Raymond Shank tells how he became a lawyer and what it means to him
The “Accidental” Lawyer
I never expected to be a lawyer. I do not come from a family of lawyers, and I never studied pre-law as an undergrad. Before law school, my impression of lawyers was based on what I’d seen in movies. If I had spent time in the presence of lawyers, I might have thought that something must have gone terribly wrong. So, choosing a profession is a strange thing to end up doing by chance, but that is a fair description of how I ended up being a lawyer.
For that matter, “by chance” is a fair description of how I ended up living and working in Northern Virginia. By the time I moved here in 2000, I had lived in eight states and two countries thanks to my father’s career in the Army. From Germany to Mississippi to Colorado to Hawaii and several stops in between, the only constant was change. The only expectation was something unexpected. And, to be completely honest, I am thankful for it. It taught me to adapt to change and to accept that conditions, good or bad, are temporary. Most of all, it taught me that people, and the experiences they go through, are pretty much the same regardless of where they start out.
Back to my original point: accidentally becoming the lawyer. I finished my undergrad degree in journalism and political science in the fall of 2000 by working as an intern at a think-tank in DC. My job was essentially to watch and analyze election coverage on the evening news. The internship turned into a permanent position at another think-tank and three years later I came to a startling realization: they are not kidding when they call them non-profits. I needed a change, and law school simply made sense as the next stop along the way. Don’t ask me how, but somehow watching news coverage of politicians for three years did not discourage me.
Regardless of how I got here, I am very thankful to have been an attorney for the past five years. I first heard in law school that law is a “helping” profession, and again and again that has proven to be true. As an attorney, I hear stories about people’s lives that most would not share with strangers. For many clients, the file on my desk represents the worst (or, at least, most stressful) thing going on in their life at that moment. The reason they are willing to share this part of their life with me is because they trust that I can help. While every case does not end up perfectly, helping someone get through the complicated process of being involved in a lawsuit is still rewarding.
I have also learned that while people are very much alike, there are always new and interesting challenges in every case, either because of the details of what happened or how the individual in front of me is dealing with it. Every case is starting over. Every case is unique in some aspect. Most importantly, every case is an opportunity to fix something that has gone wrong.
All of the lawyer jokes aside, it is not a bad place to end up.