The other day, I had jury duty. I was rather anxious on a number of levels, but mostly because I was fearful of being chosen for a jury that would last more than a day or two, because I had already put off the first day of a new contract to fulfill my civic duty. My anxiety really got the best of me, as it made me physically ill all day.
I felt very nervous being in the courtroom during the jury selection process. I shouldn’t have been. It was straightforward. This was for a civil case, so it wouldn’t be about anything too gory, awful, or drawn out like a criminal or murder case.
But here’s the irony of the whole thing: when I started college, I was very determined that I was going to be a pre-law student studying international affairs, and that I’d eventually continue to law school. I had participated on high school mock trial teams, and watched courtroom shows all the time, soaking in all the courtroom action whenever I could. So, what happened?
Eventually I’d work for law firms during the summer as an office clerk or a receptionist, and found that I really didn’t like it. I also was having second thoughts about going to law school, since I had some trouble with certain courses in my undergrad years.
As I sat in the courtroom the other day, my memory was refreshed on how court proceedings were done, such as what it means if a judge says that an objection is overruled or sustained, how a court case is run, and the types of questions that need to be asked to elicit the responses that the lawyer wants to get out of the witness. It occurred to me that I was GLAD I wasn’t a lawyer after all. I would have hated it after a while. Sure, there’s a structure to how things are done, and laws are often written so there’s as little interpretation as possible as to what is liable and what isn’t. But sitting in that courtroom made me grateful that I did not lead a lawyer’s life.
After being dismissed from that courtroom and waiting to see if I would be called to another trial, I had time to think about how my life choices took me in another direction. I thought about the qualities of a lawyer, and thought about which of those qualities would make me think I’d be good for that, yet would be applicable to my current career in technical communication.
The reasons were very clear to me almost instantly. Both lawyers and technical writers need and like structure. Lawyers work off the law guides, while technical writers work with style guides. Both are very keen wordsmiths. They often are the authors of policies and procedures and other documentation. The wrong word or the right word can make the difference in what they are doing. Related to that, they are acutely aware of details. One incorrect detail can make or break the situation at hand. Both professions work to relate to their audience, whether it’s a judge and jury, or end-users at large. Both have to be at least a little bit clever to be able to convey their content clearly, cogently, and concisely.
So, was my time being a law wannabe for nothing? I don’t think so. Little did I know that it would help me figure out skills that would be needed for a vocation that I did not know I had yet. If anything, it most likely helped me ease into the technical communications field more easily because I had attuned these skills at a young age for a different purpose.
The very next day after jury duty, I started at my new contract, going back to doing content strategy and management. Oh, what a relief it was! Even though I was working with a new client and a new content management system that I hadn’t used before, I knew that I had something substantial to provide with my skills, and I felt so much more at ease than having to present a case based strictly on law and courtroom decorum. I didn’t have to worry about my skills not being enough to convince someone to judge in favor of someone–or something– I was advocating. Instead, I got to work in a team environment, where my voice was heard as one of a few contributing ideas to create something with a positive outcome–no matter what the outcome. I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but I think many technical communicators know that they must have some of these same skills to be able to produce the best outputs they can to serve a larger audience for positive purposes. We have to advocate for our field constantly, to prove that we are needed in the workforce, and we strive to get positive results. There are even technical communicators whose specialty is to write up policies and procedures. Not law school worthy? I beg to differ.
What do you think? Do you think we possess many of the same skills as lawyers, or not? Include your comments below.