Is Legal Practice Meaningful?

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A Quora reader recently asked whether legal practice is meaningful. It's an interesting question. I believe that legal practice is certainly meaningful. As lawyers, our job is to make our clients’ lives better. We’re in the service industry so clients rely on us to solve their problems. From a micro level, our meaning is by being an asset for clients when, for instance, they try to create value, pursue justice, or defend claims from a plaintiff or the government.

But beyond this, legal practice is meaningful because we safeguard rights for the public at large. While they often receive their fair share of criticism, lawyers are vital to the functioning of society. The most recent example that comes to mind is when lawyers rushed to airports to offer pro bono counsel to travelers after the announcement of President Trump’s travel ban. The principles cherished by democracies—property rights, due process rights, free speech—are all protected by lawyers. While you may not necessarily be working on the front lines in human rights or constitutional law, you are still a lawyer and are a representative of the profession.

Having said this, whether your own practice is “meaningful” may depend on your perspective and your values. If you’re an unhappy lawyer at a Big Law firm, for instance, you may not find it meaningful to work on another conglomerate’s M&A deal or another motion to dismiss for a corporation involved in a class action lawsuit. Instead, meaning may be working on the front lines in criminal law or through public interest work. If this is the case, I’d recommend pursuing a move. Sure, there are realities in doing so and your paycheck can be especially attractive. But once you reach a certain income level, the marginal benefits of additional income decrease. Meaning becomes more important.