Inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters To A Young Poet,” Stephanie West Allen of Idealawg invited her readers to post on their blogs their “Letter to a Young Lawyer.” Since I receive correspondence from the ABA Young Lawyers Division, I am among the audience, still trying to figure things out. But I decided I’d give it a shot and write about a few paradoxes that I observed in law school and the beginning of my law practice. So, here we go.
Dear Young Lawyer:
You have chosen a profession and a career that is full of contradictions. By now, you should be comfortable with contradictions as they are abundant in the pages of law books that you are reading. They are just another problem to solve. Isn’t it what we do – solve problems? This brings me to the first contradiction:
- Lawyers are very good at solving other people’s problems, but they often disregard their own needs, hence the sad statistics on the dissatisfaction and burnout among lawyers. Wouldn’t we take better care of our clients if we took better care of ourselves?
- If you entered law school because you were not sure what you should do with your life, be aware that you can graduate from law school, pass the bar and begin practicing, and still not know what you should do with your life. The upside is that you can pay your bills as you are trying to figure out your life’s purpose.
- Some people love law school and hate the practice of law, others hate law school and love the practice of law.
- Everybody wants to be in top 10 percent in law school, everybody can’t be in top 10 percent in law school. According to the ABA Legal Education Statistics, in 2006-2007, 43, 920 students were awarded J.D. or LL.B. degrees. 10 percent of that is 4,392. There is a future for you in the legal profession even if you are not in top 10 percent, and (gasp!) you haven’t done the law review or moot court.
- Contrary to what your classmates, career services and other stakeholders want you to believe, you don’t have to go into BIGLAW if you are in the top 10 percent. What will make you feel the blood rushing in your veins every morning? (“Coffee” is not the right answer here.)
- You may like a certain subject matter in law school but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will enjoy that area of practice. Stay flexible, get a taste of various areas of practice, rotate through different departments in your summer programs. Give yourself time to decide.
- In law school you are led to believe that the practice of law is about unique knowledge, expertise, and problem-solving skills. Once you begin practicing, it becomes more about people and relationships, just like in any business.
- There is no “one day” and you won’t have free time, so find a way to do what you want to do right now. If you are “paying your dues,” make sure you know what you are getting in return.
- The practice of law is local in nature, but you are likely to feel the global currents more and more these days. Stay informed of what is going on in the world and how it affects the profession.
- The world is changing faster than you can say “mutatis mutandis,” be prepared to change with it. Gerald Weinberg wrote in “The Secrets of Consulting”: “When change is inevitable, we struggle most to keep what we value most.” If you find yourself struggling, it’s a good time to ask what is important to you and how you can get it.