I just got a call from a woman in another state. She’d been reading my blog, she said, and she just wanted someone to talk to about her situation. Well, I’m only qualified to give legal advice in California, so that’s what I told her – and then I listened. She had some real concerns, so I did give her some advice, as it turned out: I advised her to call her local bar association. That’s all I did; that’s all I could do. But before we got off the phone, she said that our conversation had helped her, that I had somehow managed to make a difference to her. And it struck me: this is what lawyers do. We listen. We care. We try our best to make a difference.

Of course, if you ask most people what comes to mind when they think of lawyers, this isn’t what you’ll hear. No, it’ll be all about the outrageous cost of legal services, or about how lawyers are all slick-talking sharks who wouldn’t hesitate to get the worst kind of criminal back on the streets if the price is right. You might want one in the family, just in case something goes horribly wrong in your life someday, but not if your sister has to marry him. The thing is, those aren’t real lawyers. They’re just imposters in expensive suits.

Not that many years ago, I was a middle school teacher. Whenever a new acquaintance asked what I did for a living, the answer was invariably greeted with an approving smile. Often, I’d be regaled with fond reminiscences about my new friend’s former teachers. A person can get spoiled by a thing like that; I wasn’t prepared for the change when I became a lawyer instead. When I tell most people now what I do for a living, I get one of two reactions: a lawyer joke or a polite nod. No approving smile. No warm stories of lawyers they have known and loved.

But that’s not what I do, nor most of the lawyers I know. I used to work for a lawyer who said that he was always glad to review contracts because you never knew when today’s Santa could become tomorrow’s Satan; he wanted to be sure his clients’ interests were protected, no matter what. I agree with that. I do estate planning because it’s important to me that families and individuals are protected; I work with small businesses for the same reason. It’s about safety, security, even sometimes predictability.

This is who I am. I want to help. When my son goes outside to play, I tell him to wear sunscreen – and I buy lotion in case he gets burned anyway. When I was a teacher, one of my students couldn’t reliably get to school each day – so I picked him up at 6 o’clock every morning and brought him with me. And when someone calls me with a problem, I try to help if I can.

Next time you need a lawyer, find one who listens to you. Look for someone who cares, someone who honestly wants to help you. That’s when you’ll know you’ve really found a lawyer, not just someone who looks good in a business suit.