Friday, December 30, 2011

Being a Yoga Lawyer

"I am a lawyer." Those words used to be hard for me to say. They are especially hard around yogis and those who tend to shun mainstream definitions of success. For a long time, I would answer the question, "what do you do?" with "I work for a judge," but that is no longer true. I am now, officially, a lawyer.

The other day, in a yoga class, someone asked me that question, and I said it, "I am a lawyer." Her response was simple, "I don't like lawyers." She then went on to clarify that I am not THAT kind of lawyer, but I got her point. It has been made to me many times.

Lawyers are simply unloved to many people.

This is unfortunate on many levels. First, I do not believe that because I represent children I do good law and those who represent corporations do bad law. We all do law, and there is a place and need for all of it in the world. I worked at a commercial law firm one summer. I learned two very important lessons: the people working there were great people doing their best for their clients, and that was not my path in life. It just did not speak to me, but I enjoyed my summer there nonetheless. I enjoyed seeing how corporate law works, and it fundamentally changed my view on the world in which we live.

Second, it is difficult to be in a profession so despised by so many. There is a reason lawyers have the highest incidence of substance abuse of any profession. The work is stressful, but even more stressful is constantly defending what you do to other people. It gets tiring to keep repeating, “not all lawyers are like that,” or “I’m sorry you had a bad experience with a lawyer. That should never happen.” I find myself ignoring people who say that, or worse, becoming defensive. And that brings me to the third point.

Third, the assumption by so many people that all lawyers are awful actually undermines the profession’s ability to deal with those who truly are problematic. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is actually basic human nature. When we feel attacked, our first response is not to say, “you’re right, there is a problem.” Instead, we turn on all defenses. We enter into the emotional fight-or-flight response, which similar to the physiological fight-or-flight response, shuts down all “non-essential” processes in us, and in this case, that means rationally recognizing there are problematic people in the legal profession. Instead, we go into defense mode and just want to find a way to survive.

This is not to say that is the response of all lawyers. By contrast, most lawyers would probably tell you there are some people in the profession who do not play by the rules, or who manipulate the rules to always work in their favor. The truth is that most lawyers are good people and good lawyers, and they exist in all types of the law. But with each rational conversation about how there are honest and less-than-honest members of all professions, it becomes more difficult to have the long conversation knowing it is probably just going to end with the person saying, “yeah, but I still don’t like lawyers.” It just becomes easier to say nothing or get defensive about the work. And as the criticism comes from all sides, it becomes more difficult to filter the true criticism from the hyperbole.

This week, for the first time, I signed a document under my own bar number. I have done a lot of law before this week, but I have always been able to get around the phrase, “I’m a lawyer.” Not anymore. I want to be able to be proud of what I do. I want to be able to tell people I am a lawyer without the look in their eye, or the response, “it’s good to know there are a few lawyers doing good work.” And yes, I want the lawyers manipulating the system to stop. But those are actually separate things.

I started this blog because in the yoga world I was embarrassed to be a lawyer, and in the lawyer world, I was embarrassed to be a yogi. Two and a half years ago (has it really been that long?), I thought it would be easier to be a lawyer in the yoga world. Funnily enough, this blog and other connections, have introduced me to the vast, and I do mean vast, world of lawyers who not only have an asana practice but who practice yoga on many levels. The yogis, however, have been harder to convince. And it does not stop with the yogis. It has been the discussion with so many people.

But with all that having been said, I am glad I chose this work. If nothing else, I finally understand how our political structure became so polarized - on both sides. It is unfortunate because we all have a lot we can learn from one another.


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.


  1. I love your posts! As someone who worked FOR lawyers for 20 years, I get it. of course, I only worked for cool, nice lawyers.... ;) :D

    metta to you....

  2. This is a great post. And so true- we need lawyers- they are SO essential to a fair justice system. You should be proud of what you do- it's amazing! Also- CONGRATULATIONS!!! :)

    There are crappy professionals in each profession, people just forget that. I'm also nervous when I say I'm an SLP (or SLT in NZ and Aus), many people have had crappy speech therapy experiences as children. Which is sad...


  3. Thank you both so much. Well said! And SLPs are awesome. Metta to both of you!

  4. This happens to all of us. As you know, I have dedicated my life to transforming law to a conscious, healing, peacemaking profession. A couple of weeks ago, I sat down at a dinner table. The woman next to me introduced herself and asked me about myself. When I told her that I am a lawyer, before I could say more, she blurted out that she didn't like lawyers and proceeded to shun me for the rest of the evening. When I tried to talk to someone else across the table, she even talked over me, basically cutting me off from conversation with others. Her loss, yes, but also the loss of many others.

  5. Rebecca, I saw the link to this post on my friend J. Kim Wright's Facebook. I relate to your post! Isn't it interestin that the yogis are harder to convince than the other way around? I too am a lawyer, and I do yoga. And ventriloquism. :)

  6. Kim, wow. I cannot imagine that sort of treatment. My experiences have, so far, been of the one-on-one variety, or an opportunity to just get away from people. But I agree it is a loss. A serious loss. And Bonita, thank you. I also love the ventriloquism. Quite impressive!

  7. I was a youth worker - all the lawyers I had contact with were compassionate people of goodwill choosing a difficult career option. My f-i-l is a lawyer and has been for almost 50 years. He is what we call here a "Big end of town" lawyer and his appearance in a conference room can end negotiations. He helps choose judges and advise lawyers who lives are spinning out of control. He gives free advice to people who have never earned an hour what his firm bills per A4 photocopy. And throughout his career he has acted on his belief that the law is a source of fairness, a way of restoring balance, of giving rights to those who could be rail-roaded or steam-rollered.

    For him there is no difference between law and justice and his passion for and commitment to fairness is humbling to witness. Every lawyer "joke" or evidence of unethical or illegal behaviour by one of his colleagues makes his broad surf lifesaver's shoulders droop a little more.

  8. Thanks, Tony. I think your father-in-law is an inspiration to many, and I am very glad to hear you have had such good experience with lawyers. I really appreciate the comment.