CLP student Sha-Lyn ponders her lawyerly existence.
Some phrases recently said to me:
“Never date a lawyer.”
“Two lawyers sound like a recipe for endless chaos.”
Like every profession, lawyers come with a particular set of generalizations and stereotypes (which includes character, attitude, demeanour, and manner of speaking). I was not born and bred immediately into the legal industry unlike most of my fellow coursemates (SPM, A-Levels, LLB), having graduated with a Diploma in Mass Communications, and working in an advertising agency for a year.
However, having completed three years of a LLB programme, being employed (as a paralegal) in a law firm for 1.5 years, and making a couple of lawyer friends along the way (to which both quotes at the beginning of this piece are credited to), it has dawned upon me that, yes, I have become that (dreaded) person.
I am a lawyer in daily life. I apply legal skills and reasoning to everyday conversations — even when it is not required of me.
In particular, I have realised these five things:
1. I add a “disclaimer” at the end of every sentence.
Gone are the days when I could freely say, “This is the best chicken rice in town!”. In my head now, a voice will chime in to say, well, technically it’s not the best. It’s only the best in your opinion.
Great. I don’t remember that voice being there a few years ago.
Of course, the little voice will not stay as a little voice inside my head and I will eventually add on to my sentence with some sort of caveat — “…at least out of those I’ve tasted so far” or “…that’s what I think anyway.”
Is it ultimately necessary? No, it isn’t.
Do I do it anyway? Yes, I do, for reasons unknown to me.
Perhaps I feel the need to be as accurate as possible in my words for fear of being misunderstood or misinterpreted, which leads me to the next point,
2. I often rephrase sentences to be as precise as possible.
“How do you feel about that? Angry?” — someone asks.
And the little voice in my head goes — Angry? Angry is too strong a feeling… am I miffed? Maybe annoyed? Yes, somewhere in between angry and annoyed.
My answer would eventually be, “I am slightly more than annoyed.”
I will also pick on someone else’s argument and pinpoint inaccuracies — from assumptions, to terminology, to the usage of correct examples, and proven facts.
Ironically, trying to be as accurate as possible in my speech sometimes leads to more questions than answers, particularly when it comes to matters of the heart.
Guy: Are you interested in dating?
Me: Umm. I think you’re interesting and I’m open to the possibility of getting to know you better as a person, but I am currently unavailable.
Guy: So you have a boyfriend?
3. I am overly-cautious when giving advice or opinions.
Any kind of advice — love advice, life advice, character advice.
Before any wise words leave my lips, I need a complete picture to make an informed and calculated answer to your benefit. If you ask me whether you should break up with your significant other, I would first have to know your complete relationship history, which would include what are your reasons for doing so, could you forgive those reasons, could you live with those reasons in the long-term, do you see yourself with him/her five years from now, is there a possibility he/she would repeat his mistakes, and the list goes on.
If you ask me for an opinion, and if your question is vague, I will rephrase the question for you, or add more possibilities to my answers with the phrases: “in the event…”, “if this happens instead then…”
I have realised that this has unfortunately caused me to be a less sympathetic and supportive friend — there are those who come to you under the guise of seeking advice, but all they really need is a shoulder to cry on.
Legal skills and reasoning do not teach you empathy.
More often than not, it is hard for me to be encouraging. I am more likely to tell you your three-month action plan.
4. I believe that if I’m wrong, it’s because I have been misinformed.
In my head (where the little voice comes from), I also visualise a road map of sorts before making any decision — think of it as Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Less Taken’, only instead of two roads diverging, I imagine many roads diverging, and paths from those roads diverging.
Or imagine a game of chess; having to anticipate multiple moves ahead (not just your opponents’, but your moves in response to your opponents’).
If a decision made happens to be wrong, I would not fault the system in place (ie. myself), I would instead say “X was not taken into consideration due to (some other occurrence not attributable to me). If X was taken into consideration, my decision would have been different.”
This creates a fine (and perhaps imaginary) distinction between the things which I truly feel are my fault and should not have done, and the things in which I feel I may have been in the wrong, but are (in my view) excusable.
Blurring the lines brings me to my final point,
5. I rarely have 100% conviction on any stand.
I see fifty shades of grey in most scenarios now.
Where is the good? Where is the evil? Different sides of the same coin.
Should the Rohingyas be left in the sea? Does Malaysia have the capacity to take them in? Should we take them in even if we do not have the capacity to do so?
In most arguments (especially moral, ethical and subjective topics), I would be more inclined to say — we are both right in our separate ways.
Has law changed me for the better? Or for worse?
I am honestly unsure. Perhaps the stereotypes are true — that lawyers are slightly merciless, a little bit cold, too calculated and logical; we see objectivity and facts, we see the black letter of the law.
We overlook passion in pure convictions and soul in flaws and imperfections. We forget that we do not always have to be precise or concise or accurate, especially in our day-to-day, and there are some things that should be allowed to be revealed naturally; without filters or jargon.
I, for one, am still trying to strike a balance.
Sha-Lyn will be sitting for her CLP examinations in July, and is not (yet) a fully-qualified lawyer. She has previously written two columns on the blawg about her law-firm experiences: