Illustration by Sandra Moore
Law and Order offers a look at the dramatic speeches and exaggerated arguments side of law. But being a lawyer requires more than thorough commentary and a flattering pantsuit, it demands countless hours analyzing legal documents and evidence. Lawyering also entails meeting with clients and constant traveling across the country, potentially even the world. However, despite being an extremely stressful career, law is very rewarding.
Hailyn Chen is an experienced litigation partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, a major law firm headquartered in Los Angeles. She currently represents the University of California in all of the lawsuits filed by students found responsible for sexual misconduct. As an undergraduate at Yale University, Chen focused her studies in journalism, but her interest in the law was sparked when she enrolled in a class analyzing the effects of legal developments on American history.
“Lawyering allowed me to combine my interests in writing and investigations with my interests in public policy and advocacy,” Chen said, elaborating on her career choice.
Angel Navarro, after passing the bar, went on to work for the Office of the Federal Public Defender from 1992 to 2010. Now, Navarro is a self-employed criminal defense lawyer.
“I think you have to be compassionate,” Navarro said. “You have to be open minded. You have to be willing to fail because our work is defending the accused and most of the time people don’t care for inmate’s rights.”
Lawyer Jean Martinez differs from Chen and Navarro because her work is centered on adolescents. Martinez is a defense attorney and handles cases for the Juvenile Mental Health Court, a court dedicated to kids and teenagers with severe mental illnesses. While Martinez didn’t always know that she wanted to be a lawyer, she knew that she wanted to make a difference.
“My favorite part of the job is trying to be the best attorney I can be every day, giving powerless people a voice,” Martinez said.
Chen, Navarro, and Martinez work in very different fields: corporate law, criminal law, and with juveniles. Nevertheless, all three lawyers emphasize the importance of having thick skin and are adamant that prospective lawyers must know how to deal with failure.
“You can’t win every motion and every argument,” Chen said. “The ability to take failure in stride and to learn from it is a key to long-term success.”
Furthemore, Chen suggests being an approachable person.
“You need to be able to listen well, understand other’s needs, and respond to them effectively – whether it’s with respect to your clients, judges, your own team members and colleagues, and even opposing counsel,” Chen said.
In addition to being a people person, prospective lawyers should look to develop sound judgement.
“You have to have common sense – never leave that at home. You have to be a problem solver,” said Navarro.
Lawyering also requires being confident and having strong public speaking skills. In addition to these qualities, Navarro recommends being a thorough reader. Martinez adds that a lawyer should be patient and look forward to challenges.
“You have to be able to think on your feet, and be articulate and creative,” Martinez stressed.
On the other hand, Chen warns that lawyering requires a huge amount of dedication and lifestyle choice and is not the easiest path for parents of young children.
“To do this job well, you need resilience, grit, and stamina,” Chen said.
To combat the stress that accompanies being a lawyer, Martinez recommends establishing a healthy balance between work and family.
“If you do this profession, it’s very important to live a balanced life or you can burn out quickly,” Martinez said.