, long-winded and greedy ambulance chasers. Even when the public says something positive about our profession, the inference can sound negative. For example, Google lists places such as The Honest Lawyer Hotel and The Honest Lawyer Restaurant. I never read the menu. I wouldn’t trust it. 

On a recent trip to the United States the customs officer asked me to remove my mask so he could look at my face. I joked with him saying, “Would it help to tell you I am lawyer?” He replied, “Actually this might make it worse.”

And what do many unhappy lawyers do? They leave the profession of course. One lawyer friend became a baker. I remarked that surely he must rise early to bake those goodies. He noted he proudly considered his products his friends. His customers regularly praised him. He added that there was never anything disparaging in the literature about bakers. Shakespeare never said, “First, let’s kill all the bakers.”

Not surprisingly when I asked him, he said yes, that he often gives his customers a “Baker’s dozen,” throwing in an extra bagel.

Do lawyers give such extras? Then again, to be fair, it’s not like we can replicate a similar gesture of magnanimity. What can we do? Add a 13th juror?

I think about why I went into the legal profession. One influencer was my fictional hero, Perry Mason. As a kid I would watch episodes weekly where not only did Mason get his client off a murder charge, but he would generally expose the real killer, who was usually stupid enough to be sitting in the courtroom. 

I was a bit disillusioned once I started practising. I did some criminal work, but the majority of these cases involved minor offences. I never once cross-examined a witness only to have him blurt out, “OK, OK. You got me. Your client is innocent. I shoplifted that toothbrush.”  

Here’s a possible career switch.

Oscar Mayer, the meat giant, often has the call-out for drivers of its wienermobiles. These are 27-foot-long hot dogs on wheels, that travel all over touting their brand. There are oodles of applicants, of which only 12 or so are chosen. They are called “hotdoggers.” (You cannot say Oscar Mayer is not imaginative.)

The lucky candidates get trained at a facility called “Hot Dog High.” A spokesperson noted that, given the competition, one has a better chance of getting admitted into an Ivy League university.

Considering a career switch? I can see this position as being of interest to many lawyers. 

Apparently these hotdoggers are mini celebrities. They pull into some town with their wienermobile, where they participate in media and social events, and they get greeted by crowds of screaming fans.

In all my lawyering time, I never once got greeted by anyone when I pulled up in my Camry at the local courthouse. (Actually, I would occasionally get greeted by someone screaming over a much-coveted parking spot.)  

Even Shakespeare might have had good things to say about the OMW position. I can’t imagine the bard saying, “First, let’s kill all the hotdoggers.”

So how do I feel about having spent my decades as a practising lawyer? Charles Dickens comes to mind where he says, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, things were great, things were lousy…”

OK, Dickens didn’t quite say that latter couplet. But isn’t that the way it is for most of us? It helped greatly that I was a sole practitioner. Senior partner.  All the pie was mine. I always strove to do the right thing. I promptly returned messages, I always treated people with respect, and I never lost my cool. OK, as Captain Corcoran of H.M.S. Pinafore fame might say, “hardly ever.”

All in all our profession, is a noble one. I was happy and proud to make a few positive ripples on the earth and to put some smiles on clients’ faces.

Although tempting, I doubt I would have considered applying to be a hotdogger.  

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. His book Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging is now available on Amazon, (e-book) and paper version. Visit www.marcelshumour.com. Follow him @MarcelsHumour.
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